Endless Summer: The Best Beach Houses
By Angeline Vogl
Southern California Home & Garden, August 1990
“This is considered to be the best surf in the continental United States.” Architect Andy Neumann squints out at the waves at Rincon Point and speaks with some authority. He’s been surfing these waters since he was 12, and in recent years has won several master’s surfing competitions here. But now he’s made a mark of a different sort at the famous surf spot.
Rising above the rocky slope at the water’s edge is a dramatic, redwood-and-glass residence that his firm recently completed for local developer Gary Wooten. Its sloping, stepped design and warm natural materials belie its size—5,300 square feet, plus 2,000 square feet of decks—which fills the narrow beach-front lot. Inside, the rooms are sleek and spare, yet filled with light and color; a highlight is a collection of furnishings by designer Paul Tuttle.
While he had never lived in a contemporary home before, that is exactly what Wooten decided he wanted when he built his dream home on the beach. His choice of Neumann to design his house and Tuttle to design its furnishings was a lucky one: “This is the first time I’ve done this—built a house just for myself—and I discovered that I was very particular about what I wanted. Quality, and quality people, were very important, … and it was great the way I had an instant, intuitive understanding with both Andy and Paul.”
Wooten says that his programmatic needs were quite simple: “The house had to have a lot of light; it had to be build entirely of natural materials [such as glass, wood, stone]; and it had to be livable—a place where the kids and I could relax and put our feet up.”
To accomplish these goals—as well as satisfy certain spatial requirements and local setback regulations—Neumann created an informal layout, one oriented to the ocean, and a series of broad decks, with a second story set back to blend in with the sloped site. To create the illusion of a smaller structure, the exterior is broken up by varying angles and slopes, while a series of clerestory windows provides a break in the roofline. Views and privacy are controlled by the placement of windows and angles walls at the deck perimeters.
Every major room, including the master suite, has a view of the ocean. The stepped layout enables each common room—living, dining and family room—to have a degree of privacy, yet the space (and ocean breeze) flows easily. Even the open kitchen, which is set on a higher level within the main living area, has a great view. Its sleek design of redwood, stainless steel and green granite makes it an integral part of the interior architecture (wooden shutters can be unfolded to close it off completely).
Throughout the rest of the house, ceiling variations and lighting help break up the space and create interesting vignettes. Clerestory windows and skylights flood hallways and rooms with light. Two boy’s bedrooms incorporate airy sleeping lofts, their common bathroom a cool green slate and glass block retreat that provides plenty of light with maximum privacy.
In keeping with the homeowner’s desire for natural materials, the house is redwood inside and out, treated only with sealer and matte varnish to keep the color clear. Rough-textured Chinese green slate, which covers the floors and bathroom walls, has been left unsealed to preserve its rugged quartz look. Glass block columns on the deck glow with a greenish, watery tint during the day, linking the house to the water beyond. At night the columns can be lighted, adding an entirely different quality to the house.
While not every element suggested by the architect was embraced by Wooten (“He had a hard time convincing me to use the glass block, and I thought a stainless steel kitchen would be too cold”), the homeowner became very involved in the search for the perfect materials, seeking out the best-quality bathroom fixtures (Dornbracht, with Kohler sinks and tubs) and a green “Maritaca” granite with the precise amount of red in it for the kitchen countertops. From the copper roof and entry gate to the black powder-coated brass hardware, there’s an attention to detail that speaks of an unusual measure of commitment to quality.
Except for the old tufted leather sofa and chairs in the family room (which add just the right degree of put-your-feet up comfort), almost all of the furnishings in the house were designed by Paul Tuttle. Best known for his streamlined furniture during the ‘50s and ‘60s, Paul Tuttle now divides his time between Santa Barbara and Switzerland, where he works with the European company Strasslë International. His designs have earned him a reputation for their high technology and refined construction, sculptural shapes brought alive with a spark of whimsy.
When commissioning Tuttle to create the furnishings that would fill his home, Wooten insisted, “Make them as colorful as you can!” It was a good instinct. The furnishings add humor and warmth to a very serious interior. But because of their strong architectural shapes and their many artful references to universal forms, the pieces have a weightiness all their own—clearly serious furniture.
