Riding The Waves: Beach House Architecture

March 12, 2012

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

California Dreaming: Quintessential California Style

“A beach house isn’t just real estate. It’s a state of being.”
– Douglas Adams, author of A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The stretch of beach between Malibu and Venice is arguably among the most beautiful, coveted real estate in the world.  In turn, it has inspired generations of iconic architecture, specifically over the last one hundred years. “Southern California architecture is always evolving. This climate – our normal, it is really abnormal. Weather is not a consideration so more risks can be taken, materials can be used and experimented with in unexpected ways. The common thread in Southern California architecture is the attention placed on the relationship between indoor and outdoor space,” says architect and Los Angeles native Eric Owen Moss, Principal of Eric Owen Moss Architects and Director of Sci-Arc.

Many of these homes are now historical landmarks, including the Adamson House, designed by Stiles O. Clements in the 1920s, which sits just opposite PCH from Cross Creek. An amazing example of Spanish-Moorish architecture, the house emphasizes indoor-outdoor living and entertaining.  The property also boasts a staggering collection of Malibu Pottery tiles, best known for their colorful glazes in many shades of serene blues. “The tiles seen in the house and the property are the most comprehensive known,” says Lisa Otis- Kisor, Council Chairperson for The Adamson House.  (Stunning examples of Malibu Pottery can also be viewed ascending the staircase at the Casa del Mar Hotel in Santa Monica).

Adamson House, Stiles Clements; Photo: Jack Coble

Further south, in Santa Monica, sits the former Marion Davies estate designed by Hearst Castle architect Julia Morgan. The sprawling five-acre Georgian-style mansion included over 110 rooms, used to entertain Hollywood’s elite, including Joan Crawford and Clark Gable, at elaborately themed parties. Today, the property is the site of the Annenberg Community Beach House, designed by Frederick Fisher in 2009.  Included in the new design is one of Davies’ original guesthouses and the pool. This multi-use public property is part historic landmark and part evolving community space.

Marion Davies Guest Home at the Annenberg Beach House, Julia Morgan; Photo: Grant Mudford

Annenberg Community Beach House, Fredrick Fisher Architects; Photo: Grant Mudford

Annenberg Community Beach House, Fredrick Fisher Architects; Photo: Grant Mudford

Among notable private residences, Harry Gesner’s Encinal House in Malibu provides a perfect cross-section of modern architecture and natural beauty. The curved tongue and groove ceilings, wrap-around walls of glass and the rounded copper patina roof are just of few of the features that exemplify Gesner’s reverence for both the natural and designed elements of building.

Encinal House, Harry Gesner

Encinal House, Harry Gesner

Malibu Colony has been a hideaway for celebrities since the Rindge Family starting selling off parcels in the 1930s. According to urban legend, Barbara Stanwyck and Gloria Swanson were the first to set-up “shacks” along the beach, which they called their new “colony”. “Colonyites” have included Tom Hanks, Demi Moore, Sting, Danny DeVito, Gisele and Jackie Collins. Architect Richard Landry’s Malibu Residence, a cross between classic and contemporary design, sits right on Malibu Colony Road “…one of the best sections of sand with one of the widest beach frontages in the Colony,” attests Damon Skelton of Coldwell Banker Malibu. Landry explains, “The house was originally inspired by New England beach cottages. I enjoyed adapting this architectural language to a contemporary setting on the Southern California coast. Maximizing views, light and fresh air was a main priority. Several glass walls completely open to the outside, creating a great connection with the beach.”

The Malibu Residence, Richard Landry

The Malibu Residence, Living room view out to the ocean.

New England style gray clapboard cottage Malibu style.

In Venice, Antoine Predock’s domicile on Oceanfront Walk boasts an enormous floor to ceiling window that pivots horizontally to let in the ocean breeze. The window unites the inside experience of home with the serenity of the beach and the water outside.

The California coast has a rich tradition of blurring the lines between indoor and outdoor life. “Southern California has a roll-up, cruise in and out lifestyle. Design is always an awareness of how you use or operate in a space,” says Moss. Mild temperatures, ocean breezes, and the warm sand have inspired artists of all kinds to flock to the area. Beach architecture reflects the challenge humans face co-existing with nature – and the beauty of that relationship when it works.


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