Breathtaking beauty with a familiar problem – this was the site condition encountered by architecture firm Johnston Marklee when it conceived of a beachfront home for a couple in Oxnard, California, a city about 90 kilometres west of Los Angeles. “It’s a very long, narrow lot. They’re packed in like sardines,” says Mark Lee, co-principal with Sharon Johnston.
With minimal beach frontage and neighbours on both sides, most houses in the area place the living room facing the water and the master bedroom directly above. That approach results in two spectacular rooms but deprives the others of natural light. To bring views, light and air deeper into the home, the architects organized the interior rooms as a series of interconnected, vaulted spaces. “A vault is more directional than a plain rectangle,” says Lee. “We start off with something familiar but use it in an unfamiliar way. Vaults have a thousand years of history behind them.”
An open-air courtyard at the centre brings in additional light while providing a grand entrance. “Because the lots are so narrow, many times you have to enter quite unceremoniously, almost through an alley,” notes Lee. Not so in this 335-square-metre house, where a swooping cutaway from the roof and wall of the courtyard lets light pour onto a limestone floor that seamlessly connects the indoor and outdoor spaces.
On one side of the courtyard, a gallery-like double-height living room frames spectacular beach views that spill far inside, to a kitchen with a large master suite above. Positioned to receive sun on two sides, the loft-like bedroom overlooks both the living area and the courtyard. On the other side of the courtyard, two guest rooms and a multi-purpose room sit above a double garage.
Organically arched windows and cut-outs define the sculptural exterior, which is clad in GrailCoat, a seamless, flexible concrete waterproofing membrane. Developed for industrial roofing, the material gives the building a monolithic appearance while reducing future maintenance concerns. The front half of the house, facing the beach, is built on piles about two metres off the sand, while the garage walls are designed to break away in the event of a flood – features intended to ensure that the house remains standing, even in a tsunami.
There is just one unintended side effect of having such an eye-catching home facing a public beach. “The owners’ only complaint is that it draws a lot of visitors,” says Lee. “They’ll wake up and walk out, and there will be someone standing right in front of their house, looking in and commenting on the art.”
The Southern California stunner raises the bar with arched cut-outs and vaulted ceilings.