Some people buy a house for a floor plan that suits their family needs; others are attracted by its history or architectural significance. But when Southern California natives Lisa and Doug Holte went searching for a new home, it was a piece of land that captured their hearts. Situated on a lot against a scenic canyon in Pacific Palisades, the house featured privacy and a spacious front yard that seemed perfect for the soccer and volleyball games that the couple's three athletic daughters love. They bought the property, and lived in the existing house-a structure that was funky and chic but destined to be torn down because it was definitely not their style-for three years so they would know exactly how they wanted to use the land.
For the new place, Lisa and Doug enlisted the help of Los Angeles-based architect Doug Burdge, who translated their wishes into a traditional family-friendly East Coast-style home, but one that gleams with natural California light. "Doug is so great at scale and proportion," says Lisa. "He has two sons of his own, so he is familiar with our lifestyle and knows how families work. He has a gift for enhancing my ideas and filling the house with bright light."
Burdge had to factor in a couple of challenges when he started drafting the design. The existing house had a pool that backed up to the canyon with a wonderful ocean view, a feature the Holtes wanted to retain. But city codes no longer permit pools to be constructed that close to a slope, so building a home completely from scratch would have meant compromising the pool, deck and, ultimately, the view. Burdge cracked that code by keeping one wall from the existing house as well as the original pool so that the new structure could qualify as a remodel. In addition, he designed the house around a pair of beautiful flowering eucalyptus trees that the Holtes insisted remain a part of the landscape.
"Building the house around the trees and the pool ended up giving them a larger front yard," explains the architect. "And because the house was set so far back from the street, barriers to create privacy weren't necessary."
The hardworking exterior is a testament to the Holtes' casual lifestyle and love for the outdoors, and the interior reflects that style as well. They requested a house with an open and airy view from front to back. The resulting floor plan uses a minimum of walls, dividing the space into specific areas by incorporating such architectural elements as moldings, functional built-ins, and interesting ceiling details.
Lisa, an avid reader of design books and magazines, credits the success of the three-year project to a collaboration that involved many people. She prepared for it by creating a file of magazine illustrations and bouncing ideas off a good friend who, says Lisa, has impeccable taste. There was also her talented architect, Burdge, plus Los Angeles designer Madeline Stuart, who provided inspiration for the living room.
"I called Madeline because I like her modern approach to classic furniture," Lisa explains. "I fell in love with her sofa, a bergère, and a coffee table. She also turned me on to the drapery fabric, so her vision is really present in that space." To separate formal from casual, a pocket door between the living and family rooms allows them to be closed off, perfect for times when one daughter is practicing piano and another wants to watch television.
The family room's palette evolved from the brown and blue tones of the antique rug. A sofa in taupe-and-aqua striped cotton-linen and a pair of chairs covered in a darker taupe and piped with chocolate leather are pulled up to the coffee table. "The coffee table has modern legs and a traditional planked top, a combination of two styles I love," says Lisa.
"I saw the two rooms as sisters that need to have their own identities and at the same time play together nicely," explains Lisa. "The living room is dressed as if it were going to a cotillion, with the family room dressed down for a garden party."
The relationship between the dark wood floors and the crisp whitewall and ceilings throughout the house provides an ideal backdrop for the architectural details that Burdge incorporated. Special attention was paid to the ceilings on the main floor, treating each space differently. The living-room ceiling was coffered, that of the family room rendered in tongue-and-groove, and the kitchen's graced with intersecting beams. "Different ceiling shapes have different moods," Burdge says. Carved niches tucked below the stairs slightly divide the family room from the kitchen. This creates a space where family photographs can be displayed. (The main floor has no hallway walls, the usual display area.)
In the breakfast area, walls were painted pale blue, which works well with the icy aqua window seat cushions. "I wanted the window seat to serve as a kitchen sofa," Lisa says. "It's a relaxing spot where the girls can read and study."
In the kitchen, functionality is key for Lisa, who loves to cook and throw parties. The clean white cabinets, tile backsplash, and sink contrast with a butcher block island and matchstick blinds that tie the space to the view outside and give it a beachy spirit.
Much of the Holte family's leisure time is spent relaxing in the outdoor living room at the back of the house, next to the pool. A mirror above the fireplace reflects the canyon, making it a living piece of art.
From the time they were buying land, to when they stepped into the original house, and throughout the process of tearing it down and building anew, the Holte family has been banking fond recollections in their built to suit home. "I love how this house enjoys an indoor-outdoor relationship," says Lisa. "I have great memories of outdoor family gatherings and of the girls running in and out."
Doug and Lisa Holte with their daughters, from left, Frances, Savannah, and Caroline.
Photography: Michal Venera