Breaking Ground

Another LEED Platinum-certified home sprouts on a Ventura County beach. Welcome to 3 Palms: the cutting edge of domestic sustainability.

By By Leslie A. Westbrook

Photo by Jake Cryan

Energy efficient, floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors by Tru Architectural provide seamless ocean views.Photo by Jake Cryan

The backstory on this 2,450-square-foot, custom-designed beach house (built on an 80-by-40-foot lot) in western Ventura County reveals the road from vision to construction to completion. Preliminary “green meetings” for the LEED Platinum-certified dream project included engineers, the designer, the architect of record, the builder, and, of course, the homeowners—not to mention a whole lot of patience, with a dash of trial and error thrown in for good measure.

We spoke with two of the main players—project designer John A. Turturro and builder Bryan Henson—to learn more about this oceanfront model of green living.

A PH Artichoke pendant by Louis Poulsen hangs from a skylight in the stairwell. Cooling sea breezes and natural light enter through a pair of opaque windows on the home’s north side. Photo by Jake Cryan

Leslie A. Westbrook: When did this whole project begin?

John Turturro:

I met the owner through his sister, whose home I had designed the landscaping for. He decided that I could bring a creative component to his project and we began working together in 2008.  

Bryan Henson:

Allen Associates came on board in 2009 as the LEED-accredited professionals for the project to help in green consulting, in addition to the beach construction possibilities, scheduling, etc. What came about was educating the owners about LEED. The owners became excited, so we needed to be brought in early on.

Exposed concrete floors and sleek lines lend to the contemporary style. The stainless steel door was custom-made by Forms & Surfaces of Carpinteria. Photo by Jake Cryan


What were your roles in creating 3 Palms?


I was responsible for the initial architecture; interiors, which included the lighting design and controls, the kitchen, baths, and cabinetry throughout; all the surface materials and finishes; and landscape design. 


Keeping the clients goals on the forefront. We were the sustainability keepers.

The 400-square-foot study and loft makes efficient use of a space originally designed for a second car. Photo by Jake Cryan


Tell us more about the process of working with this particular homeowner.



Part of the owner’s ethic was to be as responsible as he could. He wanted to build a high-end beach house for his family that was durable and sustainable. The target was LEED Platinum, the highest level of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (regulated by the U.S. Green Building Council). In early meetings, we looked at key components in order to meet sustainability goals. Primary goals included durability, indoor air quality, and energy efficiency. We spent a lot of time looking at the house as a whole, as opposed to individual components. Durability was really important since it was set right on the sand. We wanted to avoid costly maintenance. We scrutinized every material that would stand up to the hard salt environment.

Poggenpohl cabinets in the kitchen were made with recycled materials and eco-friendly varnishes. The Sub-Zero refrigerator uses less energy than a 100-watt light bulb. Photo by Jake Cryan


Did you have ‘rehearsals’?


We had lots of dress rehearsals. Lots of things were explored that were not put in the project, but the best ones were. For instance, testing the constructability and cost of certain materials. We took the design intent and then had to figure out how to do it at a price point the owner would approve that met both the design and sustainability goals.


We would spend a great deal of time together reviewing and revising my design drawings until we had reached a plan that we knew was good. I have always thought that if the plan is good, the building will be good. Architecture is three-dimensional. Once the floor plan is in place, the building volumes must be decided.

The master bedroom features energy efficient doors and windows, LED recessed can lighting, and an exposed concrete floor with radiant heating. Photo by Jake Cryan


Were there any surprises?


A designer works closely with clients, so the only surprises are innovations he presents at design meetings, nothing on the finished structure itself. 


We all worked together to minimize that. We held weekly design meetings throughout the project in order to avoid surprises.

A Bendpak auto lift allows two cars to park in a narrow garage. The leftover space was repurposed as a study and loft. Photo by Jake Cryan


Going into the project, were there boundaries or limits?


In the design process, a good designer needs be willing to say no to the client, not just yes. Sir Alec Issigonis, designer of the Morris Minor and Mini Cooper automobiles, famously said, “A camel is a horse designed by a committee.” Additionally, the work expands to fill the time allotted to it. If you allocate three months to come up with a design, you will spend that amount of time. You have to have an end date.


By and large I am a believer in simplicity, and in most instances the client was on board with that. For instance: a gate latch with one moving part. We got really tricky on how to access the roof; home automation is great, but there is a point when it may get too complicated for the needs of the house.

A rooftop 5.12 kW photovoltaic system provides electricity while solar hydronics preheat water.Photo by Jake Cryan


So everything worked out as planned?


In the end, the home is every bit of my design aesthetic and theories, but it is also the whim of my clients, who were enveloped in the design process.


We approach this sort of project as if it should be fun. And this one was. For the contractor and homeowner, trust is very important: a relationship of honesty and respect. If you have that, you can get through anything. Construction can be hard and stressful, but it doesn’t have to be.


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