Salty air rushes in as an artist mixes paint and sets up an easel in his home studio. No recognizable boundary exists between the front patio of the house and the space where he stands, painting the ocean he can see just yards away.
If it is hard to tell whether you are inside or outside, then architect Michael Lee has done his job. The home Lee designed for artist Mike Gaines and his wife Margaret Guglielmo was intended to blur the line between the 3,900 sq. ft. residence and its walk-street, beachfront surroundings.
The art studio is in the southwest corner of this modern home near downtown Manhattan Beach. Retractable glass walls allow Gaines to close off the room, giving him the choice between concealing and exposing his workspace. This was one of the many challenges Gaines and Guglielmo presented to Lee at the start of the remodel.
Then, again, the project did not start as a remodel.
Gaines and Guglielmo have lived in their house on 7th Street for 12 years. He now works as a professional artist after working as the creative director for the NFL for 20 years. She is a nurse practitioner who had a private OB/GYN practice and still holds workshops for girls and their moms discussing the facts of life. It was at one of those workshops five years ago, in a modern residence in Hermosa Beach, that Guglielmo was inspired to makeover her own more traditional home.
Once she had convinced Gaines, they began interviewing architects to rebuild the home from the ground up. Lee, a USC graduate who obtained a second undergraduate degree at the prestigious Southern California Institute of Architecture, quickly emerged as the frontrunner. He shared Gaines and Guglielmo’s vision for a warm contemporary living space with areas both to create and display art.
In 2008, with plans drawn up, permits acquired, and a temporary rental house secured, Gaines and Guglielmo were ready to let Lee and his team break ground. Just before they did, the market crashed and the couple watched their project fund evaporate. With their boxes already packed and rental lease already signed, Gaines and Guglielmo had to tell Lee to put the project on hold.
“We were part of the bottom that fell out in 2008,” Gaines said. “We had to call Michael and tell him we couldn’t build a house.”
Four months later, Lee presented the couple with a new plan, one that would allow them to have their dream home without having to do a complete rebuild. The resulting home is no less magnificent for being a remodel. And the work itself is all the more impressive for it. The patience that Gaines and Guglielmo had to practice and the ingenuity Lee exercised in realizing the couple’s dream can be felt within the walls. It is a space teeming with gratitude, meditation, and inspiration.
With clean lines, open space and natural light, the house is starkly modern yet exudes warmth and intimacy. Gaines and Guglielmo treat their home as equal parts living space and art gallery. The halls are lined with Gaines’ art as well as collections from the couple’s extensive world travels. The décor is spectacular without being showy. The art is an assemblage of memories, intended not to impress but to chronicle Gaines and Guglielmo’s life together.
“We don’t go on cruises,” Gaines said. “We go on expeditions.”
Their travels have taken them to Europe, Africa, Tibet, and Indonesia, just to name a few. Gaines and Guglielmo are both quite spiritual, and the Hindu and Buddhist art they have accumulated on their trips adds to the ease and serenity of their home.
The couple’s warmth is apparent not only in their living space but also in their relationship with its designer. Gaines, Guglielmo and Lee became close friends during process.
“Margaret and [Lee’s wife] Beth walk our dogs together on the Strand and commiserate about their husbands,” Gaines said. They have a beloved standard poodle named Chelsea and the Lees have Lucy, a boxer.
Lee’s relationship with his clients fostered collaboration, and this friendship is largely responsible for creating a house so true to the one Gaines and Guglielmo had pictured.
As they walk through the home, Gaines, Guglielmo and Lee proudly describe each room, teasing each other like old friends along the way. Gaines jokingly asks to have a moment alone so he can divulge all of the problems he has with Lee’s work. When asked how he had become such close friends with his clients, Lee retorts, “Oh, we’re not friends.”
Plush couches and warm tones add intimacy to a living room with floor-to-ceiling glass and a contemporary gas fireplace. Light and dark wood softens the modern kitchen that features shiny stainless steel appliances and glass light fixtures dangling over a marble bar. The bedroom, guestroom, and bathrooms are expansive and immaculate yet remain inviting. Outdoor patios cap the corners of the western façade, providing panoramic views of the Pacific and an ocean breeze at all hours of the day and night. Michael Lee truly designed the ideal place to reflect, create and live.
“If you ask me, it was designed around the dog,” Gaines said.
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