KAA Design and Pamela Smith Interiors Interweave Indoors and Out for a Southern California Abode

The main bedroom, with custom walnut bed and Jiun Ho upholstered bench, has a private courtyard featuring a reflecting pool and a Japanese ofuro soaking tub. Photography by Roger Davies.

Most empty nesters downsize. Not this couple: Rebuilding on the same Southern California property where they’d raised their three children, the duo upsized from around 6,000 square feet to 10,500—and did a complete about-face design-wise. Leading the clients on their journey from traditional to contemporary were L.A.–based architecture firm KAA Design and San Diego’s Pamela Smith Interiors. A full-fledged collaboration gave rise to what’s been dubbed the Tree House. 

A cedar garage door contrasts with the motor court’s wall of board-formed concrete. Photography by Roger Davies.

The trapezoidal site was, in a word, spectacular. Set on a promontory overlooking the Pacific Ocean about a mile away, the two acres were filled with mature oaks, Torrey pines, and magnolia trees—ergo the home’s sobriquet. “We didn’t want to just preserve the trees; we wanted to weave them into the architecture,” says Grant Kirkpatrick, who founded KAA more than 30 years ago to specialize in luxury residences. “We viewed the entire site as a canvas—for the house and for an
indoor-outdoor environment,” one that would encompass generous grassy lawns, a swimming pool, and even a bocce court.

The ground-level great room has retractable glass walls on two sides that open to create a breezeway. Photography by Roger Davies.

In terms of site planning, “our breakthrough was in re-envisioning how you come onto the property and approach the house,” KAA partner Duan Tran explains. “Rather than pulling off the street and directly into a garage, cars arrive via a romantic entry sequence.” The long and winding path threads through the trees and past a monumental board-formed concrete gate before arriving at a

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