Dominic Bradbury, Journalist & Writer


Wonderful things can come out of collaboration. The unique design of the Wabi House, near San Diego, was the result of a close and creative collaboration between architect Sebastian Marical and his Japanese born clients. Initially, the clients had been looking at remodeling an existing 1970s home on their suburban site but eventually decided on a new build project that would deliver a tailored, bespoke and more sustainable home.

'The clients were very important in the whole design process,' says Mariscal, a Mexican born designer now based in Califiornia. 'They were very organized and gave us a lot of feedback. We met many times to talk about their goals and dreams for the house and they put together a document listing the things that they liked and disliked.

'They didn't want a "macmansion" or a showy big house. They wanted the opposite – something discreet and introspective. This was one of their main priorities and for me this kind of feedback was great, because it's the kind of discussion that I'm looking for from a really good client.'

The resulting new but natural home is an enticing and welcoming fusion of architectural ideas, with a strong Japanese influence and the integration of some traditional aspects of Japanese living, yet reinterpreted in a very contemporary way.

From the outside, the house is enigmatic and very different from any of its more familiar suburban neighbours. The low slung building has been purposefully tucked into the site in a discreet way to enhance privacy on the one hand but also to create a process of discovery on the other. 'Seeing the neighbourhood with all these very similar houses, I wanted to created something new that was different but not at all shocking to the community,' says Mariscal.

The house is entered through a doorway in a borderland fence of charred cedar wood and beyond this a pathway leads to a small bridge over a water pool and then to the formal entrance to the house. Moving into the home itself, the entryway has been modelled on the idea of the traditional Japanese 'genkan' – a calming hallway with built in cabinet work - where outdoor shoes can be removed and stored and indoor slippers chosen.

'I wanted to understand how the clients wanted to live in the house and it became clear that they wanted a peaceful and serene atmosphere,' Mariscal says. 'The water pools help with that enormously and – together with the genkan – become a filter between the interior and the outside world. The water pools make you feel that the house is almost floating. It's a modern interpretation of an old idea, but it reminds you of the hotels, vacation homes and guest houses where the building seems to emerge from the water.'

Within the house itself a key element of the design is the emphasis upon flexibility. The ground floor is dominated by a large open plan living area and kitchen, with banks of retractable glazing leading out to a specially landscaped gravel garden and rear outdoor space. Sliding screens allow a guest bedroom and a study to be read as part of this overall central space, or to be easily separated off and transformed into more private and intimate zones.

'The clients wanted a big open space and a study and a guest room,' Mariscal says. 'I asked them how many times a guest might come and stay with them and they said perhaps two or three times a year. So I suggested an open guest space with a futon integrated with the kitchen and main living areas, but with some sliding doors so that when they do have a guest then the room can be enclosed and with its own bathroom, which functions as a powder room on a daily basis. Like this, the space can be seen and used all the time rather than being a room that is shut off from the rest of the house much of the time.'

The master bedroom is situated on a modest upper level, which leads out to a planted roof garden. Here, as on the ground floor, living spaces gently connect with outdoor zones and natural elements, such as the planting and water pools, forming a close sense of communion with the environment and the changing seasons, even in this very suburban area. The water pools and cross ventilation also help to naturally cool the house in the hotter months of the year, doing away with any need for air conditioning units.

Mysterious and beautiful, the Wabi House is a building that gradually unfolds and reveals itself, becoming more fascinating with every turn.

'It's really a series of surprises,' Mariscal says. 'When you are outside in the street, you have no idea what's behind the line of small trees and the timber wall. As you enter and pass over the bridge across the water pools you still have no idea what's ahead. It's the same as you pass through the gengkan or when you go upstairs. It's a process of discovery.'

Sebastian Mariscal Studio – - 001 619 702 3100

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