No Turning Back

The been-there, done-that group takes industrial materials into a new dimension. See what happens at a Malibu home

Bold, globe-shaking visions—financed by clients with the means and the confidence—were emerging from the offices of L.A. architects Frank Gehry, Thom Mayne, Eric Owen Moss, and Ed Niles. New materials (titanium! insulated glass!) and a creative use of old (copper! aluminum! stainless steel!) enabled these modernists to define space in ways never before seen. The result was a visual landscape that many judged more alluring as museums and civic centers. Others thrilled at the prospect of living in it.  

The home that Milt and Saralyn Sidley commissioned on a lot above PCH in Malibu in 1982 was their second by Niles. The architect likens the house to a bird landing on a hill. No grading was required as he bent the design to the topography of slightly sloped mounds. A semicircular space is for cooking, dining, and entertaining. Across the driveway is a long gallery of private living quarters (master bedroom suite, guest room, office, library, and gym) suspended on concrete pillars atop a hill—a mini Ponte Vecchio, as Niles calls it. Otherworldly stainless steel pods hang below; each holds a room-specific, water-based heating and cooling system. Joining the two areas is a gently ascending walkway. Both buildings—of insulated glass framed in steel and topped with fiberglass strips—have sweeping ocean views. When contractors found the design daunting, Niles took over the construction with his daughter Lisa. To temper the light stream, he placed sycamores around the site; in several spots the effect is of a tree house. Always there’s the sense of living outside, the sun tracing an arc across the sky by day, to be chased by the nighttime moon.


ednilesArchitect’s POV: Ed Niles

» For me, one of the primary concerns is recognition of what happens at the site—the sunlight, the fog, the wind. It’s not just the view; it’s what occurs over 24 hours. Ninety-five percent of the clients get that. They already have an emotional connection to the land or they wouldn’t have purchased it in the first place. They just don’t know how to express it architecturally. What happens in the late afternoon and evening is critical—it’s when you get home from being in the office all day. It’s also when the sunlight is going, which affects the colors. Here in Malibu we face south, and we get the arc of the moon over the ocean. My house is designed so I can follow it. The translation of emotional feelings into the design process is the architect’s art. It’s also how you move from utilitarian needs—two bedrooms, a bathroom—to a work of art. Many of the clients I have—lawyers and doctors—are caught up in taking care of others. The design of the home is one way they can enter into the creative act.

Illustration by Paul Rogers. Photograph by Tim Street-Porter