With its proximity to the Pacific Ocean, the Hermosa Beach community is all about, well, the beach. Many of the closely spaced houses sit atop what are essentially sand dunes, offering idyllic views of the precipitous landscape and surf. The price they pay for this glorious setting, however, is a lack of private green space. In the neighborhood where the Bayview Residence sits, houses are entered on the upper level on Bayview Street and cascade to the low side of the lot on Manhattan, a major roadway with pedestrian access to the beach. Any outdoor areas usually take the form of decks that hang off the house.
Enter EYRC Architects, known for their innovative design solutions on complex lots. No stranger to structural gymnastics in the service of both topography and art, their award-winning work spans project sectors from civic to commercial to educational, and those large-scale ideas no doubt also inform their houses. The dissolution of physical boundaries is another theme in their homes, a move mastered through their work on inspiring sites and the temperate California climate.
The owners of Bayview, a few blocks from the beach, had been living in a different house on the property for some time when they asked partner Takashi Yanai, FAIA, to design a new one. “They loved the neighborhood; it had been an up-and-coming beach community, family-friendly, and the schools are good,” Takashi says. “They wanted to build a dream house for themselves and their kids; they wanted a cool house so the kids and their friends would always be hanging out with them.”
With a paddleboarder and a budding surfer in the family, it was their active lifestyle that drove many of the programming decisions. At the top of their list was a generous flat yard and swimming pool, though they struggled with how to achieve that. And they imagined using the lower entrance regularly to head to the beach.
Creating a house that flows seamlessly from indoors to out on various levels meant making a radical decision about the structure. “Very early on we iterated a bunch of solutions where the general massing was pretty limited,” Takashi says. “At first we had basement spaces three or four stories under the great room, but they wanted everything daylit, and so that’s how our solution came about.”
The key, he says, was to put the living room on the top, one floor above street level, which freed up flat space for outdoor activities.
Except for a second-story corner window, the upper Bayview Street side of the house is almost opaque, with a garage and carport on the street and a formal entrance around the corner. But from the downhill side on Manhattan, four levels of shifting, sometimes cantilevered geometries are revealed to rotate around a main outdoor space that lies roughly at mid-level.
Visitors enter from the street at the third level into a sunlit foyer. Straight ahead and to the left are the daughters’ two bedrooms. They sit side by side with full-length glass sliders that open to an artificial-turf lawn, deck, and swimming pool. At right, a grand staircase invites guests to the top floor, which contains an open living and dining area and kitchen, with an office and powder room tucked into a front corner behind the living room. This volume’s entire western window wall opens fully to a living and dining terrace facing the Pacific. A perpendicular, herb-garden-lined walkway culminates in a “crow’s nest” and firepit that seems to hover over the pool garden.
In this way, the house is like a treasure hunt; the prizes are its changing perspectives. The architects devised an almost secretive “family staircase” to get from the foyer level to the lower, more private parts of the house, heightening the sense of discovery and delight. Down a hall behind the daughters’ bedrooms, the stairway descends to the primary suite, improbably tucked under the pool garden. From there, it continues on to a guest suite, playroom, mudroom, and outdoor shower on the lowest level, which empties onto Manhattan Street and the path to the beach.
Ultimately, the trick was to split the public level and yard into two levels, Takashi says. “The main living space opens to the view, but one level above the yard, and the pool and yard sit on top of the primary bedroom level with the girls’ rooms pushed to one side. While the neighboring houses mirror the topography, having only the girls’ bedrooms on the entry level allowed us to have the yard.”
The open, floating volumes read like planes, one of them canted slightly in response to the height restriction. “The living room volume isn’t a regular shape because the overhang couldn’t come out farther,” Takashi says. “It’s like a wedge, subtle, a response and a formal nod to the place we are, at that address.”
Even though minimal cutting and filling was required to create the flat terrace, “it was a pain to deal with deep footings on concrete piers,” Takashi says. “The house is technically wood framed, but there is a lot of steel for the walls that open up when facing the view.” Concrete, too. With the lowest floor underground on two sides and the primary suite below the pool deck, both volumes are encased in concrete.
“Structural steel cages go down to the foundation, and then 101/2 inches of concrete was poured all the way up to the pool floor,” says builder Pablo Escutia. “The floor structure is corrugated sheet metal on steel beams, a system used mostly in skyscrapers and commercial buildings. That whole system is what anchors the house to the site, while shoring and retention walls help to strengthen the diaphragm of the house. And with the primary suite below the pool deck, waterproofing became a very complex system.” Precision ensued. A year and a half before the concrete was poured, Pablo and his crew were mapping out the house’s circulatory system, measuring twice and thrice to make sure that the openings for light fixtures and linear vents aligned with the finish grid.
