A Luminous L.A. Beach House With All-Original Features Asks $2.3M

Designed by Buff & Hensman in 1983, the award-winning Harry Dorsey Residence in Playa del Rey has a dramatic, three-story atrium.
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Modernist architecture in Southern California evolved at the hands of big names: Neutra, Schindler, and Lautner, among others. Later to the scene but not to be forgotten was Buff, Straub, and Hensman, a midcentury powerhouse firm formed by graduates of the influential School of Architecture at the University of Southern California (USC). The firm—later renamed Buff & Hensman—is best known for joining the Case Study House Program in 1958. Decades later, the architects sealed their legacy with the Harry Dorsey Residence—an award-winning home that utilized modernist proportions to maximize access to light and views.

Best known for designing the 1958 Case Study House #20B, Buff & Hensman’s legacy extends to the 1983 Harry Dorsey Residence in Playa del Rey, California. The home is sited on a narrow, sloping lot—just some 30 feet wide and 75 feet deep—with a multi-level interior of balconies, skylights, and a 37-foot-high atrium that maximize sunlight and views.

The street entrance opens into the atrium-like interior, which is topped by a dramatic skylight along most of the structure's right side. Rooms are spaced between six half-levels, beginning with the ground-floor garage and ending with the top-floor dining area and kitchen.

Among the residence’s most striking features is a massive skylight that runs nearly the entire depth of the home and floods the three-story interior with natural light. Beneath the skylight is a full-height atrium, over which looks a second-floor balcony and top-floor mezzanine level. Massive windows pull light in from the front facade while providing views out over the lagoon and Pacific Ocean beyond. The design was given an Award of Merit by the AIA Pasadena and Foothill Chapter in 1984.

A look at the living room, which is situated at the front of the home and features a large window overlooking the surrounding water views. Natural wood beams run directly beneath the skylight.

Lightly colored rough stucco walls contrast with a Brazilian rosewood above the fireplace. Original glazed brick pavers cover the floors. 

Another view shows the continuously running, clear heart redwood ceiling that tops the living room, upper-level dining area, and kitchen in the back.

The current owners, Beth and John Crosse, purchased the home in 2000. "We fell in love with the home's location, sense of privacy, use of materials, and unique floor plan," says John. "The creative genius of the architects allowed conversion of an extremely narrow beach lot into a spacious feeling, light-filled work of art." 

Not knowing much about the architects before moving into the home, the experience of living in the space inspired John to learn more about the firm's legacy; eventually, he even wrote an annotated bibliography and helped put together a project database of all the firm's work.

A central stairwell provides access to each of the staggered levels. Stairs lead up to the dining area and down to the bedrooms on the lower level. The living area is to the right.

Known as the Harry Dorsey Residence after its first owner, the four-bedroom and two-bathroom home offers nearly 3,000 square feet of interior space, as well as a rooftop garden. Everything with the exception of the kitchen appliances is original to the home. Keep scrolling to see more of the property, currently listed for $2,295,000.

A view of the mezzanine and dining area. Custom lighting illuminates the walls and various other corners of the home.

The kitchen sits at the rear of the top level—accessible from the central staircase, as well as a second staircase in the corner of the home. White oak cabinetry and Argentine granite wrap around the space.

A large window stretches along the rear wall, adding additional natural light. New appliances are among the only changes made by the current homeowners, who have lived here since 2000.

Just a few steps above the kitchen, a large rooftop garden provides sweeping ocean, mountain, and lagoon views.

Back inside and downstairs, the master bedroom sits directly beneath the living area.

The master bathroom occupies a filled-in area at the front end of the atrium, just above the main entrance. Translucent ceiling tiles allow natural light from the skylight above to illuminate the bathroom as well. Original tile and cabinetry round out the space.

A lower-level room adjacent to the garage was originally Harry Dorsey's home office. The current owners made minor changes while converting the space into a media room.

A cross-section drawing of the home shows the multiple levels and central stairwell.

Another cross-section shows the atrium beneath the skylight, as well as the master bathroom at the front and another stairwell at the rear of the home.

The Harry Dorsey Residence, located at 6333 Esplanade Street, Playa del Rey, California, is currently listed for $2,295,000 by Stephanie Younger of Compass.

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