When we originally decided to add 1,000 square feet to our Malibu beach house as part of the renovation, I mentally divided it into different parts of the house: expanding the master suite, maybe adding a new bathroom and closet, expanding the kitchen. That kind of things. So when I saw our architect Doug Burgess first draft of our renovation plans, I was surprised that he had laid all of our extra square footage into one room, which he called “The Great Room.” On closer inspection it turned out to be one huge open kitchen with a fireplace at one end. Huh.
Although my initial response was surprise (“Are we sure this is the best use of space?”), Doug’s plan revealed what I consider to be a very modern approach to architecture – designing with our needs and personal values firsteven if it meant throwing out a few expectations in the process.
Since our family’s top priority is to create an atmosphere of connection and make people feel welcome, what better way to foster that sense of togetherness than through a large open space made for gathering? The more I looked through my inspiration photos and envisioned the family vacations and dinners with friends in this house, the more excited I became about the space.
So let’s start with a look at the house’s current kitchen, to give you an idea of the less-than-ideal conditions we’re working with (and why we’re starting from scratch with it).
Here is the current kitchen:
The current bungalow kitchen is wedged into a corner at the back of the house. When I’m cooking or doing the dishes, my back is turned to everyone else in the room. Overall, it has a closed feel that is not conducive to my style of cooking, which is all about casual conversation with Adam or my kids while I chop.
I have a long-standing dream of a massive kitchen window above the sink that floods the room with sunshine.
It’s a design element I’ve never had in a house I’ve lived in, which is why my “Dream Kitchen” Pinterest board is covered in large kitchen windows.
And now, for the new addition to the Great Room – I’ll lead with the visuals to give you an idea of what we’re envisioning, and then I’ll explain. Here’s the interior rendering – note that colors and finishes aren’t exact yet, but this shows the space:
I can’t wait for the day when I get ready for dinner with the music turned up, a glass of wine in hand, and the sea breeze blowing in through the open doors.
Here are a few of the key elements that we carved out for this space:
Wall of doors that can be opened completely
I think every house should have one element that makes a big statement. It’s the design moment that, if guests remember little else, at least they won’t forget that. In our beach house project, the 30-foot wall of pocket doors that open right to the outside is without a doubt that statement. Since one of the reasons we are drawn to Southern California is the ability to spend 12 months of the year outside, one of our top priorities is to create a natural flow between indoors and outdoors. All our windows and doors come from Marvinand I’m really excited about the beautiful wood framed selections we’re going with.
Plus, this seamless transition enables us to transform the covered patio into an outdoor dining room that will feel like part of the great room. No, it’s not a conventional approach to a dining room, but for a family that loves to eat as many meals outdoors as possible, it works.
Oversized kitchen island
The focal point of The Great Room is a 13-foot kitchen island that at first felt almost also large, but after closer examination is scaled exactly in relation to the size of this room. This is a hard-working island that will more than earn its keep—not only will it be the central gathering place for kitchen prep and casual dining, but it will also house the cooktop and main sink, plus tons of storage. The inside of the island will have deep drawers where we will store everything from plates and bowls to cutlery. The side facing outwards will have open shelves for cookbooks and display items in the corners with space for bar stools in the middle. Since the rest of the kitchen has minimal cabinets, we depend on this island to hold one lot.
Fireplace to anchor the room
Since we’re not adding a designated “living room” to the house, we’ve carved out one end of the great room as the area where we’ll cozy up with a glass of wine and a good book. And there’s nothing like a fireplace that welcomes everyone to kick their feet up in the air – plus it’s a design element that will provide a clear differentiation between the “made” part of the room and the “relaxing” part of the room, even if they will not be separated by an actual wall. We plan to place a round table surrounded by low-slung chairs in front of the fire – an inviting place for a cozy dinner for two or game night with the kids.
I wanted to design the more “loungey” side of the great room (near the fireplace) in a way that flowed with the kitchen, but didn’t feel like you were still in the kitchen. But when we swapped most of our upper cabinetry for a large kitchen window (more on that below), we needed all the extra storage we could get. So I designated the wall that runs perpendicular to the fireplace as a bar and beverage station. It can accommodate practical things such as wine storage, coffee machine, mugs and glassware. And it will also feature more design-forward elements, like our vintage record player and sculptural objects on the open shelves, to stop it feeling too much like part of the kitchen.
And last but not least… I finally got my big kitchen window!
As mentioned, I have long dreamed of a statement kitchen window that floods the room with sunshine. And not only will our 10 foot wide x 6 foot tall window let in tons of natural light, but it’s also a fully functioning slider that opens up to the back patio. There will be a counter on the outside perfect for serving drinks and passing out food to throw on the grill.
One design decision I’m still considering is what type of tree to plant just outside this window. As the visual focal point of this space, it is as crucial to the design elements as any interior artwork, so I approach it with the same level of care. Right now my top candidates are either a gnarly, twisted decorative olive tree, or a lush citrus tree – just imagine being able to open the window and pick a ripe orange straight from the branches! It’s hard to imagine something dreaming, but I’ll tell you where we end up.