Casa per Amici Santa Monica

Set on a sloping parcel overlooking mountains to the north and the Pacific to the south, this Santa Monica home was designed for a couple who lived on the property for twenty years and knew their existing house ignored the site’s profound potential. Their ambition to maximize the striking views, take advantage of California’s outdoor lifestyle, and reference their New York roots shaped this project’s design intent.

Throughout the home, robust steel and soft, natural materials including wood beams and oak floors are juxtaposed, blending industrial loft vernacular and California modern in a manner that simultaneously references the owners’ East Coast nostalgia and enthusiasm for nature. Upon entry, one encounters smooth white oak ceiling panels that reveal a patina’d structure of steel beams and rough timbers, glimpses of an implied past.

The steep terrain encouraged the house to step down multiple levels, maximizing exposure to the spectacular views and sunshine. The resultant light allowed for the integration of sustainable features including thermal and photovoltaic solar panels and battery backup systems, a passion shared by the owners and Kovac Studio alike.

With an entry-level pool splitting the basement below, two guest units slip underneath and open towards the ocean, united in the middle by a covered courtyard  complete with an intimate seating area and fire pit. A surprise awaits those who look up, as a skylight reveals the glass bottom of the pool above. A flood of dappled light shines through it, brightening the space below.

Glimpses of an Implied Past

Throughout the home, contrasting elements of robust steel and refined wood are woven together resulting in a timeless and layered aesthetic. This blending of industrial loft vernacular and California modern taps into the clients’ collective nostalgia for their Brooklyn roots and love of the outdoors.

One example of this can be seen immediately upon entering the home where smooth rift cut white oak ceiling panels are strategically cut away to reveal a patina’d structure of steel beams and rough sawn timbers that float above the kitchen, dining, and living areas of the expansive open plan. These glimpses of an implied past are ambient notions, like memories, that help create a delicate yet complex balance of scale, warmth and texture throughout the home.

A Sinuous Stairway

Engaging the verticality of the site, a seamless, uncoiled steel and wood curving stair rises from the floor of the basement up through to the second floor master suite in one fluid motion. It is the backbone of the home and, much like the pool, it anchors and connects all levels visually and physically. Each interior space effortlessly flows into the next resulting in layered, overlapping cinematic experiences.

The Glass-Bottom Pool

Steeply sloping terrain often limits a property’s developable area, but in this case it proved advantageous, encouraging the house to step down multiple levels. This maximized each level’s exposure to the spectacular view and provided the space necessary to engage the pool into the architecture.

Elevating the pool to the entry level and splitting the basement level below allowed the two lower guest suites to slip underneath and open towards the ocean. Flanked by the guest suites on either side, a covered courtyard and fire pit connect all the lower spaces and is bridged by the floating glass bottom pool above. A flood of vibrant, kinetic light pierces through the pool’s glass bottom skylight, brightening the covered courtyard and reaching the full depth of the split interior space within.

A metal, curving stairway rises from below and continues to the second-floor master, a spine that connects all layers of space. The primary bedroom, tucked under a butterfly roof that enhances the home’s verticality, embraces the ocean and provides ample natural lighting and ventilation. The entire suite opens to brilliant views of the Pacific and invites a unique spectrum of changing light and salt sweet air into the home.

"Layers of materials, volumes, and light combine to reveal this home as an extension of its owners and the hillside from which it emerges, part of the collective memory of the California landscape."

Michael Kovac, Founder and Design Partner
  • Interior Design

    Barta Interiors

  • Photography

    Jeremy Bittermann


  • 2021 LABC Architectural Award | Single-Family Housing (Winner)