Vault House by Johnston Marklee, California

House from architects Johnston Marklee
Eager to break the mould of typically Californian beachfront homes with dark, huddled back rooms, Los Angeles-based architects Johnston Marklee came up with a radically different solution for this private residence.
(Image credit: Eric Staudenmaier)

The resulting Vault House is a smooth, pure-white rectangular block, cut through with arches, vaults and curving skylights that open up oblique and overlapping views

The resulting Vault House is a smooth, pure-white rectangular block, cut through with arches, vaults and curving skylights that open up oblique and overlapping views

(Image credit: Eric Staudenmaier)

vault house entrance into courtyard

Though the building looks like monolithic cast concrete, it's actually synthetic stucco over a wood-frame construction. Wood was chosen over cast concrete because of cost, weight and seismic considerations

(Image credit: Eric Staudenmaier)

vault house living room

The ocean is visible from every room in the house, however far back, but the grand panorama of sand, waves and surfers practically inhabits the living room

(Image credit: Eric Staudenmaier)

vault house interior

The broad vaults, from which this house gets its name, shape the character of every room in this house. Even the ceilings are slightly curved

(Image credit: Eric Staudenmaier)

vault house central courtyard

The inclusion of the central courtyard was a key architectural strategy. This sheltered patio, doubling as an entry court, opens the way for layered transparency and allows sunlight to penetrate deep inside

(Image credit: Eric Staudenmaier)

vault house central courtyard

Sometimes sharp, often curved and occasionally oblique, the house's sculptural forms nearly always surprise, evoking the arched sequences of a de Chirico painting

(Image credit: Eric Staudenmaier)

vault house

Skylights often perforate the heavy vaults and arches, lightening the construction and brightening the interior

(Image credit: Eric Staudenmaier)

vault house

Although the front of the house is raised on stilts, the rear sits flat on the ground. The resulting asymmetries inspired a shifting play of interior levels around the court

(Image credit: Eric Staudenmaier)

vault house interior

A simple and stylish interior uses the house's abundance of natural light to maximum effect

(Image credit: Eric Staudenmaier)

vault house interior

A sense of layered transparency is felt throughout the house, transcending the boundaries of space often set by multiple floors

(Image credit: Eric Staudenmaier)

vault house parking garage

The parking garage, at the building's opposite end, had to sit directly on the ground, over walls engineered to collapse under huge-wave pressure

(Image credit: Eric Staudenmaier)

vault house

Special permits allowed the owners of Vault House to build six metres closer to the surf than any of their neighbours. With its vaulted underbelly, the house appears to perch lightly on the sand. But it's a lightness secured by massive underground pylons, designed to withstand high waves, wind and erosion

(Image credit: Eric Staudenmaier)

Ellie Stathaki is the Architecture Editor at Wallpaper*. She trained as an architect at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece and studied architectural history at the Bartlett in London. Now an established journalist, she has been a member of the Wallpaper* team since 2006, visiting buildings across the globe and interviewing leading architects such as Tadao Ando and Rem Koolhaas. Ellie has also taken part in judging panels, moderated events, curated shows and contributed in books, such as The Contemporary House (Thames & Hudson, 2018) and Glenn Sestig Architecture Diary (2020).