This Surfer's Beach House is More Than It Seems

By Katrina Heron
Most beachfront houses treat the ocean as part of the visual landscape with panoramic views and wraparound balconies. Tom Lloyd-Butler’s beach house by Ernest Born, however, is deeply interior, and far more interested in its tranquil inner courtyard than anything beyond. One transparent addition later, the avid surfer has a new outlook.

The first thing you notice on crossing the threshold is what the house itself is deliberately turning its back on: the roiling, crashing surf of the Pacific Ocean. Ernest Born, an esteemed Bay Area architect who built the flat-roofed, two-story home for his family in 1950, could hardly have chosen a wilder, more windswept location—then a nearly deserted coastal road running along the westernmost edge of San Francisco—but his austere façade seems content to be merely backdrop for the elements.

The original house (left) only gave two glimpses of the vast Pacific Ocean out of the west-facing windows—an unusual choice given the epic sweep and clear cachet of an uninterrupted ocean view. Aidlin Darling Design took a different tack with the new addition (right), using the cypress trees as a natural screen to shield the lower levels while opening the third floor to stunning views. The Cor-Ten steel cladding on the new house is designed to further redden and rust with the help of the obliging sea air.

The original house (left) only gave two glimpses of the vast Pacific Ocean out of the west-facing windows—an unusual choice given the epic sweep and clear cachet of an uninterrupted ocean view. Aidlin Darling Design took a different tack with the new addition (right), using the cypress trees as a natural screen to shield the lower levels while opening the third floor to stunning views. The Cor-Ten steel cladding on the new house is designed to further redden and rust with the help of the obliging sea air.


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The frosted-glass bridge unites the original 1950s structure (right) to the new addition, which is sheathed in Cor-ten steel panels.

The frosted-glass bridge unites the original 1950s structure (right) to the new addition, which is sheathed in Cor-ten steel panels.


The present owner, Tom Lloyd-Butler, first spotted the place after a day riding 20-foot waves on the far side of that road, called the Great Highway. "I was changing, and I looked up and saw this tiny ‘For Sale’ sign," he recalls. "It was totally different from any other house at the beach," cloistered by trees and with only two upstairs windows facing the view.

Aidlin Darling took pains during construction to preserve the cypress trees that give the Great Highway House so much of its charm.

Aidlin Darling took pains during construction to preserve the cypress trees that give the Great Highway House so much of its charm.


The site plan shows how the old (A) and new (B) buildings connect.

The site plan shows how the old (A) and new (B) buildings connect.


"I thought it would be plain inside," says Lloyd-Butler, a longtime San Franciscan who runs his own investment company. "And then I went in and was blown away by the architectural motifs and how simple and sophisticated the design was." Born had worked from a limited palette—Douglas fir, travertine, cork, brick, and aggregate stone near entryways to conceal the sand that eternally swept in—to great effect. "He didn’t use any fancy materials; he chose basic ones and then used them in really interesting ways," says Lloyd-Butler.