Interior designer Sandy Koepke hails from Nebraska, yet she was wooed by Southern California’s sundrenched coastline, where she’s been creating beautiful living spaces for more than 30 years. Her hallmark style is sophisticated comfort—an effect she creates in close collaboration with artisans, contractors, and clients. Armed with “a light- lled and light-hearted approach to interior and garden design,” Sandy takes us into a Manhattan Beach home's garden space, providing tips on how to achieve a seamless transition between indoor and outdoor living.
This Manhattan Beach home is beautiful and sophisticated with a rustic twist. How did you approach its design?
Thank you! Your question captures our intention. The homeowners love to travel to Mexico, Costa Rica, Tahiti, Peru, and Italy. We wanted to create a space that invoked the peace and ease of beautiful resorts, as well as the elements of a town square where people meet friends for food and music. Stucco, stone, iron, copper, and bronze are common materials, but we combined them in interesting layers. Salvaged railings and some vintage textiles add texture and character.
What were the technical watch outs of this space and how did you work around them?
As the site is a typical narrow beach lot hemmed in by neighboring homes, we wanted to obscure some views and maximize others. Also, the properties on both sides are at a considerably higher elevation so this backyard felt a bit sunken. We gutted the entire yard to all the lot lines, and regraded and installed an intricate drainage system that allowed us to pour the new patio to be ush with the interior stone oors. We also removed a good portion of the back of the house and installed Lanai-type Nanawall doors. The result is a seamless transition from inside to out, and the outdoor room is now truly an extension of the house.
There’s a great balance of space—from formal seating areas to intimate nooks. What furniture and features did you incorporate to achieve this?
The replace is the magnet and anchors a seating area composed of built-in benches and iron furniture. This is the place everyone wants to huddle and linger until late. The best conversations are around that replace! The dining table now occupies the raised terrace where an iron pergola creates a sense of enclosure and provides an armature for vines, lights, hanging lanterns, and plants. While the dining area feels protected and intimate, you can still see the stars. That old iron and stone table in the center was once a candy maker's work table—it’s a great spot for coffee in the morning or wine later (or beer from the kegerator!). It’s also a great serving area for party food, as well as a place to perch and keep the cook company. Considerable thought goes into achieving that balance of intimate spaces that are comfortable for a family and also exible enough for entertaining.
How does the space transition from day to evening?
This home is at the beach, so the vibe is relaxed and inviting. The transition from day to evening to night is subtle and organic —as the sun sets, the lights come up. All the light sources are layered and on timers and dimmers. There are also pendant lights and lanterns, strings of fairy lights, and lots of votive candles. The dining pergola looks like a little lantern itself. The stone trough fountain is also lit and fed by two old French spigots, so the water is always moving. It’s magical at night.
What evolutions have you noticed in outdoor design?
I think people are becoming aware of the potential that rests right outside their doors; both to provide more usable living space and also to create beautiful sight lines from inside. The rst outdoor kitchen and dining area I designed was for myself in 1997. At the time I chose not to include a small refrigerator, thinking I could just run in the house for things... which is what I constantly did. I now recommend a beverage or wine cooler, or small refrigerator! This kitchen has an ice maker and a kegerator (my favorite is Fat Tire from New Belgium Brewery). I’ve also been incorporating more pizza ovens into my projects... they are really stone hearth ovens, and you can do the whole meal in one. They’re lots of fun, and also a party magnet!
Is there an ideal way to landscape an outdoor living area?
Landscaping is an integral part of the plan. It’s certainly not a matter of designing the outdoor room and then adding some pots! Rather than thinking of it as landscaping an outdoor
room, my approach is to design a beautiful garden that also includes areas for seating, dining and cooking. After all, you are introducing a lot of stainless steel into the garden and that can look jarring without sensitive planning. Mother nature is still the star.
Choosing easy-to-care-for materials is important for maintenance. There are so many gorgeous outdoor seating fabrics available now. Solution-dyed acrylics look and feel great, and they are tough! You want to choose hardy materials with the understanding that there is going to be fading, dust, rust—you are outdoors! Copper sinks have a good look and hold up well. Bronze and iron light xtures continue to oxidize outside and get even better! Embrace the imperfections.
How do you make an outdoor space truly magical?
There is no simple answer but one approach is to think in terms of layers of lighting and plantings. Or sometimes a piece of architectural salvage will serve as inspiration; a fabulous old gate, railing, or a collection of vintage light xtures may be the rst thing you nd and then you follow that path. Water is a natural presence in a garden and smaller fountains or bubblers can be tucked into the plantings, adding a captivating element of sound. As water naturally re ects light, consider incorporating thoughtfully placed mirrors, hanging glass, or mirrored mobiles to catch the sunlight. A birdbath invites birds to stop by, and aromatic plants like lavender and scented geraniums attract hummingbirds and butter ies. For me, the process of creating an outdoor living space is almost like doing a painting—one you don’t just look at, you live in.