When architect Anders Lasater got a call to help open up and reimagine an unimaginative ‘70s tract home in the Niguel Shores area of Dana Point, he quickly saw the primary challenges: The existing house wasn’t so much of an eyesore as it was bereft of personality. Think beige carpet; beige walls; generic, white-painted windows; and a near-complete absence of architectural detailing.

transitional dining room

“Nothing stood out,” says Lasater, who has recently completed The Wine Gallery restaurant in Laguna Beach and is currently working on Sellanne’s Steak Tavern in the former French 75 location, also in Laguna. “It was just a generically vanilla structure with no organization to it in terms of material, space or color.” So the architect set about a program that would shift the 2,700-square-footer from nondescript to something authentic. “This is a California home by the beach, so the idea was to create a home that would be visually clear and understandable,” says the architect. “We did that by using easy materials in a California style. The idea was to make it feel carefree while being highly functional.”

To go from structurally soulless to a place with personality, Lasater started in what is almost always the central hub of any home: the kitchen. He planned that room, and from there radiated outward toward the common areas, the outdoor living space, and finally, the four bedrooms. “Everything started with that 15-foot kitchen island,” he says. “That became the organizing catalyst that really influenced all the other decisions. Kitchens are key. When you organize them first, it’s like the first ripple in the pond, and then the rest of the organization flowers from that.”

transitional kitchen

Poetic analogies aside, in concrete architectural terms, that meant that the island set a boundary for the adjacent family room, which then lead to the dining/living area. In the dining room, he took out almost all of the walls to open it up, but then added a partial wall. “We put the wall there because then it became a place for the buffet and storage, but by pulling it down from the ceiling, we’re able to show the continuing ceiling plane, so you don’t have this solid wall dividing up the space.”

Lasater, who worked with Laguna Beach-based interior designer Bob Rubel of Exotica Design on the project, then took those expansive spaces and unified them with carefully chosen materials. Wide-plank, rustic-feeling French oak flooring is used throughout the common areas to “give the illusion of a bigger space and that develops a sense of continuity,” he says. Ditto the tongue-and-groove, full-height ceilings that run the length of the common space.

modern kitchen

When it came time to tackle the outdoor areas, Lasater was adamant about treating the patio as useable space. “This is a family with four kids, and although the house isn’t tiny, it’s not huge,” he says. “I knew they really had to treat this as part of the home.”

To that end, the architect removed the area’s “sea of brick pavers” and replaced them with concrete studded with hand-cast black pebbles that capture and reflect the sun. Two huge sofas are separated by an oversized, rectangular firepit, perfect for entertaining or just hanging out. And just to ensure that the patio got near-constant use, the architect installed a cleverly concealed flatscreen on one wall.

transitional living room

Finally, he convinced the family to plant a pair of carrotwood trees on either end of the patio area. The plan was that they would eventually grow to create a canopy over the sitting areas. “The trees ended up bookending the space,” he says. “They have a broad canopy and now when you’re out there, you feel legitimately protected.”