A Pacific Palisades House Connects With Its Site


Real luxury is restraint,” says architect Russell Shubin of his approach to redesigning the Pacific Palisades residence of Karina and Blake Mirkin and their two young children. “It’s qualitative. It’s not about more is better.” What the Mirkin’s existing house—a 1960s structure that had been remodeled in the 1980s—lacked with its relatively small footprint, it made up for with its unique siting. “The house is on a promontory,” Shubin says. “So every place on the site has a completely different view. We let the forms of the house fall out of framing those particular vistas and experiences.”

Shubin took the structure down to its studs and then reshaped the exterior with flat roofs and clean modernist lines. As the house is built into the hillside, he placed the public areas on the top floor, the master bedroom and two children’s rooms one level down, and an office below that. To capture the expansive views, Shubin held back from the expected walls of floor-to-ceiling glass in favor of carefully crafted vistas for impact. “There’s more drama in strategically placed openings and views,” explains the architect. “It’s the juxtaposition of solid and void.”

The architect also made the most of the limited footprint by eliminating transitional areas to blur the line between indoors and out. “The design problem I faced was how to create more visual, usable space,” explains Shubin, who dissolved the boundary between the living area and a large outdoor terrace with a corner of floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors. “We designed from the inside out and from the outside in. We captured that space from the exterior.” That method aligned perfectly with the Mirkin’s lifestyle. “We wanted to take advantage of this lot in a significant way,” Blake Mirkin says. “And what we built dovetails with the way we live with our two sons: lots of indoor and outdoor entertainment.”

Designer Summer Jensen underscored this seamless blend. “Because the views are so amazing and they’re a family that lives outdoors, I wanted the interiors to step back a little bit,” Jensen says. “I chose a palette that was complementary of the beach, like the driftwood and sand, and then let the views provide the dynamic colors.” She chose a durable white oak for the floor and then cerused and white-washed it, and designed custom kitchen cabinetry from Hawaiian koa wood.

To play off the white walls, she incorporated panels of koa to frame the television in the living area and offset a corner window in the dining area. “I wanted there to be some areas that were highlighted,” says Jensen, who also designed upholstered furniture pieces meant to be comfortable and flexible. “Since the floor plan is quite small, we really wanted it to feel like one unified space that also extends to the outdoors,” says Jensen of the outdoor terrace she appointed with seating and dining areas. “I used the same palette as the interior so the outdoor room felt like part of the entire house and added to their overall living space.”

Even though very little square footage was added to the existing floor plan, the slope and shape of the lot presented serious geological challenges. The house’s foundation had settled five inches and builder Curtis Quillin had to reinforce it by installing a total of 20 friction piles 30 feet deep. “It was grueling work because digging for the piles was done by hand,” Quillin says. “It took over 16 weeks to perform.”

Ironically, the largest and flattest part of the property is used as a lawn. “The grass offers a feeling of expansiveness you don’t normally get in this area,” says landscape architect Dirk J. Gaudet, who designed the property’s hardscaping with basic forms that complement the architecture’s scale and shape. “It also gives an open-edge view of the ocean and city lights.” To punctuate the grounds, landscape designer Selena Souders, who selected the plantings, installed eight round steel dishes on three sides of the house. The disc-like vessels, reaching up to twelve feet high and six feet wide, “add scale and sculptural focal points to the property,” Souders says.

During the two years of construction, the owners were faced with making countless decisions. “When you’re building a house, you always have crossroads,” Blake says. “Essentially, at every one of the crossroads we chose quality over budget because we thought the architecture and location merited it. We felt we had to do it right.”