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Home Feature – David Hertz Home Design

Contemplative Home Design

David Hertz incorporates elements of water in his Venice home

Acclaimed architect David Hertz is an expert in environmentally conscious design. Not only is water the creative inspiration behind many of the home’s features, this element also plays an important role in the construction’s sustainable blueprint. To show us this relationship, Hertz takes us on a tour of his Venice Beach property.

By Marina Chetner

We’re on the balcony of the second floor of the McKinley House, home to architect David Hertz and his photographer fiancée, Laura Doss, overlooking the Balinese-inspired outdoor courtyard. Its long narrow pool is framed at a right angle by a lush growth of green palm fronds, bamboo, and banana leaves; the trickle of the stone obelisk fountain is second only to the rustle of the leaves in the wind. “To me, architecture for residential use is about creating a place that is restorative. We all have stressful lives and when you come home, ideally it’s your own form of bliss. It’s where you have tranquility, quiet, and for me that means a connection to nature,” explains Hertz.  “Laura and I take a Jacuzzi every night with our dog, Nalu, we try to swim in the morning, and if we’re doing yoga, we’re looking at the pool – everything was designed to look onto it.” With the home built around water, using the outdoors as an extension of the indoor space, the pool area is integral to the home’s flow, form, and function.

Owning a pool in Venice Beach is a rarity. Hertz tells me that his is one of a few in the area given the narrow lots which average between 30 to 40 feet wide. His offers the space since in 2002, when the opportunity came up to purchase the adjacent lot, Hertz added a pool and a wrap around indoor-outdoor extension. So prized is the built-in underground feature that Hertz and Doss consider sharing it a gesture. Last year, on a wintry Sunday, a trio of the neighborhood’s surfer kids received a tip on it from their mom – even though they’d been at the beach all day, they couldn’t get enough. They rang the doorbell and declared, “We hear you have a pool.” Unfazed by the water’s cold temperatures, “It’s not heated,” Hertz had said – the kids changed out of their wetsuits and swam for three hours. That meeting led to a strong friendship with the kids who are now regular visitors; many moments have been shared poolside eating chocolate and drinking lemonade. Laughs Doss, “They’re just kids… They sit in the Jacuzzi and we sit here, lifeguard them, and tell stories. They’re amazing.”

Discussing his own love for surfing, there’s no doubt that relationship with the ocean has shaped Hertz’s life. “When I was a kid, I had a lot of allergies and eczema. My parents rented a beach house in Malibu in about ’64 and because of the ocean, it was a completely healing experience for me; my skin did really well there. We ended up moving – I grew up surfing and was in the ocean every day.  Especially going through the angst of teenage years, if I didn’t surf, I’d get pretty amped up. There’s still that feeling of connection to it.”

At age 17, Hertz experienced a pivotal moment that charted the course of his career: he met John Lautner. In between surfing waves, he’d sneak in and explore construction sites which led to a chance meeting and subsequent apprenticeship with the Modernist architect. “Inspiration isn’t ever really a conscious process,” Hertz tells me when I ask about the influence of others’ design aesthetic on him. “You steep yourself through education, travel, and reading; certain things sit and percolate. When you go to design, they find themselves out. There are a lot of influencers – I love Rudolf Schindler, I love Frank Lloyd Wright who was an early influencer…” Hertz started his eponymous firm in 1984, and has been practicing sustainable architecture ever since.

At this point Doss, the photographer on our shoot, beckons Hertz to the pool. From the balcony, we descend to the lower level by way of a floating staircase made of mahogany, plantation grown and FSC certified. Separated only by a sliding door, the open air dining area offers views of the courtyard; from here, one can easily flow to the living areas of the pool house. “I’d rather be outside than inside,” says Hertz.  Switching slacks for board shorts, Hertz submerges underwater – a man in his element. From then on, the majority of our discussion happens here, Hertz interchanging a soak in the 103 F Jacuzzi with a swim in the pool’s cooler temperatures. Nalu, a pit bull American bulldog mix rescue dog, wades alongside – Hertz reveals she was initially afraid of the water. Doss, a keen surfer and paddleboader herself, gets into the pool to take some close-ups.

