Up and Away
Working with a limited footprint, a daunting slope, and killer views, architect Bruce Bolander went vertical with a secluded canyon house in Malibu.
Several years after architect Bruce Bolander built a house for his family in a chaparral-filled canyon in Malibu, California, the steep lot across the road came up for sale. Bolander knew he had to move on it or risk watching a coral-pink mini-McMansion go up smack-dab in the middle of his sight line. “I wasn’t sure the lot was even buildable,” says Bolander, who bought the 2.5-acre site anyway. He spent the next four years wrangling permits for a one-bedroom, one-bathroom structure, its 900-square-foot footprint dictated—per city building codes—by the property’s previous house, which had been destroyed in the 1940s yet immortalized in a fuzzy old aerial snapshot. “The broad-stroke design happened pretty quickly,” says the architect. “The size was a given—the rectangular shape, even—and the rest was more about what felt good, what felt right in the setting.”
“When we really pared down, we realized that we didn’t need a lot of stuff,” says Wright. The solid wall of built-in storage running the length of the house, clad in petrol blue and light turquoise laminate panels, helped ease the transition to smaller quarters. “There’s a surprising amount of storage,” says Keffer. “We were thinking there would be no way we’d get all our stuff in here, but we did. Now we just have to be sure we put everything back where it belongs to reduce clutter.”
Bolander’s maximization of space has everything to do with the views. In the living room and bedroom, floor-to-ceiling glass walls retract, opening both corners of the front facade to the elements and the surrounding vistas—a move partly inspired by the master bedroom of John Lautner’s Sheats-Goldstein house. “The mountains across the way are almost like another wall—they contain the space to the point that you feel like you’re in a much bigger space, that you’re part of the overall landscape,” says Bolander.
The architect employed other tricks to perceptually extend the house: He wrapped the facade with a six-foot-wide deck that bumps out to 12 feet off the living room, the best spot for taking in the ocean views. He seamlessly continued the gray hue of the cork linoleum floor from the interior onto the Dex-O-Tex deck; similarly, the skinny Hem-Fir slats on the interior ceiling extend through the glass walls to the roof overhang, appearing to thrust the house outward. Bolander makes unexpected use of a common design accent by running the bathroom’s Heath Ceramics Ogawa Green tile into the living room and out onto the exterior wall, allowing the interior to further wend its way outside.
And when the occasion calls for a celebration, the house easily converts from work mode to play. “Entertaining here is simple,” says Wright. “We open up the doors, fire up the grill, and seat people outside. Living in a small space within this environment is actually very easy—the quality of life is amazing.”