Santa Monica Sanctuary

Broadcast journalist Lisa Ling and her husband, radiation oncologist Paul Song, built a green oasis for their family of four.
“We wanted an open feel,” Lisa LIng says. Photograph by Wally Skalij

By Cristina Cuomo

Cristina Cuomo: What was key in building your “forever” home?

Lisa Ling: Get the floor plan right. You can always redecorate, but structurally, changing things is more difficult.

CC: What was important to you in building this home with your architect?

LL: We wanted, first and foremost, someone we were comfortable with. The person who designed our house, Marco DiMaccio, knows us better than we know ourselves.

CC: The house originally on the lot was torn down. How did you use the materials from the teardown in the new construction?

LL: We only used some wood from the previous house—turns out that wasn’t the best idea. I’m not sure I can advise using material from the previous house. We are proud of our 100 percent recycle demolition though. It was hard, but it makes my conscience feel good.

The 4,300-square-foot, eco-friendly structure with a view to the terrace and solar panel outside the master bedrooms. Photograph by Wally Skalij

CC: The home is very open. Why was that important to you? 

LL: Paul and I grew up in homes that were compartmentalized. There were rooms that were never used, like the dining room. I can honestly say we use every inch of space in our house. We ultimately wanted an open feel.

CC: Safety was a priority: fire-resistant, termite-resistant materials. Can you talk about that as a mom?

LL: We thought we’d try to have kids at some point, so we wanted to make sure that everything was as safe as possible. That’s the beauty of building—you can seek out the safest materials.

Behind the dining table, portrait photos by contemporary Chinese artist Huang Yan. Photograph by Wally Skalij

CC: You’ve said you wanted this house to serve as an example for others on how we can help save the planet in our own ways. What inspired you to take this route when building?

LL: We explored many brand-new technologies because we were the first people to do what we did. Eco-friendly materials are more readily available now. We did want to be an example of building with a conscience. If you’re going to build, why not build as sustainably as possible?

Water, traveling from a 5,000-gallon tank that harvests rainfall from the roof, fills the tub. Photograph by Wally Skalij

CC: The house is solar powered and has a rainwater collection plan. Of course, California has a very serious drought problem. Did that go into your thinking when installing the underground 5,000-gallon water tank that harvests rainwater from the roof?

LL: Absolutely—it kills me to know how much water is consumed in LA by watering lawns, it’s so unnecessary! We have all drought-tolerant plants that require very little water. But the water they do receive comes from a massive water tank that gets filled when it rains. Now we did go through a couple years of very bad drought, so at that time, we relied on the city. But after these recent rains, we are all filled up and able to water our plants for a long time.

CC: Of all of the green and wellness features in the home, what has turned out to be your favorite over the years? Which one is more challenging, and why?

LL: The water collection has definitely saved us a lot of money. But I would have to say the foam insulation has kept our house most comfortable all year-round. We rarely use heat or air because our house is so well-insulated.

CC: As you were building, I know you had a lot of upheaval in your lives—in terms of deaths in the family, and your sister’s crisis. [Laura Ling, then a reporter for Current TV, was imprisoned by North Korea for 140 days in 2009.] Has the house set the tone for a new peaceful chapter in your life?

LL: The house is a nucleus for our whole extended family. It is never, ever empty. We have two grandmas, cousins, and aunts and uncles over all the time. We love that it is really being used by our families. And the kids love riding their scooters on the concrete floors—it’s like the autobahn in the house sometimes.

In the dining area, the couple display their traditional Korean wedding outfits as art. Photograph by Wally Skalij

CC: What does this house say about you and your husband and daughters now?

LL: I hope the house symbolizes forward thinking. You can be smart when building and do your part to help the planet. It is also a modern structure with a lot of culture inside.

CC: How do you start your day in the home?

LL: Coffee before anything. Then a mad rush to get the eldest out the door and the little one entertained.

CC: What gives you the most peace of mind about living here?

LL: That it’s so structurally sound, and that if the city loses power, we will still have limited power.

Designer Marco DiMaccio of PUNCHouse Eco Design group worked with Ling and Song to create the sleek, modern kitchen. Photograph by Wally Skalij

CC: Has being a mother changed any aspect of the home you created?

LL: We certainly wanted to take precautions with the materials we were using—of course, nontoxic products and recycled materials. The floor of our second level consists of repurposed wood. I like the idea of teaching my kids about waste and the importance of recycling perfectly usable materials.

CC: What wellness elements are you employing in the home as a mother?

LL: My 5-year-old is actually more of a wellness advocate than I am. She has a Mindfulness Jar and often takes time to breathe and get connected with her emotions. It’s a testament to the schools that she has attended and I have really been taking a page from her.

Ling and Song stand in front of an entrance light created out of 2,000 translucent plastic Chinese takeout containers. Photograph by Wally Skalij

CC: Your mother, mother-in-law and sister-in-law are close by. Was that the impetus to picking this location?

LL: When my husband agreed to leave a job and city that he loved—Chicago—to move to LA, he said that the only way he’d move west is if he could live by the beach. I agreed and am so happy I did.