Mimi Zeiger

Critic, editor, curator and instigator.

May 26, 2014

Vault House

Johnston Marklee takes a curvaceous approach the beach house paradigm.


Architecture, Articles, Johnston Marklee

Arch. Dome. Vault. The terms are relics of architectural history, but in Southern California they are also the building blocks of suburbia, where Mission-style McMansions flaunt endless stucco arches and vaulted foyers. Principals Sharon Johnston, AIA, and Mark Lee of Los Angeles–based Johnston Marklee, however, have updated the archaic and used vaults to rethink a beach house in Oxnard, Calif., just north of Malibu.

Designed for Steven and Jerri Nagelberg, a couple who split their time between the shore and downtown L.A., Johnston Marklee’s scheme addresses a typology common to beachfront communities: Narrow and deep houses sit flank-to-flank along the sand, and while the living room and second-floor master suite of each look onto the ocean, the rest of the house is typically a dim warren.

“At the outset of the design, we asked ourselves how to bring light, air, and a view all the way into the house,” Lee says. Rooms in Johnston Marklee’s 3,600-square-foot scheme are organized so that one flows into another, from the all-glass beachfront façade to the street, allowing for glimpses of the Pacific throughout the house. The architects pushed the second-floor master suite back from the waves—allowing the living room to fill the whole front of the house—and carved out a courtyard into the middle of the plan. The result is that every room has access to the outdoors.

Vaulted ceilings of different sizes and curvatures define each room, from the kitchen to the guest bedrooms. The office created a 6-foot-long model in order to show the clients and the contractor how the curves come together, but construction was straightforward; the vaults were formed out of wood framing and dropped from the floor plate. “We are interested in using simple geometries to create complex effect,” Lee says. “We design in Rhino, but we could have designed the house using a compass.”