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AnnaMaria Stephens | Photo: Robert Benson and Pablo Mason | January 17, 2014
A young entrepreneur creates a custom dream house on the beach in La Jolla.
When Andrew Canter set out to build his contemporary residence on a covetable piece of beachfront property in La Jolla, he collected binders full of bold ideas for the compact lot. A successful young entrepreneur, Canter figured home design was just like anything else: Taking risks could lead to big rewards.
“His first questions were not about cost, but about how exciting the design would be,” says San Diego designer Fred Gemmell, whose full-service firm, Matrix Design Studio, assumed the project in its early stages. “He kept using the word ‘extreme.’ He loved being out of the box.”
Cleverly christened Marine Lair, a play on the cloud cover that keeps the coastline cool and breezy, the four-story, 3,200-square-foot home fits in perfectly in Windansea, an old-school La Jolla neighborhood with surfer roots and sky-high real estate. It took several feats of engineering plus a globe-spanning search for materials to achieve its comfortable balance of laid-back and luxurious.
“I’ve seen a lot of custom homes,” says Canter, who got his start in boutique real estate and is now the president and CEO of Canter Companies, a vertically integrated investment firm. “People make really fancy, really high-end homes that you don’t even want to be in. I wanted to come in from the beach with sandy feet and have it be OK.”
A shrewd investor, he also wanted to make sure his latest venture, built on the site of three former homes, would boast serious curb appeal, especially after a rundown place nearby sold below market value. “We decided to bring it to the next level,” says Canter. “What can we do to be unique? What has nobody seen before?”
For starters, there’s the three-car garage, which features a hydraulically operated ramp to level out the steep driveway—not a total novelty, but certainly noticeworthy. “It was built out of necessity more than joy,” says Canter, whose Ferrari and Aston Martin have low clearances. A vehicle turntable makes exiting a cinch.
The home’s overall design gives the impression of an architectural double-dog dare. With the Pacific as his front yard, Canter wanted the house to connect as much as possible to the outdoors. “In all my previous homes, I’d feel guilty if I stayed inside on a nice Sunday,” he explains. He had just one imperative for the ocean-facing side of Marine Lair. “I wanted it to be completely seamless.”
Easier said than done. On the master and living room levels, floor-to-ceiling glass opens completely to the outdoors via full sets of pocketing lift-and-slide doors. Fresh air filters through without a hint of disruptive wind, and there isn’t a vertical support beam in sight—especially impressive considering the nearly 35-ton infinity-edge pool on the rooftop.
“The amount of steel in this little house is pretty amazing,” says Gemmell, who also commissioned a cantilevered staircase that appears to float in the air. In the afternoon, a slit-shaped skylight in the bottom of the pool above creates a sun-dappled dance of water and light on the tempered-glass stair treads.
“When I first saw Andrew’s home, I was blown away by the way the walls move and the staircase glows at night,” says Canter’s girlfriend, Ari Brugh, who recently earned her master’s degree in architecture from the NewSchool of Architecture in downtown San Diego. Canter’s passion for design was part of her attraction toward the home.
His desire for bespoke finishes sent his design team scrambling far and wide. Their most striking find? A sizable supply of silver koa veneer. The native Hawaiian wood, which usually has to be licensed for use, was sourced from a storm-toppled tree on Maui.
“It definitely fits the mold of being rare,” says Canter. “We used as much as we could of this tree.”
In the kitchen, the koa was bleached to its palest shade for a bright and airy feel, while the wine room, garage door and master bedroom built-ins feature a darker version, imparting warmth to the clean-lined home. The front entry, a 600-pound pivoting door crafted from solid koa and steel, makes an unforgettable first impression.
“I’ll probably never get to use something like that koa on a project again,” says Gemmell.
Befitting a beach house, Marine Lair comes equipped with a spot for rinsing after a surf or diving session. Of course, a simple spigot simply wouldn’t do. Canter’s indoor steam room includes multiple showerheads and a special trap to catch sand, not to mention a backlit wall of Brazilian granite with glimmering orange-red mica inclusions.
As if Canter’s house weren’t smart enough already, Qualcomm chose it to demonstrate its Connected Home, a bundle of new and future technologies that aren’t yet on the market, such as “Hy-Fi,” which flawlessly connects multiple devices and home systems. Just about everything is controlled by a touchpad.
Even the sculptural rooftop pool taps high-tech trends, from the optic fiber lights illuminating its iridescent pewter tiles to the adjacent, built-in poolside TV. A full kitchen and eight-person hot tub further enhance the top-floor appeal.
Facing the street, Marine Lair attracts its share of gawkers, especially when fully open. “There’s a bit of a fishbowl effect,” laughs Canter. “Fortunately, shades come down from everywhere.”
Instagram-snapping passersby aside, Canter, out of town as often as not, is finally happy to hang around at home on the nicest
“To be here is to love life,” Canter says.