This Zen beach house overhaul showcases the power of home — and why thoughtful interior design is so important.
After months of reflection, 2 things about my Playa beach house project really stood out to me. First, how much this project challenged me to grow, both personally and professionally. Read more about that in our first Playa beach house post here.
The second takeaway certainly wasn’t a new revelation, but it took on a whole new meaning with the pandemic quarantine.
And it’s this: expert interior design matters.
Not a surprising statement from an interior designer, I know. But on some level, we all know this is true. Our surroundings have the power to affect every aspect of our lives, our mood, even our overall health.
And when we suddenly shifted to spending nearly 24 hours a day in our homes, this became even more apparent. I recently wrote a blog post on the downsides of open concept living that really seems to be striking a chord with people. It’s my most popular post to date. I think that’s because even if we can’t articulate why, we can sense when design just isn’t working.
It might be pretty, but if it’s not functioning at the highest level, it’s not successful interior design.
That’s why truly great design is about so much more than finishes and accessories. An expert interior designer knows how to ask the right questions and set the right goals to design a space that’s tailor-made for you.
For this beach house remodel, fellow designer Chelsea Sachs and I were tasked with converting a duplex into a single-family home for her father, NBA legend Phil Jackson. This home needed to be a soothing spot both for the homeowner day-to-day and his large family who visits frequently. With no updates since it was built in the late 80s, it had great potential — not to mention an amazing location right on the beach. But the interior just really lacked soul.
The best interior design leverages architectural details to maximize a home’s potential
This home’s final layout isn’t drastically different than before. In fact, if you saw the before and after blueprints, it might surprise you to learn we took this home down to the studs. We moved walls and doorways — sometimes less than a foot — because we knew how much those subtle shifts would change the flow of the home.
Interior design is such an iterative process. We did rending after rendering and built multiple 3D models to ensure the layout was just right. It’s these details that the layperson might not recognize, yet they feel them. We all know good design when we experience it.
For instance, we shifted the fireplace from the north to the south wall of the living room. This really opened up the flow between the indoor and outdoor seating areas, which, when the doors are fully open, become one.
We also devoted seemingly endless hours to the windows, especially in the living spaces on the top floor. We replaced small square windows with tall rectangular ones to maximize natural light. With neighboring homes less than 10 feet away on either side, this required some careful planning to maintain privacy and ensure the windows looked balanced from the interior. In the end, all those hours of careful planning were completely worth it. The window placement ensures privacy without window treatments while the abundance of natural light completely transforms the space.
These are the kinds of thoughtful details that really elevate a home and the user experience — that set expert interior design above mere decoration.
It may sound cliché, but design really is all about the details
When making design decisions on this project, we constantly deferred to the physical surroundings. In this way, we were able to maximize and highlight the sweeping ocean views. Every surface, material, and color was inspired by the natural environment outside the home.
It was really fun to do this in unexpected ways. Like the kitchen cabinets, for example — the deep charcoal probably isn’t an obvious choice for a beach house. But their color is a nod to the dark jetty that juts into the ocean just outside, the black flecks of sand on the beach, and the tar that washes ashore here in LA. This hue grounds the space, balancing out the visual weight of other elements like the ceiling trusses and fireplace.
In the end, this dark hue was repeated throughout the project to bring unity to the home. You can find it in the master bedroom built-ins, in framed artwork and pieces of pottery, and in accents in the bathrooms.
The cabinet finish is an intentional design choice, too. We spent a lot of time in this home before and during construction, mapping out the way the light fell and moved throughout the day. We knew that any glossy surfaces would cause an unpleasant glare, so we chose a rich, matte finish to keep the space serene no matter the time of day.
A well-designed home is deeply personal, functional, and adaptable
You can design the most beautiful details in a home, but if they’re not fitted to the space or to the lives of those who live there, you have to start again. Each design choice we made came back to how it would serve the client’s day-to-day life.
This beach house is a spiritual space. Not only because of the location and proximity to the water, but also because of its inhabitants. Phil is a Zen Buddhist, and we wanted to honor that in every aspect of the design. Nearly every room houses a piece or two of his antique Asian art collection, and these inspired much of the design direction in the bedrooms. He and his family love to travel, and Chelsea selected many of the rugs and fixtures while visiting Morocco.
Phil also loves to cook and entertain, so we made sure there was plenty of prep space with a beautiful bamboo butcher block extension of the island with added seating. Additionally, we carved out space for a walk-in pantry to house prep dishes and stash cooking clutter when he has guests.
Throughout this project, we considered not just the present, but the future. Well-designed homes should suit us in our current life stage and as we age, as children grow, and as our needs shift.
Our homes need to be functional, organized, and restful. Otherwise, they leave us completely untethered.
This is more important now than ever before. Our homes aren’t just where we sleep and binge watch Netflix at the end of a long day. They are our workspaces, our gyms, our classrooms, and our boardrooms. Where we cook and eat and play and rest. They suddenly serve so many more functions than they used to, making any flaws in design much more apparent than before.
Good decoration can make a pretty space. But great design — expert interior design that’s tailored to your specific lifestyle, habits, and goals — can truly change your life.
This beach house was transformed from merely functional to truly exceptional. It’s soothing and calm, tailor-made for its owner and his 6-foot-8-inch frame, his love of cooking, and his weekends with grandchildren. It doesn’t simply house his family, it enhances their time together in every way possible.
In a time of crisis, it’s easy to wonder if interior design is necessary. To ask ourselves if it’s maybe just a part of the consumerism that drives so much of our culture. I think all of us had this thought for a minute when the pandemic really hit and life shifted so drastically.
But if this year has shown me anything, it’s made clear exactly how important interior design is. How powerful it can be in shaping, building, and enriching the life we want for ourselves and our loved ones.
Well-designed, our homes are our sanctuaries. They offer refuge, a place to recharge. Or, if poorly designed, bring stress, anxiety, and chaos. I’m so proud of this project and what we were able to deliver. And I’m deeply honored to be a part of a profession that can affect such tangible change in people’s lives.
If you’ve considered working with an interior designer, I can’t stress enough the impact it can make. And that’s not just because this is what I do. The fit of the design relationship is as important as the design itself, and it’s important to find the right designer for you. Read more about my thoughts on that here.
Until next time,