Above the Dune

How an Architecture Studio Created a Lifestyle for a Working Professional and Dedicated Surfer

Architect: Ross Levy⁠ (Levy Art + Architecture)⁠
Project Team: Melissa Todd, Patrick Donato⁠ (Levy Art + Architecture)⁠
Interior Architect / Designer: Frances Weiss⁠ (Levy Art + Architecture)⁠
Contractor: Blair Burke (BBGC)⁠
Entitlements: Jeremy Paul (Quickdraw)
Stair Fabricator: Luke Gosellin
Structural Engineer: FTF⁠ Engineering⁠
Photographer: Joe Fletcher

If you’ve ever surfed, you know that you need to watch the water. The swells tell a surfer when it’s time to surf, not the other way around. For the committed, this means that living at the beach isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity.

That’s why this project happened: our surf-focused client knew he had to make the big move — all the way across San Francisco, from Bernal Heights to Ocean Beach (a solid twenty-minute drive), so that he could keep an eye on the ever-changing swell. Stretching above the sand dune, the expanded third floor living space and roof deck afford him and his family the ultimate lookout.

Lifeguard Tower 25. The location was perfect, but the house was old. It was water-damaged and strangely organized. A third floor had been “dropped” on top of the original San Francisco “Marina Style” two-story, leaving a large cavity between. It was space to work with, just like a wave that appears on the horizon.

Working from top to bottom, we revealed vertical spaces that make the house feel and live much larger than its actual 2350 sq ft footprint. We set the entry on the split level, up from the street, to resist sand and wind and to heighten that experience even more. Ascending that half a flight on a wide stair, you’re drawn through the middle level on a cable suspended stair to the top, the lookout.

Here we added minimally, 150 square feet, almost all glass, and a new deck directly in front for the best vantage up and down the beach. New living space is under a 10-foot ceiling with natural light from 4 sides via clerestories. They define the rooms, and even the light-reducing ocean glare. A small sitting area and the kitchen at the back are cozy, under the original ceilings. Finally, we suspended a deck off the back wall to support a ladder to the roof to service the solar panels and to get a bigger view, make a better call on the waves.

The interiors (by Melissa Todd and Frances Weiss) are beach-y but contemporary. We added an organic and textural layer of materials including warm-toned wood and a mix of Cle, Fireclay, and Heath tiles in earth and water colors to ground the space in its natural environment. The effect is restrained yet welcoming, simultaneously curated and laid back.

Our client couldn’t be happier, and he’s converted his family into devoted beach goers. During the time of the Covid quarantine that has been a most welcome addition for all.

And the surf’s been good this year, too.


This project was featured in Dwell in July 2021 — check out the before & after comparisons here.

Based in San Francisco, California, Levy Art & Architecture specializes in commercial and residential projects, with the goal of creating an innovative architectural design consistent with the client’s vision. A team of professionals with extensive experience and multi-disciplinary backgrounds handles a wide range of projects of every scale. Want to find out how we can turn your vision into a custom-built project? Contact us and let’s chat.


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