When a longtime client asked architect James R. Harlan to build her new home on a very tricky lot in Laguna Beach, California, he didn’t hesitate to say yes. The property came with approved building plans but they weren’t up to the exacting standards of the architect and his client.
“She wanted a sophisticated beach house,” says Harlan, “so we created a complex house for a complex site.”
To anchor the home to the property (and meet neighborhood height regulations), Harlan devised a series of pitched-roof levels that progress down the hillside. He started at the street level with the garage and office, then brought the main level down, placing the primary rooms with the pool terrace, and then adding a lower level to incorporate additional entertaining space, a guest room and a deck–the house sits just eighty feet above the water, so offers unimpeded ocean views.
Inside, Harlan and the owner devised a sandy-hued palette, uniting the rooms with touches of blue. Melding natural materials and a few ethnic textiles with contemporary furnishings gave the modern beach house a Bohemian edge.
“Every house I do is different but this one was a huge departure,” says Harlan, who lives in Pasadena and Palm Springs, and who has authored several books on midcentury architecture. “I was happy doing my Miesian boxes, but this house has really set me in a new direction. Someone said it’s my Falling Water.”
The home has proved such a success for the architect that its lead to a new project in Palm Springs with exaggerated, abstracted pitched roofs inspired by the Laguna Beach home. “It’s all about the integrity,” adds Harlan.