The California Houses of Feldman Architecture

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The Architecture of this California House Makes a Splash

photography by JOE FLETCHER

Surf House
Aptly named “Surf House,” this striking family home by Feldman Architecture is one of 16 projects featured in the firm’s first book, Immersed.

In Santa Cruz, a bohemian home embraces the coastal majesty of the landscape with grand indoor/outdoor living spaces and expansive ocean views. Right on the edge of one of California’s splendid beaches, the home owners dreamt of a house that fit naturally and sustainably into its beachy locale.

The project—called the Surf House—was worked on by an all-star team, helmed by Chris Kurrle and Jonathan Feldman of Feldman Architecture, Ground Studio Landscape Architecture, Commune Design, RJL Construction, sawyer Arborica and art consultant Allison Harding.

“A hidden jewel in Santa Cruz, Surf House brings a polished bohemian feel right up to the edge of one of the state’s best surf breaks,” Jonathan Feldman said. “Our clients wanted to design a family home in an unassuming neighborhood—aware of the feel and scale of the surrounding structures.”

“They were well-versed on the complexity of the site and wanted to focus on natural, sustainable material sourcing and siting the building responsibly.”

“A hidden jewel in Santa Cruz, Surf House brings a polished bohemian feel right up to the edge of one of the state’s best surf breaks,” Jonathan Feldman said.

And they did just that—designing a home that aesthetically fit into Santa Cruz’s coastal atmosphere while sticking to sustainable best practices.

“We classified the aesthetic as ‘Professor Who Surfs,’ which helped set the tone for the team,” Chris Kurrle said. “We wanted the home to weather, age and mature gracefully, and actively respond to its salty coastal location.”

Both the interior and exterior of the California house is covered with wooden board and batten slats that add a warm and rustic feel to the home.

“The home’s design fosters a sense of gathering and indoor/outdoor connection, inviting the clients to host friends and family in a protected courtyard perfect for windy days, as well as an outdoor dining space, hot tub, and outdoor kitchen and grill overlooking the ocean to enjoy on sunnier, warmer days,” Feldman says. “From the open plan indoor kitchen, living and dining area, glass doors slide open completely onto the ocean view outdoor living space, and natural, local materials feel warm and at home.” 

“Monterey Cypress, used for both the interiors and exterior cladding, materially ties each space to the next, and creates a visual continuity between outdoor and indoor living spaces,” he added.


California house

Feldman Architecture enlisted the help of Evan Shivley of Arborica, a sawyer that reclaims and repurposes Native Californian timber, to provide the California house with locally sourced interior and exterior cladding. 

“Monterey Cypress, a robust, resilient, regal wood, is accustomed to the site’s coastal California climate and when left unfinished, weathers to a sophisticated gray—the wood also therefore quickly becoming a focal point of the home’s design,” Feldman said. “The materials respond and evolve in relation to the cliffside location—the marine air and sea interact with and weather the wood, brass, and copper. The structure itself will age and mature with time, further connecting the home to the land.”

Not only did the Monterey Cypress fit the architectural vision for the home, but it also hit the mark on sustainability.

“Evan Shively had a vision to use the Monterey Cypress holistically, from the rough wood to the more polished grades, so we tried to minimize waste in every way possible,” Feldman said. “It became a very elaborate exercise in analytics, which dictated the module of the exterior and the size of the slats we used.”

“Waste in the milling process and trunk use was minimized by holistically integrating every level of wood grade and their respective quantities into the design,” he added.

Feldman Architecture


The biggest challenge that the California house faced? A 100-year coastal geological setback in anticipation of cliff erosion.

“A site-sensitive solution that respected both the coast and the community became a design focus,” Kurrle said. “Being directly on the coast, and subject to direct winds coming off the ocean, the home is sited as a windbreak—the rear yard and deck capitalize on ocean views, while the entry and front courtyard, tucked behind two separate structures (a customized surfboard storage unit and garage), sit where the sun shines most in the winter, acting as a warm, light-filled cloister all year round, protected from the coastal winds.”

IMMERSED by Feldman Architecture


This home is one of 16 amazing residences featured in Feldman Architecture’s first book, titled Immersed: The California Houses of Feldman Architecture.

“Immersed highlights the 16 projects that define our studio’s first twenty years of residential work, divided into three typologies: Urban, Suburban and Rural,” Feldman said. “The process was an introspective and reflective exercise, which helped us both uncover and revisit some more details of our favorite projects from over the years, as well as define our aspirations for the future.” 

“It was also amazing to work with talented and renowned writers and architects who contributed essays to the volume, which gave us some unique outside perspectives we had yet to consider,” he added.

The book highlights LEED Platinum and net-zero residences, and a home that was featured prominently in the recent feature film, Malcolm & Marie (2021).

“Readers will enjoy seeing homes selected in each typology in more detail than ever before and enjoy critical perspectives from a variety of contributors,” Feldman said. “A significant focus of the book highlights the firm’s design philosophy around collaboration, and essays from collaborators, consultants and builders shed light on our processes.”

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