What was the inspiration behind your new home's architecture?

My wife Julie McMahon, who is an interior designer, and I wanted to create a home that was both modern and contextual within the neighborhood. That is why we ended up with gable roofs, eaves, vertical siding, and stone. We also liked the idea of incorporating a large sleeping porch on the second level, as a place to retreat and relax. The inside living area centers on the main floor taking advantage of the indoor/outdoor connection. Perhaps, you could say the house evokes a “modern craftsman” aesthetic. Ultimately, we wanted it to feel unique.

What natural materials do you enjoy working with?

I like working with all types of natural and man-made materials. I like the interplay of different materials and the graphic quality you can come up with. Natural stone against hard edged materials such as plaster, glass, or wood is appealing to me. There are so many new quality natural and synthetic wood products out there. It’s an exciting time to be an architect.

How does a house become a home?

For me, one of the design elements needs to include warmth for a house to become a home. I am a modernist at heart, but oftentimes a modern aesthetic can feel cold. I like to use warmer interior wood tones in the furniture and accessory choices for this reason. In our house, we’ve incorporated Douglas Fir wood windows, and white oak parquet floors, as well as color choices, furniture, and lighting to achieve this.

When did you know you wanted to be an Architect?

Drawing came naturally to me. I was always designing and drawing things from elementary school onward. I think I knew I wanted to become an architect when I started taking high school drafting classes. Architecture runs in my family. My mom was an architect and we always had very creative things going on around the house growing up.

What do you love most about living in Southern California?

I guess all the cliché things that everyone talks about, year-round great weather, the active lifestyle. There is no place that has a thousand different communities connected continuously like here, with different world cultures in different neighborhoods. Being able to connect to the outdoors is such a plus here. We have so much of our Southern California identity rooted in different economic markets; the legacy aerospace economy, which has spurred growth in our Silicon economy, the entertainment industry, and many world-class universities feeding it all. If you can navigate the traffic, So Cal is amazing.

How does lighting impact your work?

Lighting is huge for how people experience an environment. I like to incorporate natural light whenever possible. Over the past ten years or so, there has been so many new lighting products available to designers, from LED to halogen, high-intensity discharge, and on and on; the energy savings and quality of lighting has improved in quantum leaps. It used to be that using energy efficient lighting meant using cold fluorescent bulbs, but now you can get great warm lighting in so many energy efficient ways. With the climate change conversation becoming front and center, and the building codes requiring building to consume less and less energy, these new products are making it easier to design comfortable places.

What is your specialty in what you do?

I’ve worked in two diverse building markets; low-income multi-family housing in underserved neighborhoods, and theme park work for clients like Universal Studios and Disney.

What is it like working on low-income housing?

If you are designing buildings that people live in that give people pride that this is their home, that is a great feeling. Low-income multi-family housing takes a lot of team players to make projects happen; everyone from community activists, political proponents, financiers, and good developer/clients. One project we completed in South Los Angeles included a street level supermarket, which was the first such store in the surrounding area in over 50 years and brought healthy food options to an area the had previously been a food desert. Participating in those types of projects is very meaningful to me.

Tell us about some of the theme park work you’ve done.

I worked on the original Disney’s California Adventure theme park. That was fun seeing the old Disneyland parking lot transform into what today is the sister theme park to the original Disneyland. Our firm also participated in the Shanghai Disneyland theme park project. Themed design work involves working with and alongside many very talented architects, designers, and engineers. One of the things that intrigues me about theme parks is how it centers on place making. One of Walt Disney’s ideas for Disneyland has stuck with me as architect. In its simplest form, Disneyland uses a three-dimensional stage set idea to immerse people so that they can be mentally and emotionally transported elsewhere. Think walking down Disneyland’s Main Street, U.S.A., or Adventureland. In much of today’s successful urban/retail design, place making uses these same concepts. I find this fascinating.

Which designer/architects most influenced your career and why?

I don’t have any one designer/architect that most influenced me. There are so many inspirational, talented people practicing right now. As a modernist Louis Kahn’s exploration of pure form, Quincy Jones and his brilliant Mid-Century modern work stand out. Of current architects working in California, Brooks + Scarpa, Michael Maltzan, and David Baker are doing great, innovative multi-family housing work that should be checked out.

Where is your favorite vacation spot to getaway?

My wife and I like to travel and constantly explore new things, so I’m not sure we have a favorite getaway. Some of the favorite places I have been to are Tuscany, the Greek Isles, and the Fjords of Norway. We like Healdsburg up north in Sonoma County, and more local, we love getting away to Ojai.

Tell us about awesome Architectural LA Historic Landmarks you've been to:

There are a lot of choices. I’m a view guy, so Griffith Park Observatory ranks high with me. The Art Deco architectural style and grand proportions of the space as well as being able to walk the outside viewing decks is memorable. The Hollyhock House in Hollywood by Frank Lloyd Wright is truly original and inspirational from a historic standpoint. The Getty Villa in Malibu is a world class experience for the setting, art, and building design and makes for a great getaway day.

Cotton Fontana Architects

Thank you for working with Lightopia for your home's lighting design layout and lighting fixtures, it was great to work with you and Sean Icaza from Icaza Builders. Manhattan Beach has an incredible development community, how important is it to work with an experienced local contractor?

It's crucial to work with a local expert in your area, in our case Icaza Builders. We were able to leverage their talent and better solve constructability issues which improved the overall house design. Their strong connection to the local design and construction market was huge.


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