In a conservative, Manhattan Beach, Calif., neighborhood brimming with Cape Cod-style residences, Los Angeles-based design firm Oonagh Ryan Architects transformed a dated 750-square-foot addition to a family home into a refined “art barn” that’s anything but traditional.
The owner, an empty-nester with a penchant for the visual and culinary arts, sought to rework and maximize the addition—which contains the kitchen, dining room, and patio—as a comprehensive entertaining and gathering space that could house his growing art collection.
But getting the firm on board with the project took some convincing. Principal Oonagh Ryan felt uncertain about whether the firm’s contemporary style could coexist with the architecturally reserved neighborhood, and turned the project down several times until the eleventh hour of a site visit when the client shared photos of what he hoped the transformation would look like: a warmer, more industrial space with different volumes and plenty of glass.
“We told him that we’ll take the images he provided, pin them on the wall, and be inspired by them…but we’re going to come back with something that’s our idea for the house,” says Ryan. “He granted us that freedom while still being very involved in the details.”
The team removed the old addition and started fresh with a new building envelope that improved the flow of the space by reducing the amount of walls. An asymmetric roof composed of corrugated metal, Douglas fir beams, and knotty cedar boards floats over a hand-troweled plaster wall and encloses the airy, barn-like interior space that’s designed with rustic, industrial- inspired materials and midcentury modern accents. The refreshed, light-filled kitchen and living room added 70 square feet of new interior space. A walnut cabinet box marks the transition between the addition and the rest of the home.
All of the kitchen’s components, from the cabinetry to the doors, were built by local craftsmen. Open shelves slightly concealed by sliding, vintage pebbled glass on steel frames display the client’s glass and ceramics collections, and in the lounging area, a 55-inch abstract expressionist painting set on a custom track keeps the television out of sight. The kitchen’s centerpiece—a handcrafted terrazzo countertop inspired by a handful of stones the client brought back from a seaside village along California’s central coast--is composed of organic pebbles in greens and yellows and blues that add subtle contrast to the earthy tones in the space. The island spans a dramatic 15 feet, and rests on a steel frame fitted with raw, reclaimed wood.
The addition was also designed from an environmentally conscious perspective, taking full advantage of Southern California’s temperate beach climate and meeting local regulations that require an energy performance score that beats the state mandate by 15 percent. To minimize the need for air-conditioning, the firm deepened the overhangs to extend 4 feet to prevent the sun from heating up the indoors. West-facing clerestory windows that capture the prevailing wind from the ocean are attached to sensors that detect when interior temperatures rise, and automatically open to ventilate the space. To complete the indoor-outdoor space, Ryan’s firm designed the outdoor patio with a seamless connection the indoor palette with oversized Douglas fir barn doors, a built-in wood bench, strung lights, and a fire pit. A window above the kitchen’s stainless steel farmhouse sink allows food and necessities to be passed directly through.
“There are more details in this kitchen than I would normally have in an entire house,” says Ryan. “Countless complications and decisions went into making it all appear simple...but that’s what modern design is.”
Project: Bowen Residence, Manhattan Beach, Calif.
Architect: Oonagh Ryan Architects (ORA), Los Angeles
Size: 3500 square feet (whole house)