Few of the houses that line the Pacific Coast Highway on the hills overlooking the ocean are worthy of their setting. Happily, a few exceptional buildings have taken root, and one of them is the Ziering residence in Pacific Palisades. Culver City architecture studio SPF:a took best advantage of a double site that rises and turns a corner in the foothills to frame stepped terraces and ocean views without blocking the neighbors’ sightlines. “The two houses that previously occupied the site had a very cluttered look, with chimneys and gables,” said SPF:a principal Zoltan Pali. “Our goal was to be as elemental as possible, and create a simple horizon.”
From the front, the house is an enigmatic presence: a curved and sunken expanse of ipe boards that rises from an 8-foot-high garage to 15 feet above street level at the north end. Narrow slots are cut into this blank facade, and three sections pivot open to a narrow front yard and allow breezes to flow through the living room. The density of ipe makes it hard to cut but also flame-resistant, and thus appropriate for use in a zone that is prone to wildfires. The wood is oiled to preserve its natural tone, and Pali likens the exterior to the hull of a yacht.
The site dictated a curved plan, which marks a departure from the crisp rectilinearity of SPF:a’s previous work. It ties together a flow of open spaces on different levels, and a bedroom wing that projects out towards the edge of a bluff, while making the house look and feel more compact than its 9,000-square-foot expanse. From the street, the ends of the house recede from view; to the rear, you can see the entire sweep, tip to tip. “I was afraid of building too big a house,” said the owner, Rosanne Ziering. “It had to feel organic, with nothing that isn’t strong, necessary, and beautiful.” She was closely involved at every stage of the design and a trip to Marfa to see the work of Donald Judd increased her enthusiasm for minimalism.
Within, space flows from one area to the next, articulated with storage walls and sliding doors. High ceilings and abundant natural light create a feeling of calm.
There’s a lively alternation of textures and subtle tones, from poured concrete walls to the polished concrete floor, and the gray Venetian plaster that frames the entry and the open hearth. Bathrooms are clad in figured limestone. In the kitchen, a vintage French oak tabletop is supported on a slab of plate glass.
The house is a model of sustainability, combining passive strategies (shading devices, cross-ventilation, and thermal mass) with roof-mounted photovoltaic panels and evacuated solar tube collectors to generate electricity and hot water. Radiant floors provide efficient space heating, and mechanical air-conditioning is limited to the kitchen, master suite and study, and is used for only a few weeks a year. The rest of the house has a heat recovery ventilation system that circulates and vents air.