A family moves from Tokyo to Manhattan Beach after a three-month-long collaboration with a local designer via email

Call it a long-distance relationship.

  • Category
  • Written by
    Amber Klinck
  • Photographed by
    Lauren Pressey

Nancy Russert walks into Saori and Tom’s newly built Manhattan Beach residence with a bouquet of flowers and a box of sugar cookies from Beckers Bakery. Over the past few months Nancy has had full access to the couple’s home, but today she’s meeting them face-to-face for the first time. “I’ve been [saying] they’re the nicest people I’ve never met,” Nancy notes.

It’s only a been a few weeks that Saori and Tom, along with their three young children, have been in their new home after relocating to California from Tokyo … and nearly a year since they purchased it. After viewing a multitude of houses, the sweeping views and open, communal feel of their chosen residence sold them in a matter of minutes.

“We were also running against the clock,” Tom adds. At the time of purchase, Saori was pregnant with their third child. “We came to a point where there was a limited time to come to America and look at houses.”

The plan was to find a family home in Manhattan Beach, return to Tokyo to deliver the baby and head back after a few months as a family of five—ideally into a move-in ready home. This is where Nancy comes in.

“We wanted someone local to decorate the house,” Saori says. “We just looked at [Nancy’s] work, and everything was so beautiful.” For Nancy, an interior designer and the owner of Les Beaux Interiors and Twist Custom, the project was almost too good to be true. “I walked in, and it was like a dream,” she says. “It was a beautiful empty home, white walls, lovely spaces … and they pretty much allowed me to just create.”

Saori and Tom were transitioning from an urban living space in Tokyo to a considerably larger home in Manhattan Beach—with no plans to ship their existing furniture to the new residence. Nancy had the opportunity to hand-pick all the furnishings, textiles, artwork—everything that Saori and Tom needed to transform their new house into a home. She was given a blank slate and unlimited access to the property as she worked.

“It was amazing for me,” Nancy says. “It was fun and such a gift to [have] the time in the house, to just pop in and bring in a piece to see how it works.”

With Saori and Tom back in Tokyo, Nancy had to present her ideas via email, with short windows of response due to the time difference. “I had this golden hour,” Nancy says. “At 3 p.m. our time, I knew they’d be waking up at 7 a.m. [their time] and I’d be getting my answers.” With thousands of miles and multiple time zones between them, consistent and clear communication was a must.

But what really made it all come together was Nancy’s understanding of what her clients needed as a family—and Saori and Tom’s trust in Nancy as a designer. “I got a sense of what Saori was drawn to,” Nancy notes. “I feel like she has a lovely level of sophistication [with an appreciation for] timeless pieces. But she’s also drawn to some prints and colors.”

In addition to style preferences, Nancy focused on how the family would be living in the space. “They have three children, so we wanted to be sensible about fabrics and furniture that look lovely but that are user-friendly,” Nancy explains.

Despite the distance, the collaboration went seamlessly. “Everything she picked was so perfect,” Saori says. “I just ended up trusting her; I felt comfortable.”

With the full confidence of her clients on her side, the only thing Nancy had working against her was time. Although the home was purchased nearly a year ago, Nancy wasn’t brought onto the project until three months before the intended move-in date. “I had this date in mind, so we had to just charge ahead,” Nancy says. “It was amazing; she did everything so quickly,” Saori adds.

The results are stunning. The house is open and bright with blurred lines between the indoor and outdoor spaces. The second level boasts sweeping views of tree-lined streets and a glimpse of the Pacific on the horizon. Nancy’s design of the interior captures the essence of the home perfectly for a friendly yet elegant coastal vibe that is both esthetically pleasing and family functional.

Outdoor fabrics in the most frequented areas of the home cater to this young family of five for easy clean-ups, while soft textures and coastal pops of color give the space an inviting, laid-back appeal. The artwork of local artists hangs on the wall—another perk of having a designer familiar with South Bay trends.

“My parents are still here in the same house I grew up in,” Nancy says. “My office is in Downtown Manhattan Beach. I still run into people I went to elementary school with.”

Moving from Tokyo to Manhattan Beach will, no doubt, be a big change for Saori and Tom. But having a local like Nancy around will certainly help bridge the gap.

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