By day, as a plastic surgeon in Orange County, California, Edward Domanskis corrects and fixes imperfections and flaws provided by, or inflicted on, nature. In the evening, however, he retreats to his 2,928-square-foot house in Laguna Beach by Lautner Associates: a house designed to honor and worship a phenomenon that nature made perfect—the ocean.
Domanskis purchased the 40-foot-wide lot with the desire to build a house for his young family of four that would be timeless, beautiful, and practical. Also, he wanted to see and hear the ocean from everywhere in the house. He knew the work of John Lautner and had hoped to have him design his house. “I was delighted to learn that Helena Arahuete had been his chief design architect for almost 30 years and had taken over the firm when he died,” he says. “It did not take any convincing to choose her. She asked if we preferred angles or curves, we chose the former, and left the design totally to her.”
The four-bedroom, three-story house is anchored with concrete caissons into a steep cliff above a beach cove. Because there was a height restriction requiring that the house rise no more than 15 feet above street level, Arahuete stepped the house down to follow the slope of the cliff, with only the top floor rising above the street by 11 feet. The roof and fascias are clad in marine-grade stainless steel, as are portions of the north and south facades. Exterior walls are finished with stucco and rosewood paneling.
Approaching the house from the street, visitors step down four steps to a travertine walkway that leads into the house—a two-car garage is to the left, and an acrylic sculpture by Lithuanian sculptor Algis Kuzma to the right. The entry floor contains a bedroom, bathroom, “view” room, and a large glass-framed deck. An elevator and an open-tread koa-wood stairway with glass railings and rosewood handrails lead down to the next level. This floor houses private areas—three bedrooms, two baths, a study, and two decks, one of which has a glass floor that looks down into the kitchen below. “Because the lowest floor is positioned so firmly into the cliff the kitchen would have been quite basementlike without that glass deck above,” says Arahuete. “That deck serves as a skylight for the kitchen.” In addition to the kitchen, the lowest floor holds living, dining, and sitting areas, as well as a media room and bathroom. Living spaces and bedrooms have koa wood floors, while the kitchen floor and bathroom floors and walls are clad in travertine slab. One small portion of the living area floor is glass, through which the family can look down at the sandy cliff below.
While the family loves to watch the ocean from their house, they don’t always want beachcombers on this public beach to see in. The house has privacy glass that turns windows from clear to opaque with a flip of a switch, as well as mechanized shades concealed in lighting coves. Still, Domanskis says he doesn’t mind watching people’s reactions when they walk by the house. “It’s fun to see how the accolades of people passing mirror our own impressions of the house,” he says. “The house itself is peaceful, symbiotic with the site, and a gem, yet minimalistic and understated.”
“John Lautner appreciated organic architecture,” says Arahuete, “which he interpreted to mean that we should be inspired by how nature designs—everything has a purpose, everything works, and everything is beautiful and timeless. This is what I always hope to achieve with my designs. This house was designed with that philosophy in mind, and with durable, real materials. Hopefully it will last a very long time.”