Modern Family

Generations converge in the Seacliff community, where atypical grandparents Bill and Pam Hicks shed clichés to build a contemporary beach house for the whole family.

By Andrea Kitay—Photos by Gaszton Gal


unch the coordinates for “Highway 101” and “Seacliff” into your vehicle’s navigational system, follow the map and you’ll find yourself in the heart of a secluded 49-home beach community eight miles north of downtown Ventura. Look a bit closer and you’ll find the Hicks family, three generations of Venturans, enjoying their modern style oceanfront digs.

The Seacliff Beach Colony, a classic California beach community, places Mediterranean manors next to traditional Eastern seaboard style homes and even sugar shacks. Located on a southwest-facing beach, the Colony has a low wind profile, ideal for permanent beachside living. The public beach next door is often packed with local surfers and beach walkers.

The 3600-square-foot house replaced the couple’s weekend cottage, giving them space to entertain their extended family.

The Hicks’ house is the lone contemporary in this elite enclave; a refreshing set of clean lines calm the eyes, blending harmoniously with the environment. “We had three parties when we finished the house and moved in,” says Pam Hicks, matriarch and grandmother of the extended Hicks family. “One was strictly for our neighbors, most of whom are weekenders. We’ve really enjoyed everyone we’ve met and have made some great friends. That’s why we wanted to live here full time.”

Bill and Pam Hicks.

While most couples approaching their golden years think of downsizing, Bill and Pam Hicks are running at full throttle. In 2007, the first order of business for this retired couple, whose three daughters and seven grandchildren still live in Ventura, was to plan their dream home, tear down the weekend cottage they’d enjoyed for 20 years, and start construction of the present 3600-square-foot house.

The oceanfront setting lends itself to an open floor plan and sprawling wooden decks.

“I had a vision of a house that would be contemporary, warm, and inviting—with a little Bali touch to it. When we started I wanted it to be family friendly, but see this?” asks Pam, pointing out a barely visible stain on the travertine countertop. “I fell in love with other materials along the way, and although they may be less resilient, they’ve worked out really well.”

On the exterior, smooth stucco walls are interrupted by aluminum strips and a stained teak door. Stepping stones and hardy plants welcome guests through an entry gate that leads into a protected courtyard with dappled light and a custom-designed fountain. Just through the front door, occasional soft touches—Pam’s own oil-on-canvas paintings, five skylights, the odd bench or family photo—interrupt the contemporary architecture. A study in less-is-more, the combination is surprisingly warm and inviting, with filtered light coming in from multiple directions.

Clean, contemporary lines and a tricycle at the ready characterize the home.

Pam worked with the architect Martha Picciotti, of Picciotti Design in Ventura, to design a home that serves her entire family, which spread from daughters Kim, Lisa, and Amber to now a third generation of toddlers and teens. They chose materials that are as comfortable in a slumbering beach community as they would be in a hip, urban setting. Although the house has an open floor plan, skylights make the space feel vast as they drive natural light into the rooms.

An amateur painter, Pam Hicks’ art studio became an art/play room for their seven grandchildren.

“A challenge is adequate wind protection on the ocean side, hence the protected interior courtyard,” says Picciotti. “Providing shade against the late afternoon sun, especially in the winter months when the sun is low in the sky, can be difficult. The overhang on the first floor and the slatted roof on the second floor create shading in the summer, while winter months require window treatments that allow both light and views while limiting the sun's glare, such as tinted glass and solar shades.”

Allowing the outside in was an architectural priority.

Earth-toned, square glass tiles on the kitchen backsplash and teak cabinets warm the otherwise cold stainless appliances. A hand-hewn acacia wood countertop and shelves in the downstairs powder room add to the Balinese flavor.

“A house isn’t just a house, it has a personality,” says Pam Hicks. An amateur painter, Hicks started with the idea of an art studio, which quickly morphed into a combination art/play room, “intended for grandkid sleepovers,” according to her daughter Lisa Hicks Giannati, who owns the family-oriented website In practice, when the grandkids are over Pam covers the bitter brown-colored floor tile with a drop cloth so they can paint and otherwise make a terrific mess. A wood-topped cabinet holds a Wii video game console, and a corner couch-turn-bed under the windows accommodates several kids.

The Hicks’ three daughters still live in Ventura, making family get-togethers convenient and frequent.

But the family has been making memories on this property since the new home was just a dream, long before construction began. Lisa was married on the seawall rocks, and the family gave Pam a surprise birthday party complete with a band and catered dinner. Many happy weekends with the grandparents have been spent here.

It’s clear that the Hicks agree with Picciotti’s sentiment, “Some of the greatest advantages of building on the beach are the wonderful sea views, the sound of waves lapping at your door, and the smell of the ocean.” And of course, time spent with family, always family.

The home’s modern style does nothing to detract from its warmth.


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