Steal an Early Peek Inside the Beach Cities Modern Home Tour

Architect Carol Beth Cozen shares the inspiration behind her Manhattan Beach masterpiece

Ever drive past a spectacular home and wish you could take a look inside? On the Beach Cities Modern Home Tour this Saturday, you can. The self-guided driving tour through Manhattan Beach, Venice, and Santa Monica takes participants to six private homes designed by local architects in modern and contemporary styles. The homes will be open for visitors to poke around in, and the architects and owners will be on hand for design-inspired tête-à-têtes.

We chatted with architect Carol Beth Cozen about the Stephanus residence, the Manhattan Beach home she’ll be showing on the tour, and the architects who inspire her.

How did you get started in architecture?
I used to take wood shop in junior high and drafting in high school and my dad did some developing, so I used to talk to some of his structural engineers who tried desperately to talk me out of architecture. My undergrad degree is from USC and my graduate degree is from Southern California Institute of Architecture. I’ve had an opportunity to work for some very influential avant garde designers. I was trained by Ted Tokio Tanaka and Steven Ehrlich and with Jon Jerde at the Jerde Partnership.

How does what you’ve built fit into the legacy of architecture in Los Angeles?
Well, Richard Nuetra was a huge influence. The high school I went to, Palos Verdes High School, was designed by Neutra, and that’s where I took my drafting classes and honed my interest in architecture. I like my homes to feel the way a summer home would feel to an East Coaster: really welcoming and informal and livable, and where you really blur the threshold—this was very Neutra—of interior and exterior.

What type of projects do you enjoy most?
Construction from the ground up is really fun, but it’s much more challenging to do renovations and additions, and the challenge becomes a really fun puzzle. It’s a lot of fun when the addition can look sort of like what Pei did with the Louvre, where he’s not pretending that the new piece is old. On one of my projects I did an observatory. Since it had to do with astronomy, the design concept was that it sort of crashed into the building and landed on it. When you’re in the space, you feel that. It’s really an exciting space.

Speaking of spaceships landing, do you have any thoughts on the Renzo Piano design for the new Academy Museum?
I love Renzo Piano. His designs are like poetry. This design is interesting because it almost looks dated already—like something from The Jetsons, but not really current. I think it looks really fun and it makes me want to go inside, but it’s not my style. I wouldn’t have designed it. I do like the concept where he’s not integrating the new with the old.

You know who did that so beautifully—and I think this is why I have such a love of difficult additions of materials—was Carlo Scarpa. When I was in Italy, I scoured like a treasure hunt looking for everything he did. He’s not as loud as Renzo Piano or as Pei at the Louvre, but he intertwines new and old really delicately, and it’s not a fraud, where you’re pretending that it’s new. That’s really important to me. He’s my hero.

For the steps to the Querini Stampalia art gallery in Venice he took old concrete and then cut out steps, so you see the layers of sediment in it. It’s so subtle, surprising, and unexpected. He also added on to the Canova Plaster Cast Gallery in Possagno, and on the roof it’s like you see the material being peeled off and then added on. The windows from the Possagno gallery are awesome, and actually, that was an inspiration for the Stephanus’ master bathroom. The window goes up, turns 90 degrees and becomes part of the roof.

Tell us more about the Stephanus residence.
They have three children with a busy home, and the wife wanted to hire a female architect because she wanted someone who understood the flow of a home. They transitioned from a Mediterranean house and they wanted modern; originally, she wanted everything concrete and cold and glass, and I did incorporate a lot of that. I have this one piece that’s concrete, and it’s like the spine of the house. It starts on the exterior and goes right into the house.

It’s a poured-in-place wall, and it was formed with wood boards. It was poured next to the wood, so it looks like wood, but it’s concrete. It’s a really difficult process, but it’s so beautiful, and it’s not cold. I mean, it’s concrete, but there is nothing cold about it. It’s beautiful and warm and dynamic.

Take a look:


L.A. Beach Cities Modern Home tour
Saturday September 12
Participating homes will open their doors for the tour from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Advance tickets are on sale through Friday for $30 and on the day of the tour for $40 (pay at any of the homes). More info here.