Home Tour: Cleo and McShane Murnane

Cleo and McShane Murnane invite us high above Los Angeles and into their hilltop home.

“The music we listen to is not very entertaining. It’s more about settling in and relaxing.”

For years it seemed like the Murnane residence would only ever exist on paper. Architect McShane Murnane and graphic designer Cleo Murnane watched nearly a decade pass before the cliff-side house finally came to life in Silver Lake, Los Angeles. It was a labor of love nurtured through the birth of two children and the launch of M+, the architecture and design collective the couple founded together in 2008. Today the home illuminates L.A.’s storied hills. A lesson in balance, the slick, cantilevered structure integrates a chic interior with the comfort a young family requires. Nothing good comes easy, and the Murnane home was well worth the wait.

Tell us the story of your home.

McShane: In 2006, we were house hunting but couldn’t realistically buy. We thought, we can afford land, and I’m an architect… maybe we should build a house? Then the market crashed. We had land and a good design, but with the recession, we couldn’t even start construction.

Cleo: The story is a testament to design. We would never have gotten our construction loan approved, but we submitted an architecture and design package to the bank, with a mood board for every room. The loan agent said, “You know, my wife is a graphic designer, and I’ll find a way to make this work.” He worked with us and taught us how to improve our financial situation so we could get approved. It was a long process.

Did you ever second-guess the plans as they sat on a shelf for years?

Cleo: No, it solidified everything. We’d buy each other things for the house while we waited. I actually got a sink on Valentine’s Day. I had bathroom tiles shipped on a boat and they were stuck in customs for six months, but there wasn’t any stress. Every element became really precious because we had the time to think everything through.

What’s the design concept?

McShane: The major concept was that the cost had to stay on target. It would have been more cost effective to build on the street, but part of the ethos of the home is maximizing the view. From the hill, you can see the Hollywood sign, Griffith Park, the valley below us and the San Gabriel Mountains. So we made the foundation as small as possible because a lot of money would go into digging on the hill.

Cleo: There are 70 stairs to our house. It’s like living in a tree fort.

How do you balance an architectural dream with livability?

McShane: We did a feng shui study and mixed it with the technical side, really considering how we wanted to live in this home. The basement had a small footprint, so we put the kids’ bedrooms there. Upstairs, an open floor plan allows us to spend more time together as a family.

Cleo: The kid and adult spaces are separated. You sometimes give up when you have children, and it becomes the kids’ house. I really wanted beautiful furniture, so the communal space is comfortable but definitely grown-up. Downstairs is more playful.

I heard a shaman was involved in the project?

McShane: We blessed the land before starting construction.

Cleo: Everything was on the line. We’d never owned anything before! I don’t know exactly what shamans do, but it feels very official. We each held a rock, thought of family and then passed them around a fire pit. He blessed the rocks and put them in corners of the property.

McShane: [laughing] … and then the neighbor called the fire department.

Cleo: Two fire trucks showed up!

You were off to a good start! How did acoustics factor into your home’s design?

McShane: We did consider it, but it’s not the driving factor. The consideration is more about layout within the room. We also considered which direction the sound travels and planned windows and doors to keep sound in. We don’t want to blast our music to the neighbors.

What role does music play in the house?

Cleo: Most of the house is wired with speakers, and the kids have their own little setup where they can play music in their bedrooms. But it’s a pretty quiet house during the week when they’re in school. We’re kind of removed from the city, and we keep the house very peaceful.

And on the weekends?

Cleo: We have a piano that the kids and McShane play, or we’ll put on music that resonates in every room. The music we listen to is not very entertaining. It’s more about settling in and relaxing while we’re working or doing homework—a lot of piano or classical. It’s always something mellow, like a soundtrack to our lives.

How do you blend technology and aesthetics?

McShane: We choose the right sound system for the room, which allows us to control the size of the speakers. We also use wall brackets to mount them up high on the wall and in the corners.

Which is your favorite element of your home?

McShane: The view.

Cleo: The way the light comes into the house is just incredible. We once lived in a tiny studio that had skylights in the bathroom. I grew up in mid-western houses—I’d never had that before! McShane included a skylight in the master bathroom, and it’s such a luxury to wake up with the sun.

What makes this house a home?

Cleo: It took us five years to build. I know how much the foundation cost and the name of every person who worked on it. No amount of money could make us want to sell it. We put our heart and soul into this house.

This post is produced in partnership with Sonos and West Elm.


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