Back At The Beach

Taking Time Off In Malibu Sunshine

Cover4The dream of an idyllic Oceanside life began for Rick and Kathy Merrill some 22 years ago when, as newlyweds, they rented a small place in Ventura, north of Los Angeles. “We always thought that, some day when we could afford it, we’d have a place back at the beach,” Rick Merrill recalls. 

Dream began to turn into reality two years ago when the Merrills sold their interest in a large real estate company and decided to take some well-earned time off. “We started to think about having a second house on the beach somewhere in Southern California, “ says Merrill. For six months, they journeyed up and down the coast, before narrowing their focus to secluded Broad Beach in Malibu. “A friend of mine lives in this area, “ Merrill continues, “ and Kathy and I started to come here at different times of day, to walk on the beach at night, to see how crowded it was on Sundays. We found all the people very friendly and the area very private.”

Several Broad Beach homes were up for sale, and the Merrills finally settled on a 4,500-square-foot contemporary directly facing the water. “What attracted us,” he says, “ was its open style, high ceilings and ocean view, “ not to mention the way the home’s multiple levels of indoor and outdoor living spaces allow both the couple and their two sons, 21-year-old Rick Jr. and 18-year-old Marc, “to entertain and have fun and not interrupt each other.” 

THERE WAS, HOWEVER, one distinct drawback. The house’s previous owner had opted for an interior design style Merrill describes as “gothic, with velveteen drapes and a lot of iron.” The dark, heavy look hardly befitted such a bright and airy setting. 

Enter Norm Wogan, whom the Merrills entrusted with completely reimagining the space. Drawing on more than 11 years of experience on both domestic and international projects, the Los Angeles-based designer savvily resisted stripping the interiors down to their bare bones. Most importantly, he kept the fossil limestone floors that flowed throughout the main and bedroom levels, along with the living room’s slate fireplace and bar. “The limestone felt and looked like petrified sand and the slate like beach rocks,” says Wogan. He set out to complement these basics with light sand-colored walls, while completely eliminating coverings from the sunset-facing windows. 

Having brightened the once-brooding space, Wogan faced another challenge. The Merrills intended to keep their existing home in Westlake, across the Santa Monica Mountains, leaving the designer to furnish the beach house from scratch. Both he and his clients, however, wanted the place to be a true expression of their personalities and interests, filled with objects that seemed to have been collected over a lifetime. 

“I wanted to create a house that revealed who they are, not who I am,” says Wogan, describing the dynamic partnership that developed between them. Rick, in particular, told Wogan of his interests in Africa, and both he and Kathy expressed and interest in fine art. 

The resulting look harmoniously combines California contemporary and British colonial styles. In the living room, for example, a sleekly comfortable custom sofa shares the space with an antique Sri Lankan solid-ebony table and chairs, while two large abstract oil paintings by Pierre-Marie Brisson face a tall wooden totem from Africa. Likewise, the master bedroom effortlessly marries old and new, East and West, with custom swivel chairs, an Indonesian bench, a landscape by California artist Larry Horowitz, Renoir etchings, and a headboard composed from carved Chinese screens. 

The two main rooms on the lowest level dramatize how wisely Wogan knew when to leave well enough alone and when to start from scratch. In the media room, he recognized that an existing wall of built-in video and audio cabinetry and the display cases on either side “were already working fine.” All he sis was paint the walls a soft mustard and hang two more Brissards; add carpeting, chenille-upholstered furniture and three solid spruce tables; and fill the shelves with a collection of hand-carved African slingshots. 

By contrast, Wogan completely reimagined the game room. “Previously,” he says, “it had white walls and blue carpeting, and made you wonder why you would want to go downstairs.” To make the room warmly inviting, he covered walls and floor alike with distressed Douglas fir, and used the same wood to create a coffered ceiling that enhances the old-world ambiance. So, too, do framed French Art Nouveau posters; a new-but-old-fashioned shuffleboard table; and a card table fashioned from an 18th-century European clock face. 

Although completely composed of newly purchased pieces, the game room feels as if it had been composed from favorite items his clients had acquired over the years. Credit Wogan’s efforts at attuning himself to their sensibilities and tastes. “We had a lot of laughter and learning together,” says the designer, who now looks forward to more of the same as he embarks with Kathy Merrill on the reimagining of their Westlake home.

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