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."