In 2004, dangerous living conditions prompted architect Jorge Gracia and his wife to move from Gracia’s hometown of Tijuana to San Diego to raise their young family; there, Gracia, a 2012 Record Vanguard choice, established his own practice. The once-notorious border town has since sought to shed its reputation for drug violence and raucous spring break parties, positioning itself as a burgeoning tech hub. With the idea of founding a new graduate school for architecture there, as well as a second office, Gracia returned with his family in 2016, in need of a house for two by then adolescent children and a new baby on the way.

For the site, Gracia chose a lot in a newly developed yet largely vacant residential neighborhood. Citing a Midcentury Modern influence for the house’s rectilinear form, the architect clad the two-story steel-and-concrete structure’s upper level—portions of which are cantilevered—with ipé. The ipé extends to the interior, covering the ceilings to provide a warm contrast to exposed-concrete walls. Given the lack of views, says Gracia, it was important to create a personal oasis, hidden from the neighbors and the street: a lush, walled-off, rear patio is linked to the interior via fully glazed sliding doors that wrap around the living and dining rooms. Two discreet entrances—tucked away in a side alley or inside the ground-floor garage—enhance a sense of privacy. In addition to providing seclusion, these informal entries offer insight into Gracia’s personal design philosophy, which eschews spatial hierarchy: “There’s no distinction in social class,” he says, “and I like that.”