Lehrer Architects

Lehrer Architects

The living room pavilion opens up completely to the backyard.
Benny Chan

Santa Monica Canyon, a tranquil neighborhood embedded into the hills just inland from the Pacific Coast, is blessed with thick woods, gurgling creeks, and cooling ocean breezes. It’s truly one of the great refuges from LA’s urban frenzy. So it makes no sense that many of the million-dollar houses there seem to turn their back on it.

Michael Lehrer’s Canyon Residence doesn’t. Yes, it’s still a 13,000-square-foot mansion—this is no rustic bungalow. But despite its gem-like finishes and ample spaces, you often forget that. In much of the residence, the distinction between inside and outside doesn’t exist. Many of its walls disappear and the scene outside engulfs every room.

The home, clad in pristine white plaster, is organized along two main spines, which are marked by transparent glazed catwalks that provide full site lines down their length. Along those spines the house is arranged as a series of cube-shaped pavilions in the landscape, making their way around four large trees. Lehrer solved a geometric puzzle in their staggered layout, exposing as much surface area as possible. (He calls the spatial rigor “deep order.”) And within that organization, layered clerestories, skylights, bridges, and window walls provide more peeks of light and scenery.

left to right: The house contains a working sculpture studio; A glass wall opens onto the central courtyard.

After you walk into the house you come upon the pavilions that are the most open to the landscape—a sloping amalgamation containing modern sculptures, ancient trees, a brook, emerald-green grass, thick brush, and a working produce and flower garden. The living room’s walls disappear completely on two sides, creating an outdoor room; the breakfast room’s walls slide away on alternating sides to allow cross breezes; and the dining room’s walls are made of pivoting glass doors that open up in theatrical fashion to the yard.

The living room pavilion with glass walls open.

The next pavilion is basically the living center. Its centerpiece is the “great room,” a 40-foot-wide space containing both the open kitchen and a family room. It’s where most of the action happens, and you can see into most corners of the house from here, thanks to its large openings, which often start above existing timber and plaster-clad walls.

The final pavilion, clad in translucent glass and focused around an industrial courtyard, is the owner’s sculpture studio. His interest in materials, and stone in particular, extends to the house. He’s picked out onyx and other gem-like stones that adorn, among other things, the bathroom and bedroom furniture and fixtures. The whole place feels like a sculpture.

Also bucking its size and luxury, the house is net zero, thanks to roofs covered with photovoltaic panels, no air-conditioning, hydronic heating, cross ventilation, and little need for lights during the day. While this is a luxurious house, Lehrer calls it his laboratory for ideas. “You have no excuses with an opportunity like this,” he said.