Dezeen Magazine

A black house overlooking the mountains

Lorcan O'Herlihy completes a family residence in Malibu

California architect Lorcan O'Herlihy, founder of the studio LOHA, has transformed a neglected 1990s house in southern California into a family residence with framed views of mountainous terrain.

Nestled amongst a cluster of trees on a Malibu hillside, the Highgrove House was purchased by O'Herlihy and his wife, Cornelia, in 2010.

A two storey house nestled in a hillside
Highgrove House is nestled into a mountainous hillside in Malibu

At the time, the house – built in 1998 – was structurally sound but in a state of disrepair. Both the interior and exterior were in need of a makeover.

Over the years, the couple chipped away at renovating the two-storey house – a project described as a "labor of love". The work included a kitchen remodel, new decks and the restoration of hardwood floors.

A black facade of Highway House
Lorcan O'Herlihy renovated the house for his family

In 2020, the couple decided to embark on a major overhaul and create a home that "sparks creativity". Guiding concerns included embracing the landscaping and retaining original building elements.

"It's important to keep the existing structure when possible because it cuts down the ecological footprint of construction," said O'Herlihy.

"The key is to strategically design within those parameters."

An external terrace around Highway House
The home's fibre-cement siding was retained

O'Herlihy added a small room on the lower level but otherwise kept the home's footprint intact. New materials were incorporated, both inside and out.

"The material choices are equally contemporary and timeless against the backdrop of the southern California mountains," the architect said.

A woman sitting on a patio overlooking mountains
An L-shaped terrace wraps around the exterior

The home's original fibre-cement siding was retained and the studio covered it with a grey wooden rain screen. The screen mitigates solar heat gain and, visually speaking, helps emphasize the home's crisp, rectilinear form.

In some areas, the screen sits 18 inches (46 centimetres) from the home's perimeter wall. The distance enabled the architect to create deep-set windows, further reducing solar gain and adding an artistic touch to the exterior.

A living room inside Highway House
Oak floorboards line the floor inside

In select areas, ordinary casement windows were replaced with mullion-free, plate-glass windows. The glazing offers unobstructed views of the landscape.

A glazed, sliding door opens onto an L-shaped terrace, where the family likes to relax and take in the scenery.

A chaise lounge in front of a window
Large windows provide views of the wilderness outside

Within the 2,500-square-foot (232-square-metre) home, the layout was slightly modified.

The upper level holds the shared spaces, along with a primary suite and a bedroom. The lower levels contains two additional bedrooms.

An open plan kitchen inside Highway House
The kitchen has Finnish birch plywood cabinets

Stairs were relocated to make the living room larger, flex space was added on the lower level, and a bathroom was enlarged. A garage was converted into a kids' space.

Interior finishes include oak flooring and painted drywall.

In the kitchen, the architect installed custom Finnish birch plywood cabinetry and Caesarstone countertops.

The home is furnished with contemporary decor, including chairs designed by Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier.

Overall, the project embodies the experience of an established design practice with “the intimacy of a loving family home”, the studio said.

It also provides a connection to O’Herlihy’s childhood. While born in Ireland, O’Herlihy grew up in Malibu due to his father's work in show business. His father was the Oscar-nominated actor Dan O’Herlihy.

A minimalist white bathroom
The bathroom was enlarged for the family

LOHA, or Lorcan O'Herlihy Architects, has developed an extensive portfolio since its founding in 1994. Notable projects include a student apartment complex that steps down an LA hillside and a row of sculptural, metal-clad homes that explore possibilities for the "small lot subdivision typology".

The firm made the longlist for architecture studio of the year in the 2022 Dezeen Awards programme. In 2021, Lorcan O'Herlihy received the coveted Gold Medal from AIA's Los Angeles chapter.

The photography is by Here and Now Agency (HANA).

More images and plans

Lower level plan
Highway House lower level floor plan
Highway House main level floor plan
Main level