Southern California is known for its hip atmosphere and gorgeous surroundings. And Malibu certainly is no exception. The seven AD-approved homes, all of which are featured below, perfectly encapsulate that allure. The houses in question are thoughtfully decorated and architecturally artful, and on top of that they have a front-row seat to California’s incomparable nature. Whether they’re perched right by the beach or ensconced in a canyon, these Malibu homes are undeniably daydream-worthy.
As Melissa Akkaway will tell you, every accessory tells a story—and that’s as true for an outfit as it is for a home. Akkaway should know: As the resident tastemaker behind The Particulars, an online fashion platform, she’s advised readers for years on how to find their personal style. And after commissioning a new Malibu house for her family of four with the help of architects Marmol Radziner and decorator Redmond Aldrich Design, she’s well-versed in how accessorizing fits into a residence too. Throughout the 7,600-square-foot abode, which manages to pack a powerful decorative punch even within a full-throated architectural vision, memories weave in and out.
That sparkle-studded pair of Miu Miu heels? A memento of the night she met her husband. That Louis Vuitton trunk stationed at the end of a hallway? A remembrance of her father. The trick, as any good fashionista can attest, is all in the styling. Overload a space with tchotchkes and personal artifacts, and you’re in an antique store—or worse, a rummage sale. Err on the side of too sparing, and you’re borderline clinical.
First things first: It helps to have good bones. And at the Casa Akkaway, there are plenty. Marmol Radziner’s expertise in West Coast living shines through in the home’s low-slung, horizontal volumes and well-considered integration of interior and exterior (which occurs in part through generously scaled sliding glass walls, though roof overhangs help keep things cool when the sun is strongest). Two stacked blocks make up the home, the top volume clad in cedar and the bottom extending into a native species–laden green roof. —Lila Allen
Pity the poor word iconic. Over the past the decade, the term has been worn out from overuse, applied to anything and everything, from teeth whiteners to D-list celebrities. But how better to describe this late-1950s Malibu home by architect Craig Ellwood? Recently reimagined by Los Angeles designer Mallery Roberts Morgan for a young Italian entrepreneur, the home radiates an aura of Miesian discipline and precision puréed in a sieve of sun-kissed California midcentury modernism. Although it is not one of Ellwood’s three official Case Study houses, the structure epitomizes the optimism, structural ingenuity, and low-key glamour of the Case Study program. It is, indeed, an icon of the era.
Even the smallest renovation of such an estimable piece of architecture requires a light, deft touch and, naturally, a profound respect for the integrity of the original conception. Happily, few designers possess a touch as adroit and confident as that of Roberts Morgan. Marrying a deep knowledge of history with an incisive eye for contemporary design that is both lasting and sympathetic to Ellwood’s vision, Roberts Morgan tailored her emendations to the house for genuine impact on flow, mood, and usage, with no perceptible disruption of the existing architecture—everything looks as if it were designed by Ellwood or, at the very least, an addition he would heartily approve. —Mayer Rus
Sarah Paulson didn’t discover her talent for creating homes with what interior designer Amy Kehoe calls “sophisticated whimsy” until she was in her 40s. As a former New Yorker and an actress who has spent much of her adult life on set, buying and decorating a house wasn’t on her lengthy to-do list. “It felt like too much responsibility. Only grown-ups did that, not me,” says the Emmy Award–winning actress, who stars in the upcoming horror thriller Dust. “I always wanted that Manhattan life, an apartment with a doorman, if you were lucky. Owning a home never held that allure.”
A couple of factors changed her mind. The first is that Paulson is an Angeleno now, and found that she was one of the holdouts in her friend group who hadn’t taken the real estate plunge. Secondly, she found the magnetic pull of Nickey Kehoe, an elegantly understated housewares shop owned by Todd Nickey and Amy Kehoe, too powerful to resist. “I would walk into that store and think, Can I move in?” she says. “When I finally bought a house, I emailed Amy. Then once I started working with her, it was like, ‘Well, you can forget it. Anytime I buy anything, even a car, you’re doing the interior.’” —Christine Lennon
Let others rhapsodize the new, the soulless, the blank slates. Philippe Naouri covets the old. “I’m into vintage Levi’s, vintage cars, vintage watches, vintage everything,” says the Los Angeles developer and former fashion designer. So it follows that, last year, when he happened upon the last home that the midcentury architect Edward Fickett built in Malibu (a 1973 relic with its best days long past, which others considered to be a teardown), he saw a haven.