Hertz has always been interested in Japanese architecture — inspired by frequent travels to Japan as well as Indonesia; his home seamlessly integrates refined modern design elements with the hand-hewn and ornamental. Water features prominently throughout. The minimalist outdoor shower lets in the light from the east and looks onto a layer of bamboo; the communal dining area, marked by a handmade solid mahogany table with backless benches that seat about 20, was inspired by the long houses of Balinese villages. Even the scupper from the second floor balcony doubles up as a design feature; when it rains, instead of using enclosed gutters and downspouts against the wall, the water flows like a fountain into a basin of river pebbles at ground level. The window from the family room frames a still water fountain set in a corner of a small pebbled courtyard. With an eye for balance, Hertz positioned the fountain on an axis with a fire pit that looks onto the pool – its indoor-outdoor seating area is an ideal setting for meditation and evening gatherings.

Sleek lines and a clean palette of grey tones invite the natural outdoor beauty indoors. Many of the surfaces – customized sinks, countertops, wall dividers, sofa frames, planters, and floor tiles – are made of Syndecrete®. A sustainable building material invented by Hertz 30 years ago (he sold the technology in 1996), it is similar to concrete but half the weight, twice the compressive strength, and made of 41% recycled content including reclaimed carpet fiber, non-toxic fly ash (a product of coal combustion), and natural minerals. It functions as a user-friendly indoor and outdoor surface and eliminates mold and dust. What’s more, it makes effective use of Los Angeles’ sunlight. Explains Hertz, “With Syndecrete®, you get a natural passive solar reaction. When the sun hits carpet, for example, it doesn’t have any beneficial absorption properties from the sun.  But with all these windows, the sun comes through, hits these floors, and the energy is absorbed into that mass and radiates it out at night.”

In a home that spans 4,600 square feet, the six full bathrooms (three with bathtubs) treat water as a ritual. Hertz considers bathing an experience that inspires stillness; you won’t find water jets in the built-in master bathtub. “Bathing and showering – I’ve always found those aspects of my architecture to be highly charged. You’re brought back to your roots – you’re naked; it’s primal,” explained Hertz. “Being submerged in hot water gives you a restorative experience. The Japanese have perfected it the most of any culture – to them, it’s almost a religious, Zen-like practice. There’s a certain attention to pre-bathing and cleansing, and an etiquette about going into the water.”

I’ve been here for a few hours without a thought given to the world beyond the home’s perimeter; it feels like a sanctuary. I mention this to Hertz and he agrees, “I think sanctuary is a good word… We’re in an urban condition; there’s the street right there and there’s beach parking. When we come home and enter the space, it’s tranquil. Part of it is because of the water – I think there’s something ritualistic about being in water.” He continues, “At night we sleep with the windows open so we hear the audible fountain; it’s a white noise that masks neighborhood noise. And then there’s the reflection of the pool, especially at night on the eaves – you’re getting that movement.” I track the subtle drainage lines; like fabric seams they run the length of the pool area where their rainwater runoff fills a cistern used for plant irrigation. There’s a cyclical feeling here of reuse and generation. In a nod to environmental responsibility, Hertz emphatically adds, “Water could very likely be the most precious resource. We cannot live without it.”



Hertz outfitted the roof with 20 Photovoltaic Panels by PermaCity Solar which supply 90% of the home’s electricity; additional panels provide for the solar pool, radiant floor heating, and domestic hot water. The initial cost of installation is approximately $6/foot with a 35% federal tax credit for renewable and hot water credits (pricing and rebates vary). Hertz explains, “With solar, you’re investing in a commodity that’s in short supply at a fixed price, but for which you know the prices are going to go up. There’s a federal law that requires the utility to buy back at the rate they sell it to you – they generally buy back at peak hours. Solar drops your consumption to a lower tier, so energy will cost you less.”


David Hertz’s Tips:

*Incorporating an indoor/outdoor bath such as the Japanese ofuro has great impact. A square bathtub of hinoki wood can fit on the smallest balcony and allows a connection to nature. Add inexpensive shades for privacy.

* A working fountain creates a blissful sonic atmosphere.

*Conserve water by using water-efficient showerheads and dual flush toilets. “I recommend anything from Australia – the technology for drought and water saving is higher there,” according to Hertz. Research brands like Caroma.

*Eliminate chlorine use: Hertz’s pool system uses an ionization and silver filter.

For more information, visit: David Hertz Architects Inc FAIA, & S.E.A. Studio of Environmental Architecture: davidhertzfaia.com 

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