Jewel Box: A Venice Beach Home Combines Modern Design and Sustainability

article image
Image by Andrej Gallins
Floor plans for the ground floor.

Architect Andrew Mangan knows one way to spread the word about sustainable design: Build a can’t-miss-it, Technicolor, ultramodern home just blocks from the Pacific Ocean in Venice Beach, California. Built on a small lot, the colorful jewel box is a model of smart, green thinking.

Mangan designed the home’s colorful façade to attract attention. “Once it caught their eye, I knew people would want to learn more about it,” he says. “This opens up doors to learning more about its green characteristics.”

And green features abound. The 2,400-square-foot home was built using 24-inch-on-center, or “advanced” construction, which means wall studs and joists were placed 24 inches apart rather than the traditional 16 inches apart used in conventional construction, decreasing lumber use by about a third. The home’s design and layout also conserve energy and resources. The U-shaped courtyard plan is oriented so most of the home’s windows are north-facing to block the hot southern California sun, and roof overhangs also mitigate heat. To take advantage of sunlight, ocean breezes and views, the home’s common spaces, including the living room and kitchen, are on the second floor; bedrooms are on the ground level. Cross-ventilation and passive cooling towers negate the need for air conditioning. The kitchen and entry towers incorporate large windows that, when open, pull warm air out and circulate air through the home.

Smart, savvy design

On the roof, a 1-kilowatt array of photovoltaic solar panels generates 30 percent of the home’s electricity; the roof was designed to easily accommodate up to two more arrays, which would provide nearly 100 percent of the home’s electricity. The landscaping–a minimalist hardscape of decomposed granite and pea gravel groundcover, along with drought-tolerant native grasses and plants–also saves resources.

Mangan estimates that the home’s green features added about $20 per square foot to its cost. Interior concrete flooring containing 20 percent fly ash, a coal byproduct, cost about the same as conventional concrete. Installing air conditioning would have cost several thousand dollars, but cooling towers over the kitchen and entry accomplish the same effect for a fraction of the price. Installing the framing at 24 inches on-center saved money as well as lumber, and the cost difference for both formaldehyde-free insulation and low-VOC paint was negligible. Energy Star appliances cost about the same as conventional ones, and some utilities offer rebates for installing them. “We received a 60 percent rebate for the solar array,” Mangan says. He says implementing these features is “just smart design.”

Although it’s not officially certified, the home was built according to the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) “Silver” specifications.

Greening the homeowner

Mangan built the home as a speculative project, without a buyer, which meant he was able to stick to his values without compromise. “If I had a client, I may not have been able to incorporate so many of these green characteristics,” he says.

Though buying a home with green features wasn’t a main priority for homeowner Karen Davidson, she’s glad to have them. “The windows at the top of the tower in the kitchen pull out the warm air,” she says. “I’m just three blocks from the ocean, but the house is never too warm. It’s always pleasant, and I’ve never had a need for air conditioning.”

Since she moved in two years ago, Karen has become an advocate for sustainable choices. “I’m much more energy-conscious than I was, and when people stop by, take photos or walk by curiously, I talk to them about the green features of my home,” she says. “In a small way, I feel I’m doing my own part to educate people.”

Find featured furnishings from the Jewel Box house.

A conversation with the homeowner

What station is your radio set to?

Karen Davidson: Either the Adam Corolla morning show or the Ryan Seacrest a.m. show. Other than that, I listen to traffic info–I do live in L.A.

Any tips for living in small spaces?

Karen Davidson: Get rid of clutter and those clothes you haven’t worn for two years.

What part of the house are you most happy with?

Karen Davidson: The kitchen–it’s open, bright and airy. This is a very modern home, and even people who don’t care for modern design walk in here and feel comfortable.

What’s your home’s best hiding spot for clutter?

Karen Davidson: I’m not a cluttery person, though I do still have breakfast dishes in the sink. I’ll wash them before I leave the house today. My home office is the one room that looks like a tornado has hit.

What leftovers are in the fridge right now?

Karen Davidson: I train for women’s bodybuilding competitions, so the only things in my fridge are chicken, vegetables, salsa and champagne for after my competitions!

The good stuff

Architect: Translation of Space, Andrew T. Mangan, AIA, Venice, California, (310) 383-8840,
Builder: Schartner Construction, Manhattan Beach, California, (310) 748-0551
Landscaping: Translation of Space

House Size (square footage): 2,400
Bedrooms: 3
Bathrooms: 2 full/2 half
Cost per Square Foot: $290


Heating/Cooling System: Radiant floor heating/Passive cooling
Electricity Source: Grid-tied and 1-kWh solar panels
Lighting: 50 percent compact fluorescent lighting in kitchen and bathrooms; motion sensors attached to incandescent fixtures in bathrooms and laundry room
Appliances: Energy Star Bosch dishwasher, Sub-Zero refrigerator, Viking ovens and cooktop
Insulation: Johns Manville formaldehyde-free fiberglass batt

Building materials

Exterior Materials: Light Stucco/Hardie cement board/spruce/Galvalume
Windows: Milgard energy-efficient dual-pane glass in a metal sash
Interior Materials: Ecoprocote soy-based clear gloss sealer, Benjamin Moore Eco Spec low-VOC paint, Compac-Marmol 3?4-inch quartz slab countertops


Water Conservation Systems: Takagi tankless water heater
Fixtures: Toto dual-flush toilets


Waste Reduction: No Dumpster on site meant less trash accumulated
Recycling: Salvaged nearly all materials from bungalow previously on site
Construction Methods: “Advanced” wood-frame construction saves wood and money


Site and Land Use: Urban infillPlants: Drought-tolerant landscaping including olive trees, fountain grass, fescue, giant timber bamboo and papyrus; ground cover composed of pea gravel and decomposed granite
Water Conservation: Drought-tolerant landscaping makes irrigation unnecessary


Exceeds California Title 24 energy requirements by 28 percent