While technically demanding to build, the staggered volumes also allow for generous openings that frame different views. Positioned on the southeast corner, the kitchen’s island looks west through the great room and across to the ocean vista. From the terrace, the family can look down on the pool garden, and the crow’s nest invites them to the very edge, where glass railings provide a wind break. “It’s unique in the neighborhood to get out that far west and enjoy the view,” Takashi says.
Contrasting cladding helps to break down the scale of this four-level house and distinguish its different uses. The cantilevered primary suite—its corner window mirroring the one on the front of the house—has dark cedar siding, including an upper guardrail along the pool deck’s barbecue area. The white stucco volume wrapping under and around it expresses the family stairwell while appearing to hold the black box suspended in air.
Likewise, the white stucco living room volume on the Bayview side sits on three elements: a smaller black box containing the garage, a thin wall demarcating a dry garden, and an earth-colored enclosure along the walkway that contains a coat closet and powder room.
Light and Dark
Interiors take their cues from the exterior’s high-contrast hues. “The owners are sophisticated but casual,” Takashi says. “They are particular about palette and wanted a simple and clean scheme of white, black, and wood.” The foyer, with its acid-washed, black-stained concrete floor, was designed to feel like an outdoor space—a transition from the garage and pool yard. The garage’s dark cedar cladding wraps inside and contrasts tonally with a wall of oak closets. And the main stair leading from the foyer to the upstairs living area has black stringers with open oak treads.
“We like the black as a foil to the landscape,” Takashi says, referring to the pool garden at the far side of the foyer, visible through a glass wall and pivoting door. It reveals three gingko trees that “are green for most of the year, then yellow for a magical couple of weeks before the leaves drop; then they have a beautiful skeletal pattern for the winter,” he says. “I like how the green and yellow palette plays with the dark of the stair and garage volume.” On the wall enclosing the pool, climbing plants screen the girls’ rooms from the neighbor’s view.
While the baths have oak cabinetry, the kitchen is wrapped in black Bulthaup cabinets. “They wanted the drama of that,” the architect says. Black walls and white walls create their own compositional drama, some of them designated for large pieces of art. The primary suite has his-and-hers bathrooms connected by a shared double shower. Her bath is outfitted with a soaking tub, sauna, and walk-in closet.
Every part of the house has its charms, even the three-level family stairwell to the lower street, whose tall window and hanging pendants make traveling up and down an event. “We didn’t want the beach stair to feel like a back stair, but to offer a nice experience on that end of the house,” Takashi says. In the same way, the lower entry’s enclosed garden, with its dune-like swell and sweep of native grasses, is designed to make this side of the house feel like part of the natural environment rather than a back door. It serves as a practical purpose too. Buried infiltration pits capture and filter stormwater runoff from the building and site before releasing it to the city sewer.
All of these thoughtful gestures play out in pleasantly unexpected ways. “They are design fans—the husband and wife and even their kids,” Takashi says. “They’ll send me iPhone shots of little details, like the sun hitting the materials at different times of day. So, there’s a lot of delight, I guess, in living there.” This gem of a house may be in a beach-casual part of the world, but it offers serious solutions to the idiosyncrasies of its place.
Hermosa Beach, California
Architect: Takashi Yanai, FAIA, principal in charge; Mel de Leon, Jessica Moon, project architects, Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects, Culver City, California
Builder: KKC Fine Homes, Hermosa Beach, California
Landscape Architect: Orange Street Studio, Los Angeles
Lighting: eSquared Lighting, Redondo Beach, California
Project size: 4,993 square feet
Site size: 0.12 acre
Photography: Matthew Millman Photography
Cabinetry hardware: Alno
Cooking ventilation: Best
Dishwasher/Ovens/Specialty Appliances: Miele
Door hardware: FritsJurgens, Emtek
Faucets: Brizo, Fantini Rubinetti, Zucchetti
Fireplace/firepit: Concrete Creations
Guardrails/Shower Hardware: CRL
Home control systems: Crestron
Hot tub: Jacuzzi
HVAC systems: Mitsubishi
Lighting: Artemide, Nemo, Graypants, Tom Dixon, Cemo
Motorized doors: Doors in Motion
Outdoor kitchen: Urban Bonfire
Outdoor planters: Tournesol
Paints, stains, coatings: La Habra, Merlex, Benjamin Moore, Sherwin-Williams
Planted wall: Habitat Horticulture
Sinks: Blanco, Blu Bathworks, Mirabelle
Water filtration: APEC
Window shading systems: Lutron