“Nobody wanted to touch it,” says Naouri. “Everyone was scared, ‘so much money to spend.’ They had no vision.” Naouri took the four-bedroom, four-bath, 4,200-square-foot estate in the Malibu hills down to its studs. “We kept the beams and started to reimagine the house while restoring it to its original state.”
To Naouri, that meant reinterpreting Fickett for the modern era: “Bringing the architect into the 21st century,” he says. “I didn’t want to be a purist. The problem with midcenturies is that sometimes they look too bare. I asked myself: If Fickett were here now, how would he do the house?” That led Naouri to natural oak walls and natural grass outdoors, an edible garden and a renovated airstream, a room for yoga and a walking bridge to bring it all together. “I want people to feel good in the house,” says Naouri. “The house is made so that you can relax and enjoy your life. It’s not made to be a museum.” —Sheila Yasmin Marikar
By virtue of its solitary whereabouts under the shade of mature oaks and maples in Bonsall Canyon, the family home that designer Vanessa Alexander shares with her husband Steve and three teenage sons quietly shifts the idea of what exactly makes for a quintessential Malibu pad. For one thing, this down-to-the-studs remodel is connected to the land, not the ocean. It’s also less conspicuous and more cocooning, by design and circumstance: As fate would have it, the unwitting quarantine compound was completed just weeks before the pandemic struck last March.
“This is definitely not a sun-worshipping beach house,” says Alexander of the third Malibu home that she and Steve, a Hollywood agent, have built together. That figure includes residences in the celebrity shoreline enclave of Point Dume and the gated waterfront community of Serra Retreat. “We don’t see the ocean from here. Instead, we see mountains and big trees, but the most remarkable part about this landscape is the painterly quality of the light.”
Dappled through leaf canopies, this supple illumination gives the home’s ebony exterior a more ethereal presence—a suggestion of a dwelling, or even the shadow of one. The couple and their frequent collaborator, Los Angeles–based Kovac Design Studio, took cues for the architecture from old Belgian stone farmhouses, further clarifying an already simple agrarian form down to its essence: a basic silhouette defined by the classic single-gable pitch; wide portals that offer an easy connection to the outdoors; and humble wood cladding emblematic of the home’s rustic inspiration. —Leilani Marie Labong
Brad Lynch, a founding principal at architecture firm Brininstool & Lynch, was watching a horizontal ice storm out his Chicago office window when a longtime client called. The client in question was ringing to ask if Lynch would fly out to Malibu, California, “tomorrow” to see a 1955 modernist home that he was thinking of buying. Astoundingly, the architect replied, “I can’t. Maybe in a few weeks,” and hung up. Lynch then spent the next few minutes contemplating the weather outside before calling back with, “I’ll be there.”
That house, in a verdant canyon encircled by the Santa Monica Mountains, is about as opposite as it gets from any city. What’s more, it proved to be the perfect excuse to regularly escape Chicago for the next couple of years as Lynch and his team devised its complete reimagining. The architect, who began his career restoring Frank Lloyd Wright houses, reveled in the chance to remake something that truly reflected the aura of its locale. “The first time I walked into that house, looking outside to the larger landscape, I thought that was the big mission, really,” he says. “It was an opportunity to respect what was there, [and] enhance it.” —Kathryn Romeyn
The stars seem to have been aligned for Lala Reimagined—a West Coast studio founded four years ago by Lia McNairy and Azar Fattahi—right from the get-go. Their very first clients turned out to be dream clients, who hired them, in fairly rapid succession, to design three different properties in California, including this Spanish colonial ranch near the beaches of Malibu.
“Our first project was their house in Los Angeles; we were in the middle of renovating it when the pandemic began and they acquired this property,” Fattahi says. “They put so much trust in our hands, it’s been an unbelievable synergy of a relationship.” The clients, Anjannette Padilla-Ryan, a clinical psychologist, and her husband, Tom Ryan, president and CEO of Paramount Streaming, made the purchase with the goal of having a place to retreat to with their three school-aged children.
“It’s only a 45-minute drive in good traffic but it just feels like hundreds of miles away,” Ryan says. “The kids can run around and go to the beach.” Perched on a Malibu hilltop surrounded by five acres of greenery, with ocean views to the south and mountain views to the north, east, and west, the 6,000-square-foot home does indeed seem like a faraway retreat. Taking advantage of the idyllic setting, Lala Reimagined’s team set out to create a space that called to mind the Argentario coast of Tuscany, specifically the rustic yet glamorous Il Pelicano, an iconic resort awash in sunny yellow and fresh green hues. —Paola Singer