Edie Cohen | October 25, 2013
This is a story of coming full circle. A few years out of school, Robert Kerr worked at Clive Wilkinson Architects. Hailey Soren did as well. But since she joined the firm a year after Kerr left, the two never met. Their paths diverged further, as he eventually went on to found Robert Kerr Architecture Design, and she, after taking a break to start a family, launched Hungary Louis to pursue branding, graphics, Web, and interiors projects. When her parents were looking to build a family beach getaway, Soren came to Clive Wilkinson for an architect recommendation. And that’s how his “graduates” came to collaborate—and end up sharing an office in Los Angeles.
An hour’s drive from downtown L.A., smack on the sand in the surf town of Oxnard, the project is everything a SoCal beach house should be: easy-breezy casual, durable, and transparent, optimizing a full-on Pacific Ocean panorama from one elevation and vistas of the Channel Islands Harbor on the diagonal. Closer examination, though, layers in much more. Organization, materials, and detailing assure that the exterior architecture and the 2,500-square-foot interior are commensurate with those stunning views. The look is contemporary, sure, but an imaginative iteration.
“The house is processional. As you approach, it looks like there’s a barrier,” Kerr notes. The street-front profile presents an asymmetrical butterfly roof, a departure from the flat roofs of neighbors. On that street elevation and those to both sides, there’s also a strong separation between the two stories. The upper portion appears solid, almost heavy, with its concrete-gray stucco. Below, a slightly narrower plinth is partially wrapped in a playful composition of glass mosaic tiles with gold squares sprinkled in to sparkle in the sunlight, while a single corner is tiled a homogenous red.
More than a cheery finish, the tilework “responds to the harsh building environment at the beach,” Kerr notes. “The tiles don’t require refinishing. In that way, they’re green.” The mosaics furthermore offer a new twist on the proverbial California indoor-outdoor connection, reappearing in the kitchen and the adjacent stairway.
Positioned almost dead-center, paralleling a long skylight, the stairway is a clever piece of work. It balances the solidity of the mosaic-tiled wall with the transparent glass of the opposing balustrade, closer to the living and dining areas facing the ocean. “It’s all open and social on the beach side of the house,” Kerr says. In order for the kitchen and breakfast nook to enjoy the same unobstructed ocean vista from farther back, he raised their floor 14 inches. He also angled the beach-front roof overhang upward, so it disappears from view when you look from inside but still shades the terrace.
Tucked behind the kitchen, the master suite is oriented in the other direction, toward the harbor, but shares the materials palette of the public zone. Glass mosaic tile also lines the shower in the master bathroom, where the kitchen counters’ quartz composite shows up topping the vanity. All cabinetry is walnut. Flooring is teak, radiant-heated so that there’s no need for forced-air heating or cooling. (Siting that takes advantage of cross ventilation obviates the need for AC—another example of that “green” Kerr referred to earlier.)
Soren’s strength is in finishes and furnishings. “Robert and I have complementary skill sets,” she says. “Robert’s is technical. Mine is interiors.” She chose some classics, then livened them up. The living area’s lounge chair by Charles and Ray Eames gleams in white leather. Around the Eero Saarinen dining table, two arty chairs “upholstered” in soda-can pop-tops keep company with Eames or Saarinen models.
Downstairs is more child-friendly. The four grandchildren share a bedroom with double bunks and a bathroom done in Halloween colors: orange or black ceramic hexagonal tile, plus a black-and-white swath of baby whales for wallpaper. In the den, a mural spelling out Que Sera Sera Whatever Will Be Will Be in abstracted letters skews youthful, too. And the guest room’s “artwork” takes the form of colorful skateboard decks mounted above the bed. They refer to Soren’s thesis at SCI-Arc, she explains: “It was on how skateboarders and street artists use architecture without really knowing it.” If any of her family members need architectural awareness, they can find it the breakfast nook, where her photographs of the house during construction are framed.
Alice Jumeau; Juan Guardado: Robert Kerr Architecture Design. Parker Resnick: Structural Engineer. Nibecker & Associates: MEP. Center Glass Company: Glasswork. Joe’s Portable Welding: Metalwork. Mount Washington Woodworks: Woodwork. Schaub Construction: General Contractor.