Projects   Residential Quarterly – January 2006
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Hill House

Pacific Palisades, Calif.
Johnston Marklee & Associates

Johnston Marklee’s Hill House perches on a precipitous site like a faceted diamond

Photo © Eric Staudenmaier

By Michael Webb

Some of the best wine is made from vines that have to struggle for a foothold on steep slopes, and the same is true for residential architecture in Los Angeles. Starting with Wright, Schindler, and Neutra in the 1920s, architects have developed inventive solutions for precipitous sites in Silver Lake, the Hollywood Hills, and west to Malibu. Few undeveloped plots remain, and the partnership of Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee was challenged to build a spacious spec house on a small and irregular plot of land that drops unevenly from a busy street to command a panoramic view over Santa Monica Canyon. The local Hillside Ordinance limits height (48 feet from the lowest point) and bulk in an effort to preserve the rustic character of the canyon. An earlier, failed attempt to build on the site would have required 23 caissons to meet the city’s stringent seismic code.

The architects turned these constraints to advantage by tapering their three-level block at the top and bottom. This allowed them to minimize the footprint, reduce the number of costly caissons to nine, and free up space for a backyard, while maximizing the volume within the zoning envelope. The form emerged as a response to the site and regulations, and the architects massaged it in physical models and with Form Z software until they had sculpted a 3,600-square-foot interior. In contrast to other attempts to max out the site, the Hill House seems to grow organically from the slope, much like John Lautner’s celebrated Chemosphere House.

The two outer walls of the poured-concrete base are tilted perpendicular to the 47-degree slope, working in compression with the inner retaining walls, while tie beams within a concrete deck anchor the house at the top of the slope. A faceted steel cage encloses the mezzanine, with the bedroom cantilevered over the garage at street level. This structural frame is concealed by a layer of a waterproof and elastic polymer-based mix that was troweled onto a substrate of 3⁄4-inch plywood, creating a seamless skin that unites the angled planes.

The house abuts a street that cascades down, past a well-hidden Eames House and to the Pacific Coast Highway. An enigmatically blank facade, broken only by a single recessed slot above the garage, baffles noise from the street and assures privacy. The white, light-filled interior offers a dramatic contrast. Stairs link the master suite on the lowest level in the base to the living-dining area and kitchen, which are tucked below the library off a mezzanine gallery. This is a little house that thinks big without overwhelming its neighbors.

Want the full story? Read the entire article in our January 2006 issue.
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the People

Chan Luu

Lucas Ma, President, Markee LLC

Johnston Marklee & Associates
12248 B Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025
310 442 4886 tel
310 442 4896 fax

Principal in Charge:
Mark Lee

Project Architects:
Sharon Johnston AIA, Jeff Adams and Mark Rea Baker

Project team:
Daveed Kapoor, Anne Rosenberg, Anton Schneider

Project assistants:
Seoung An, Brennan Buck, Michelle Cintron, Joanna Hankamer, Lars Holt

Architect of record
Sharon Johnston-Lee, A.I.A.

William Koh & Associates
3435 Wilshire Blvd. Suite 2310
Los Angeles, CA 90010
213 386 1715

CC & R Inc.

Glass Engineer:
Jim Sadler

Lush Life LA

Dan Wienreber, Los Angeles
1620 Venice Blvd, Ste 301
Venice, CA 90291
310 745-0322
310 745-0324 fax

Color Consultant:
Jack Pierson, Artist

General contractor
Hinerfeld-Ward Inc., Los Angeles
3734 Motor Ave. Bldg. C
Los Angeles, CA 90034
Tel: 310 - 842 - 7929
Fax: 310- 842 - 7934

Julius Shulman (323) 654-0877 tel & Jurgen Nogai (310) 866-1250 tel

Eric Staudenmaier
(626) 826-4258 tel

Johnston Marklee & Associates

CAD system, project management, or other software used
AutoCAD, FormZ, Illustrator, Photoshop

the Products

Structural system
Concrete foundation and retaining walls, braced steel frame with timber infill framing

Exterior cladding
EIFS, ACM, or other:



R & C Glass

Sun Valley Skylights

Sliding doors:
Fleetwood Norwood

Valli & Valli



Interior Cladding
Cabinetwork and custom woodwork:
Hinerfeld-Ward Inc.

Paints and stains:
Benjamin Moore

Special surfacing:
Corian counters in kitchen and bathrooms

Floor and wall tile:
Dal Tile

Lightolier recessed, Liton recessed

Task lighting:
Alkco undercabinet, Alkco mirror lites

Philips ground-mounted uplites, Philips in-wall steplites


Bathroom fittings:

Kitchen fittings:




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