NAME-DROPPING IS A TIME-HONORED tradition in Los Angeles. Happily for Structure Homes, its moniker is one that's tossed around frequently and favorably in Pacific Palisades, a tony suburb just up the beach from Santa Monica. The builder/developer had already completed four other teardown projects in the community when its partners laid plans to raze their latest acquisition, a 1,600-square-foot rambler overridden with mold.
By then it was a familiar scenario: The land value of the lot in this coveted zip code far exceeded the worth of the decaying home occupying its turf, and the cost of remodeling was prohibitive compared with the price tag for new construction. Fortunately, the neighbors weren't sad to see the old place go. They'd been pleased with the builder's previous transformations—which spruced up the streetscape and bolstered property values—and were eager to see what was in store this time.
Especially considering that the new residence that emerged on El Medio Avenue—on a lot for which Structure forked over $1.1 million—would become one of two spec houses the Woodland Hills, Calif.–based builder/developer creates each year to showcase its talents. (The remaining 15 to 18 infill homes it builds annually are pre-sold or fee-based.)
Maybe it was the karma of Hollywood close by, but for this dwelling, perched on a bluff overlooking the ocean, architectural inspiration came from the movies—specifically, the whitewashed Hamptons retreat owned by playwright Erica Jane Barry (Diane Keaton) in the 2003 hit Something's Gotta Give. Structure co-founder Robert Kleiman describes the style as a “coastal cottage with a plantation feel.”
East Coast transplant though it may be, the architecture blends seamlessly into an old-growth neighborhood long populated by Cape Cod shingle-style residences and New England farmhouses. With 3,777 square feet of conditioned space (4,688 including the loggia, decks, and porch), the new house is considerably larger than its predecessor, but its size is downplayed with careful massing. The project required no variances and sailed through the approval process in less than four months.
“We had to navigate city zoning codes, plus the requirements of the Pacific Palisades Civic League, which holds the reins on architectural controls, but this was something we had done before,” Kleiman explains. “The rules dictate that you can't have a wall exceeding 40 feet on the side yard without a 2-foot minimum step-back on the second level. Their principal intent is to avoid two-story massive boxes, so articulation is always an important focus.”
In this case, that mission was accomplished with a four-sided design by architect Eric Zuziak of JZMK Partners that softens any sense of boxiness. An artful interplay of windows, balconies, a front porch, and a covered back loggia creates a transparent layering of indoor-outdoor realms, taking the focus away from the home's overall mass. Inside, interior designer Jill Wolff offset traditional millwork and painted wood ceilings with contemporary materials such as milk glass door inserts and sandblasted glass tiles in the kitchen and baths. The aesthetic is eclectic, crisp, and clean.
And, like the movie, the construction cycle had a happy ending. The home was snapped up five days after it hit the market in a competitive bid, for considerably more than the asking price.
“When you build houses that are brand new in infill neighborhoods, they are competing with homes that are being resold, so they become highly desirable,” says Kleiman, who co-founded Structure with Mark Sapiro in 1996 to pursue an alternative to the merchant builder model. (Both men previously worked for The Braemar Group.) Structure now has seven more teardown projects underway in Pacific Palisades alone.
“We have a nice rapport with the neighbors,” says Kleiman. “They love our product and the way we do it. The entire neighborhood toured this house before we sold it. Our goal is to make a building look as though it's been there for 100 years the day it's finished. If we do that, we've achieved something fantastic.”
Project: 737 El Medio Ave., Pacific Palisades, Calif.; Unit size: 3,777 square feet; Lot size: 6,800 square feet; Sale price: low $3 million; Builder/Developer: Structure Homes, Woodland Hills, Calif.; Architect: JZMK Partners, Newport Beach, Calif.; Interior designer: Wolff Interior Design, Calabasas, Calif.
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Los Angeles, CA.