When Home is an astonishing architectural achievement
Rolling past the golden-hued cumaru wood fence backed by a riot of green foliage while heading south on Coast Highway out of Laguna Beach, most would never imagine there’s a dream house perched on the ocean cliff just below the fence.
But slide down the driveway through the privacy gate and suddenly you’ll find yourself at the seemingly low-slung oceanfront home of Mark Towfiq and Carol Nakahara, a couple of UCI computer science graduates whose very successful high-tech careers allowed them to build this astonishing house – a home that truly represents what dreams are made of.
The house was designed by famed architect Mark Singer.
“I’m not sure if this was the last house, but this was definitely his last big house,” Towfiq says. In fact, Singer “was here even to the last. Two days before he passed away, he was here, laying the stones – well, directing it, of course. He said to me, ‘Mark, this is probably the nicest house I have done in the 30 years I’ve been doing it.’ He was really proud of this house.”
And for good reason. What looks from the driveway like a modern concrete building with sleek lines suddenly transforms as you step onto the travertine marble walkway leading to the front door – constructed of glass and framed with that same cumaru wood. Without even opening that door, the glimpse into the seemingly completely open-home interior elicits gasp of joy.
As your eyes take in the upper floor of this glass, concrete, travertine and wood marvel, they cannot help but travel straight through the house to the spectacular vista of the Pacific Ocean beyond.
Walls of glass line much of the U-shaped interior on the upper floor and wrap the exterior, allowing views of the 100-foot ocean frontage from much of the house.
It’s a minimalist house with what Towfiq calls “standardized surfaces,” something he and Singer agreed upon from the beginning.
“In so many houses they have this tile here, this other tile there, so many different surfaces,” Towfiq says. “But we didn’t want that. For example, we got all the travertine marble in the house from Italy; they were like these 60-by-18 inch custom slabs. We sourced it from a quarry in Italy that had three huge blocks of the same marble. They cut everything in the whole house from those blocks, which keeps it pretty consistent.”
The uniquely textured concrete walls are the same throughout the 12,000-square foot home (which consists of 8,000 square feet of “inside heated areas” and 4,000 feet of “just covered” space around the downstairs swimming pool and outdoor patio area). Those walls were another of the many collaborations that homeowner and architect agreed upon along the way.
“At first, I looked at his house and he had used the CMU [concrete] blocks and they sandblasted them,” Towfiq recalls of the project that began in 2011 and was completed in 2015. “So at first we were going to use that, but then I said, ‘This is a once-in-a-lifetime house, so let’s do something special.’
“He suggested we use this ‘board form concrete,’ but he also said, ‘This is going to be expensive, Mark.’ And I said, ‘This is going to be worth it.’ So we settled on it, using a mold for the concrete that uses these two-by-six boards, with space left between them, so that the concrete oozes out and creates this textured look, kind of like wood.”
There are unexpected elements of texture throughout the house, ceilings of that “extremely durable” cumaru wood set off with fiberglass beams substituted for steel, for a very practical reason.
“Mark originally wanted to use steel beams,” Towfiq explains, “but I found this product that is fiberglass; it is extruded fiberglass material that is super light and it is even stronger than steel. One of my concerns was that since everything in the house is exposed, inside and outside, if we used steel, it would rust, being right at the ocean. But the fiberglass will never rust. We ended up having to bolt the fiberglass beams together, because unlike steel, you cannot weld them together. But the bolts make for an interesting motif, and Mark liked that – and we did too.”
In fact, the couple and their two college-age children, who formerly lived in Irvine, like everything about their new home, from the sleek kitchen designed by Claude Moritz of Laguna Beach’s Euro Kitchen to the 55-by-16-foot heated swimming pool to the 88 solar panels that generate enough energy to power the house, heat the pool and even charge Towfiq’s Model S Tesla.
“It’s amazing,” Towfiq says with a wide grin. “Every day, we say, ‘Wow, this is amazing.’ We cannot believe that we live here every day with this view and this house.”