The Vault House, by Johnston Marklee

The Vault House, by Johnston Marklee

Credit: Eric Staudenmaier


Arch. Dome. Vault. The terms are relics of architectural history, but in Southern California they are also the building blocks of suburbia, where Mission-style McMansions flaunt endless stucco arches and vaulted foyers. Principals Sharon Johnston, AIA, and Mark Lee of Los Angeles–based Johnston Marklee, however, have updated the archaic and used vaults to rethink a beach house in Oxnard, Calif., just north of Malibu.

The house’s smooth white form is achieved using GrailCoat on the exterior—the elastomeric, cementitious membrane doesn’t require control joints or metal flashing.

The house’s smooth white form is achieved using GrailCoat on the exterior—the elastomeric, cementitious membrane doesn’t require control joints or metal flashing.

Credit: Eric Staudenmaier

Designed for Steven and Jerri Nagelberg, a couple who split their time between the shore and downtown L.A., Johnston Marklee’s scheme addresses a typology common to beachfront communities: Narrow and deep houses sit flank-to-flank along the sand, and while the living room and second-floor master suite of each look onto the ocean, the rest of the house is typically a dim warren.

The home’s central courtyard has direct access to the beach via a side staircase.

The home’s central courtyard has direct access to the beach via a side staircase.

Credit: Eric Staudenmaier

“At the outset of the design, we asked ourselves how to bring light, air, and a view all the way into the house,” Lee says. Rooms in Johnston Marklee’s 3,600-square-foot scheme are organized so that one flows into another, from the all-glass beachfront façade to the street, allowing for glimpses of the Pacific throughout the house. The architects pushed the second-floor master suite back from the waves—allowing the living room to fill the whole front of the house—and carved out a courtyard into the middle of the plan. The result is that every room has access to the outdoors. 

The variation of the vaults allows for different gradients of light over the curved surfaces.

The variation of the vaults allows for different gradients of light over the curved surfaces.

Credit: Eric Staudenmaier

Vaulted ceilings of different sizes and curvatures define each room, from the kitchen to the guest bedrooms. The office created a 6-foot-long model in order to show the clients and the contractor how the curves come together, but construction was straightforward; the vaults were formed out of wood framing and dropped from the floor plate. “We are interested in using simple geometries to create complex effect,” Lee says. “We design in Rhino, but we could have designed the house using a compass.”

The limited, mostly white, materials palette continues throughout: limestone floors inside and out, painted drywall for the interior walls 
and vaults.

The limited, mostly white, materials palette continues throughout: limestone floors inside and out, painted drywall for the interior walls and vaults.

Credit: Eric Staudenmaier

The double-height living room window is visible throughout the house.

The double-height living room window is visible throughout the house.

Credit: Eric Staudenmaier


In addition to providing light and outdoor living space, the courtyard divides the home into a family volume, seen here with the master suite stacked over the kitchen, and guest volume, seen in the photo opposite.

In addition to providing light and outdoor living space, the courtyard divides the home into a family volume, seen here with the master suite stacked over the kitchen, and guest volume, seen in the photo opposite.

Credit: Eric Staudenmaier

Street view.

Street view.

Credit: Eric Staudenmaier

Drawings and Diagrams

Credit: Courtesy Johnston Marklee


Credit: Courtesy Johnston Marklee


Credit: Courtesy Johnston Marklee


Massing Study

Massing Study

Credit: Courtesy Johnston Marklee


View Diagram

View Diagram

Credit: Courtesy Johnston Marklee


Project Credits

Project  Vault House, Oxnard, Calif.
Client  Steven and Jerri Nagelberg
Architect  Johnston Marklee, Los Angeles—Sharon Johnston, AIA; Mark Lee (principals); Katrin Terstegen (project manager); Andri Luescher, Nicholas Hofstede, Anna Neimark, Anton Schneider, Yoshi Nagamine, Ryan Roettker (project team)
Interior Designer  Associates III
Structural Engineer  William Koh and Associates
General Contractor  RJP Construction & Painting—Raymond Puzio
Lighting Designer  Light Studio LA (art lighting); Luminesce Design—Heather Libonati
Coastal Hazard and Wave Runup Study  Geosoils
Audiovisual Consultant  Chapman AV System
Facilitator  SC Planners
Geotechnical Consultant  Earth Systems Southern California
Size  3,600 square feet
Cost  Withheld

Material and Sources
Acoustical System  Baswaphon baswaphon.com
Appliances  Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet kalamazoogourmet.com; Miele mieleusa.com; Sub-Zero subzero-wolf.com
Bathroom Fixtures  Hansgrohe hansgrohe-usa.com; Kohler kohler.com; KWC kwc.us.com; Vola vola.com
Cabinets  Poggenpohl poggenpohl.com
Countertops  Caesarstone caesarstoneus.com
Exterior Wall Systems  GrailCoat grailcoat.com; stucco
Flooring  Limestone
Lighting  C.W. Cole & Co. (custom fixtures) colelighting.com
Masonry and Stone  Daltile (limestone) daltile.com
Structural System  Concrete deck and grade beam, driven piles (foundation), structural steel, wood framing
Windows and Doors  Fleetwood fleetwoodusa.net