A Majestic Family Hacienda

Great locations for new home communities deserve and often get great residential architecture.

By Patrick L. O'Toole, Senior Editor | October 31, 2002


Facing out over a hillside, Residence Six at Majestic Oaks front-loads most of its primary living spaces to take advantage of appealing vistas. The kitchen, the dining room, a porch and the entry courtyard open to both the street and the view.
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Barry Berkus, B3 Architects
Proportion, Balance and History
Flexible Floor Plan Can Change With a Family's Needs

Great locations for new home communities deserve and often get great residential architecture. Such is the case with Braemar Homes' new Majestic Oaks community, a scenic, 60-acre community of 35 homes situated on a hillside amid a grove of ancient oaks in affluent Westlake Village, Calif.

A turreted, intricately articulated, two-story, five-bedroom, 4,500-square-foot Spanish Colonial model home stands against the bright Southern California sky as if it had been there for generations. But this new home is a monument to a California builder's persistence in the face of protracted entitlement time lines that have become all too common in the Golden State.

In part to help close the very iterative final approval process, Braemar recruited a local residential design star, Santa Barbara-based Barry Berkus of B3 Architects, to meet the toughest stipulation of all - that no two of the 35 homes have the same exterior elevation.

"Barry is so experienced that many of the things we thought would be difficult to comply with, he was able to easily handle," Braemar chairman Sid Dinow says. "On top of that, when Barry goes into a city to talk, they listen to him because everybody knows who he is. He's logical and smart."

Residence Sixs achievement visually and in terms of attracting mature families as well as empty nesters can be measured by strong sales. In a slow market for million-dollar-plus homes, nine of 13 released have sold in just a few months with very little advertising, says Dinow.

Barry Berkus, B3 Architects


Barry Berkus' architectural lexicon is rooted in the vernacular of Spanish Colonial buildings in Monterey and Santa Barbara, Calif. He designed eight floor plans for Majestic Oaks, which could each be substantially altered to fit various lot sizes and thereby meet Westlake Village's difficult elevation requirement.

"We are seeing many sites today like this one that have beauty, topography and trees," Berkus says. "To put them into that setting, you have to design a series of homes that are flexible enough by movement of components, like garages and guest rooms, that you can save yourself from going straight to custom housing."

Residence Six, the only model at Majestic Oaks, is a perfect example of the architect's plan in action.

Proportion, Balance and History


A volume ceiling in the formal living room is pitched toward the upstairs living spaces, where the volume is borrowed by two overlooks. The fireplace surround and timbered ceiling are classic elements of the Spanish Colonial style..
In the master bath, the tub gets a private space via a box bay form on the front of the home

No style of residential architecture is more authentically Californian than Spanish Colonial. Its forms are closely associated with the state's central coastal towns. Majestic Oaks architect Barry Berkus says the style is a fusion of the architecture brought by Spanish missionaries and the adobe forms employed by the Chumash Indians.

"Understanding proportion is a mandate when you are working in this architecture," says Berkus. "In many cases the negative wall is more important than the open wall. The smaller openings with more plaster will look better in this architecture than big openings out of scale. Likewise, the turrets coming out and the bays are appropriate in this style."

In Residence Six, Berkus lets the three-car garage take two steps back in succession and extends the second floor over the garage, stepping down as the garage steps back. Around the rear of the garage the home begins to step out as your eye moves toward the center. Bedroom five, attached to the rear of the garage, adds visual interest. The effect is that the garage is not an afterthought but draws on the carriage houses of old and is part and parcel of the whole. It also suggests a history that never existed, lending a feeling that the house has been expanded with each generation.

"Look at what we did for Kenny Loggins and Jeff Bridges," Berkus says, referring to custom homes he designed for two celebrities. "We wrote a story, and the story was that the house had a metamorphosis. It started as a small cottage and grew on the site. A house that feels like it had time in is a success in my mind in this genre."

Flexible Floor Plan Can Change With a Family's Needs


The rear elevation is carried through on the articulations made out front. The Spanish Colonial style lends itself to a feeling that construction occurred over time, starting with a small cottage that had various additions later.
From front to back, the kitchen and nook open onto the family room, which architect Barry Berkus says could take on any number of roles, including a formal living room or even a downstairs office. The idea is that room roles can be swapped as a family's needs change.

Residence Six at Majestic Oaks was designed to appeal to one of two basic sets of tastes among family buyers at this high price point, says architect Barry Berkus. He says a growing number of home buyers prefer modern aesthetics as well as the drama and flexibility of high ceilings and open floor plans. These are loft buyers, he says. He also suggests there are buyers who seek the structure of a more traditional, formal family house. Residence Six was designed with this group in mind.

The first floor has a formal living room, a dining room, a den, a formal entry, a family room, a kitchen and bedroom five, which also can serve as a maid's quarters. A small porch off the dining room and kitchen nook is a post-meal retreat. The kitchen and dining room are in the front of the home to offer a view. Known for providing flexibility in his spaces, Berkus points out how Residence Six "borrows spaces" from one room to the next.

"A house like this dictates more of the uses, but it is borrowing space from room to room via the stairway, volume overlooks and things we have developed over the past 45 years," says Berkus. "Just because a living room says living room and a family room says family room, there are a lot of ways these can be used now. A living room can become a dining room. The dining room may become an office. The family room may become a great room. If a room can receive a different type of activity, we have done the right thing."

Upstairs are three bedrooms, each with a bathroom, that are distinct from the master suite. The master has a sitting room with media center, a fireplace, a rear deck and a spacious bath.

Berkus tries to make each of his family homes a place where everyone wants to spend free time. Kids should want to entertain their friends there. Parents can retreat to the master on such occasions.

"It's always been my philosophy to consider how you deal with the different interest groups in a house," Berkus says. "One of the most important things to me is that the house is designed in a way that it's more fun to be there than someplace else."


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