On the shore side of the house, the ocean dominates—the changing light, the sound of the waves, the sea air. On the leeward side, a small entry yard designed by landscaper Eric Nagelman is planted in natural materials and covered in pebbles, providing its own sense of calm.
Wooten is quick to credit everyone else who contributed to the project: interior designer Micholyn Brown, general contractor Cliff Carpenter and the DaRos family of Santa Barbara Stone. Of the total effect, Wooten says, “There’s a tremendous sense of peacefulness here. I feel like I’m far away when I’m here—and it’s only partly because of the site; it’s also the house itself.”
Fourteen years ago Andy Neumann and Scott Rowland bought seaside property in the town of Summerland - the site of the old Seaside Oil distributing plant - and opened their architecture studio in an old metal warehouse. They later moved the offices of their firm, Seaside Union Architects, to Santa Barbara, but it was in Summerland that they built their own homes. They turned their land into a residential development of custom homes, instituting architectural codes designed to protect the town’s ocean view, at the same time ensuring privacy and some protection from the noise of the nearby freeway and rail line.
As Andy explains, “It’s difficult for an architect to do his own house. You want to do your best, to make a design statement, and you want to incorporate all those wonderful ideas you’ve been collecting.”
What made this project even more difficult was the fact that the other “client,” Andy’s wife Yvonne, expressly asked for “a house that wasn’t an architectural monument. I wanted my house to be comfortable, to be good for kids. I just wanted it to be a beach house.” A third-generation Santa Barbaran, Yvonne was raised in a wood-frame house just a few miles down the coast. “It was very simple, a very eclectic house, with a very beachy feel.”
Yvonne’s childhood home inspired the Neumanns to give their house an old cottage feel, with a board-and-batten exterior, windowed gables and decks. Designing it, as he says, “from the inside out,” Andy gave almost every room in the house a view of the water, keeping plate heights low in accordance with the area’s architectural regulations. Extra insulation and staggered stud walls on the back side of the house muffle the noise from the freeway and trains.
Inside, the board-and-batten theme is carried out throughout the house, giving it an inviting, almost timeless quality. Using a special grade of plywood, the architects places the strips of batten on top, creating the feel of board and batten. In the kitchen, grooves were cut in the plywood cabinet doors so that they would look like planking. The architect explains, “Consistency of design is important. The board-and-batten is even used in the closets. So it’s a casual look, but it has integrity of design.”
Furnishings are appropriately informal, with a strong sense of the past. Living room settees and chairs are Craftsman copies from the ‘20s, stripped and lightened and slipcovered in tough marine canvas. In the master bedroom, a carved bed and armoire are heirlooms, brought over from France by Yvonne’s grandparents.
In the breakfast nook, an antique hutch holds pieces from Yvonne’s colorful collection of Bauerware and Fiesta Ware. There’s more room for display in the open shelving of the kitchen, but Andy and Yvonne stress that everything here, while aesthetically pleasing, is also very functional. Everyday dishes go directly from the sink to a shelf above the counter that opens into the dining room.
While their home may not be an architectural monument, the Neumanns admit it’s perfect for them. Andy says, “It’s the little things that give you pleasure every day—the things that make life easier”—like the second-floor chute that leads from the master bedroom closet to the laundry room, or the shelved pass-through from the breakfast nook to the deck, or the large shower for two in the master suite (“where we discuss our plans for the day”). A semi-enclosed outdoor shower/storage area off the downstairs bathroom is a convenient place to rinse off after a day in the surf.
The generous glassed-in deck functions as an outdoor room, often serving as the focus for family activities. It was built on a lower level than the house so that its furniture would not block the view from the house. To one side is a small sand pit; Andy says that, since the house is actually on a bluff 35 feet above the water, they brought sand up to the house “so we could get the full feel of beach living.” (This from a man who was born on the canals in Holland and raised on a small island in Indonesia prior to coming to Santa Barbara when he was 8.)
To the right of the deck, tucked back against the house, Yvonne has her garden. “I’ve been told that you can’t garden at the beach, but I was raised on the beach and we had a garden.” She raises roses and perennials as well as an assortment of herbs and vegetables in small raised beds. The garden was originally laid out by landscape architect Sydney Baumgartner; Yvonne brought in good soil, installed a drip irrigation system, and regularly tends to her garden by the sea.