Memory PalaceAuthor:Abigail Stone
Kate Lester of Kate Lester Interiors renovates a home for a Manhattan Beach family that will carry them forward into a beautiful future.
Perched atop the coveted “Hill Section” of Manhattan Beach, the 6,000 square feet Mediterranean-style home had been built in the 90s. Although the client made some changes when they’d moved in, a decade later it was in desperate need of updates. They’d heard such raves about interior designer Kate Lester from friends who’d worked with her that they decided to wait until her schedule synched up with theirs rather than considering anyone else.
Lester was equally excited to work on the home, quickly seeing beyond its dark and heavy present to its bright and welcoming future. “I could see the potential right away. It had good bones and an open and gorgeous floor plan,” she recalls, “but it needed a dramatic facelift.” That included opening up the master bathroom and creating more cohesive closet space. Lester was also drawn to the home’s inherent sophistication, in sharp contrast to the beach-influenced projects she often works on. “It was refreshing to take on a project that was something completely different. I knew this dated Mediterranean would one day be my ‘Spanifornia meets French Chateau’ masterpiece!,” she says. Spanifornia, a Lester-coined phrase, is her term for her own version of the Spanish-Revival-meets-Southern-California style that funnels that style into the modern age. “I think creating our own concept really helped us navigate transforming the home into something fresh, functional and unique to our clients.
Anxious about getting caught up in the trends and having to head back to the drawing board in another ten years, Lester and the clients made the decision to restrict the renovation to the tried and true. “The design plan was to keep it crisp, clean and classic,” says Lester, That meant sticking to natural wood tones, white-based marbles, and a neutral, simple palette. “The main idea was that we would keep some of the home’s more interesting details, like the curved precast window in the upstairs hallway, and the arch detail in the kitchen,” says Lester, “while eliminating anything that was unnecessary. Streamline and simplify was our mantra.”
Heavy crown moldings and columns were removed. Gold and crystal accents were banished. Travertine floors were ripped out and replaced with European oak. The kitchen cabinetry received an update via new molding, hardware and finishes from the original cabinetmaker who’d created it. “It made me really happy that we were able to re-use some of the existing cabinetry. I like being smart about my budgets, and I knew I could get the look I wanted with a few tweaks and then use that money somewhere else!”
A coat of Benjamin Moore’s Simply White paint breathed new life into the formerly somber interior and allowed the furnishings, rugs and vintage art and accessories to take center stage. “It was a saving grace,” says Lester.
Many of the home’s choice standout finds were actually pieces that had belonged to the client’s mother-in-law who had recently passed away. “She was in the process of clearing out the home and randomly showed us some images of what was going to be donated and I just about fainted,” says Lester. “It was a treasure trove of vintage fabulousness. Now they have taken on a new life in this home and are a token of remembrance as well.”
But, of course, the final say on how the project turned out belongs to the client. “She’s a businesswoman so I was prepared for her to not be overly emotional during the big reveal,” says Lester, “But she got tears in her eyes! It is really one of the most wonderful feelings when people are so happy with the finished product. It’s a gentle reminder that not only are we in the business of creating gorgeous spaces, but we are also creating backdrops for people’s memories.” This is a space to remember.