By David A. Keeps
24 Images

Santa Monica Shangri-La: A tropical family retreat

By David A. Keeps
Bob Ramirez and Lorri Kline turned a 2,300-square-foot traditional English-style house in Santa Monica into a 3,700-square-foot tropical retreat, replete with the open-air rooms, exposed wooden posts and beams and the steeply pitched roof of a Bali beach resort. For Ramirez, a custom home designer and builder, and Kline, an interior finishes specialist, what had been a country-style escape is now their family’s Shangri-La. Here, son Gabriel emerges from the koi pond. “He learned to snorkel here before we added our pool,” Kline says. Behind Gabriel: the two-story guesthouse with an aviary and rabbit hutch on the right. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)
The rear profile of the house looks exotic even by Southern California standards. Ramirez not only framed his house in wood, but also used it extensively in floors and ceilings to give the home the distinct character of an island retreat. Outdoor rooms have floors and railings of ipe, the tropical hardwood. Parents Bob and Lorri are pictured here with son Gabriel, 9, left, and son Daniel, 11. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)
The view from the open-air dining room extends from the vintage hanging chair, where Gabriel sits, to the hammock where brother Daniel lazes, with the swimming pool in the distance. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)
Though the architecture is adventurous, the furnishings remain grounded. Daniel nestles with Buster on a Danish modern-style sofa from Urban Outfitters. The painting overhead is by Ed Gilliam, who lives and works in Mexico. The teak chess table is a Midcentury find flanked by old oak school chairs. To the left: A simple paper lantern illuminates the outdoor dining table. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)
In what had been the ground-floor master bedroom, Ramirez raised the ceiling and added skylights and glass sliders, transforming the dark space into a sun-drenched kitchen. The ceiling is paneled in spruce; steel rods double as pot racks. The island is oiled teak with a Carrara marble top, and the stools are from Pier 1 Imports. Throughout the house, rooms have floors of white oak except for the kitchen, which is polished concrete. The kitchen connects to a family music room. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)
...and the music room opens to the covered dining deck. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)
Another view from the music room. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)
Ramirez retained the original formal living room, a cozy space with a hearth and beamed ceilings. But he added wood-framed windows and black walnut bookcases, which he designed and had Mt. Washington Woodworks produce. Kline decorated the house in a low-key, worldly bohemian fashion using catalog purchases, EBay discoveries and garage sale finds. The desk by the window came from a courtroom, and the Biedermeier-style coffee table by Lane is from a garage sale. The pillows were made from one-of-a-kind vintage Indian textiles sewn by Acapillow Home in Santa Monica(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)
Throughout the house, much delights the eye: African and Asian textiles, Mexican santos figures and marble sacred cows from India. Here: a ship’s lantern in the foyer. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)
One wall has a perforated stone screen used in India for ventilation, mounted in a peek-a-boo cutout. In deference to the principles of feng shui, Ramirez says he reversed the orientation of the stairs so that the steps would no longer lead from the second floor out the front door. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)
Salvaged architectural pieces such as a carved post frame the staircase. The couple found the post in Bali and had it shipped home, before they knew how they were going to use it. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)
One of the surprises on the second floor: an open-air sleeping terrace set over the al fresco dining room on the ground floor. The space is wrapped in Sunbrella weather-resistant curtains, and the floor and railing are tropical ipe wood. The simple platform bed from West Elm is dressed up with tapa bark cloth, Moroccan wool, sheepskin rugs and a cowhide lampshade. “It’s cool sleeping in the loft, especially when it rains,” son Daniel says. “I can feel the mist and hear the birds chattering in the morning” (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)
In the second-floor master bedroom, Ramirez’s sharply peaked ceiling soars two stories high. In the center of the room, an antique carved pine spiral staircase from France leads to a loft. The sliding doors open to a terrace. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)
An Indian desk in the bedroom is paired with a vintage American courthouse chair. The carpets are Moroccan tribal designs made of wool. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)
In the loft space above the master bedroom, Ramirez’s beams and rafters form a temple-like ceiling. The room is furnished with an Ikea daybed covered in a Moroccan-inspired rug from West Elm. The Persian carpet depicts a tree of life and is from Berbere Imports. The Colonial style cabinet is from Bali. To the left of the cabinet is a tiny door that leads to a play space for sons Daniel and Gabriel. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)
The play space also can be reached by the boys in their bedroom, where access is provided by a rock-climbing wall. The ceiling is Western red cedar. The desk and counter are Pottery Barn purchases, and the floating shelves are from Ikea. “The paintings have been collected at flea markets and garage sales,” says Lorri Kline, seen in a mirror that she found in an alley behind the house. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)
Bob Ramirez peeks out one of his shuttered windows. Details such as the extended corner shingles are “an hommage to architecture of the eastern side of the Pacific Rim,” Ramirez says. “Perhaps it’s a memory of upturned prows of wooden sailing vessels, or maybe just a playful way to challenge the sky.” Ramirez studied geography at Cal State Northridge, then traveled the world in the ‘70s and ‘80s earning a living as a woodworker while studying architecture. “Everywhere I’d go, I saw domestic structures and the beauty of human scale where you are not using steel beams and sheet glass and cranes.” (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)
A former tool shed underwent what Ramirez calls “a series of interventions” to become an airy, skylit guest suite with its own loft. “We removed the stucco, glazed over the original studs, cleanup up the original roof trusses and added a skylight, insulation and a select, tight-knot Western red cedar ceiling,” he says. The floor is stained plywood. The British Colonial furniture is from R&D Imports; the pillows on the bed are a tropical toile from C Gellar in Los Angeles(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)
Above the main guest bed lies a loft with twin beds, unfinished cedar window blinds and louvered shutters. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)
The result of the 10-year makeover is a seamless flow from the indoors to outside. The house may give the couple’s children a cool place to play, but it also serves as a calling card for their firm, Ramirez Design. It’s a showcase for the couple’s sensibility, which embraces the idea of living pavilions between the house and the yard. The pool deck’s palapa is made of local Mexican fan palm fronds. The outdoor sofas are from West Elm(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)
Gabriel uproots a carrot while Ramirez and Daniel pick a beet in the family’s organic garden. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)
Lorri Kline sums up the house nicely: “It’s not a formal, stuffy place,” she says. “It’s a barefoot house.” (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)
A moment of pure peace: A tiny frog rests on a lily pad in the koi pond.

To see more than 100 home galleries -- colorful, exotic, eccentric or simply smart and practical -- bookmark our Homes of the Times(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)
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