Leo and Molly Nordine had no desire to compromise when the time finally came to build their dream home. "We lived in a one-bedroom apartment for 15 years and planned this for a long while," says Leo. "I knew I wanted a contemporary wood-and-glass house with a great ocean view, a pool, a yard, a big basement, a roof deck, and a home office. I'm really, really picky. There was no way we'd be able to find that exact house somewhere, so we had to build it."
Then, around the turn of the millennium, Leo, a Los Angeles real estate broker, saw a 42-by-90-foot lot come on the market—sited along a pedestrian street one short block from the water in nearby Hermosa Beach. "I immediately faxed a full-price offer," he admits. "I didn't want to wait another 15 years."
Resisting the urge to negotiate wasn't the only way the Nordines broke with southern California convention. In an era typified by modest old homes being razed and replaced by would-be palaces built right up to the property line, the couple's wish list seemed refreshingly sane to L.A.–based Daryl Olesinski, the Nordines' residential designer. "Many would have put a 5,000-square-foot house on that lot," he says, "but they wanted theirs to be as small as possible, to maximize outdoor living space."
The 44-year-old Leo, an avid surfer since the age of 10 ("I'm out there every day that the surf is good," he says), has amassed a collection of some 150 antique and contemporary boards, and his passion for nature extends beyond the sea. "I love forests and feel starved for trees," he says.
So it was only, well, natural that Olesinski would design for the couple and their son Nate, now five, a contemporary abode composed largely of glass, offering views of the nearby Pacific Ocean, and framed and clad in rich mahogany and ironwood. The two-story--basement home—which includes a living room, powder room, dining room, and kitchen downstairs; two bedrooms, two baths, and a gym upstairs; and a separate office above the garage—measures about 3,000 square feet.
The fact that it appears to be much more spacious than that is in part an optical illusion. On the first floor, no room is wider than 16 feet, the maximum width of the structure itself. But the entire 44-foot-long, west-facing side opens to the adjacent pool deck through two sets of triple-tracked sliding glass doors—visually doubling the home's interior and exterior spaces and creating a vast indoor-outdoor expanse.
Also contributing to the relaxed ambiance is the downstairs plan itself, with one room merging into the next along the entire window side. From any spot, says Olesinski, "you can see the entire ground floor." Throughout, terrazzo floors, custom made at the Nordines' request to match the color of wet sand on the beach, visually enhance an effect that, he adds, "is all about the flow." Olesinski aimed for fluid, unified decor: "Attention to the furnishings' materials and to how objects would look together affected the choice of everything—from furniture pieces to curtains and linens."
The heart of the home is a 26-foot-tall concrete monolith with 10-inch-thick walls containing the home's electrical and audiovisual conduits as well as flues for three fireplaces: two downstairs, facing the living room and dining room, and one in the second-story master bedroom. "The concrete has a ton of steel rebar reinforcement in it," Leo says with a laugh, "because I want this house to be solid even if we have a 7.0 quake or a tidal wave."
Upstairs, in the family bedrooms and baths, the house takes on a more intimate personality; individual rooms are imbued with a primarily neutral palette, some are decked out with sheer drapes that help guard privacy. Yet, "there's still a lot of glass," says Olesinski, and with it the pervasive sense one feels throughout the dwelling: that indoors and outdoors are one.
For Leo, whose ideal had always been someplace that felt in harmony with the world around it, the home where he and his family have now lived for 2½ years is a dream come true. "We used to travel a lot," he says, "but this house has spoiled us for all that. It's as if we had our own little resort—living here is like being on vacation all the time."
Nuts & Bolts CORE TALK
The home's 26-foot-tall, 9-by-3-foot central tower, with its 10-inch-thick reinforced concrete walls, took more than four weeks to create.
1. Designer Daryl Olesinski first drafted meticulously detailed plans (that even included recesses
for each mahogany stair tread).
2. To give the concrete texture, contractors Matt Wachtfogel and Fritz Mahron built forms (in effect, a mold) out of 2-by-6 Douglas fir boards with the most exaggerated grain available in order to heighten the visual impact of the tower's texture.
3. The boards were stacked in one stage, or "lift," at a time (four in total), each lift measuring about 6½ feet high. To form gaps of about 1/8 inch through which the concrete could ooze slightly for more texture, 16-penny nails were placed between the boards. A cabinetmaker crafted placeholders for each stairway-tread recess, which were screwed to the fir boards in their precise positions. Steel brackets secured the boards together; when the forms were removed, they would leave their own indentations in the concrete. Finally, the insides of the forms were liberally coated with an oily substance that prevents spalling (the creation of an irregular surface caused when concrete sticks to the boards).
4. Steel rebar reinforcement was inserted inside the forms and the concrete was poured, a process that takes one day.
5. After the concrete had set, 48 hours later, the boards were stripped away. And the weeklong construction of the next lift began.
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