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Inside A Stunning Sandcastle-Shaped Beach House

Today AD travels to the rugged shores of Malibu, California to tour Sandcastle House, the remarkable family home of architect Harry Gesner. This stunning property was born from a promise to Gesner’s wife to build her dream house on the shores of Malibu. This one-of-a-kind home is made almost entirely from reclaimed materials salvaged from surrounding areas and inspired by the structural design of a sandcastle. But what makes Sandcastle House so special is Gesner built it with his own two hands for his family, making it a true labor of love.

Released on 08/29/2023


[soft music] [waves splashing]

Welcome. My name's Zen Gesner.

I'm the son of Harry Gesner,

who's the architect of the Sandcastle.

33604 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, California.

The Sandcastle is a one-of-a-kind structure.

My father built it with reclaimed materials.

The property has six bedrooms.

There's three in the main Sandcastle

and three in three separate apartments

surrounding the property.

122 feet of beach frontage

on a very secluded north Malibu cove.

It was the late sixties,

and my father proposed to my mother

right up there on the bluff

and pointed down to this empty lot and said,

Nan, if you marry me,

I'll build you your dream house down there.

He wanted to build a house

that was the ultimate family beach house,

something that promoted creative thought.

He had a unique way of starting a project,

and that was usually to go and camp out on the job site

before anything was ever built there

to assess how nature interacted with it.

I was about one, and we were sitting out on the beach,

and in my father's book,

he has a picture of us building a sandcastle,

and on the back of that photograph he wrote,

Let's build a sandcastle for mommy.

[mellow music]

So now we're in the Sandcastle.

I had told you before

that my father built this house for my mother.

She was a Broadway actress,

and so he designed this fireplace

like a Greek theater shell.

The hearth is the stage

and the sunken living room is the theater house.

99% of this house is built from reclaimed materials.

My father believed

that older materials had a life to them, a soul.

So the floor is maple.

It's from a school that was burning down.

The fire chief called my father

and said, Harry, you better come down here.

Maybe there's some good planks in there.

My father went down, shaved off a little bit of the char

and saw there was beautiful maple underneath,

so he grabbed as much of it as he could

and put it into the floor of the house.

The walls of this house,

this is old growth redwood from aqueduct pipe

that was in Northern California.

The brick in the fireplace

is from a building that was being demolished downtown L.A.

These support poles are old telephone poles

and they have a beautiful design pattern to them.

Those stained glass windows

that are over here in the greenhouse.

My father got a call from a fire chief once again,

said, Harry, they're tearing down

this beautiful church in Pasadena.

They're taking all of this beautiful stained glass away.

Do you want any?

With a living room that's built like this,

you really appreciate so much of the exterior

having floor to ceiling windows

fringe the entire front end of this.

One very cool fact is that he built this fireplace

and then angled every single one of these windows

to reflect the firelight at night.

He wanted to build a house that communicated

and communed with nature,

and that's what you feel in this living room space.

This house has no foundations.

It was built on a dinner plate of concrete

that is on sand, which is non-compressible.

Whenever there's been an earthquake,

we hardly feel it at all.

It just rides it out like almost a boat on the ocean.

Even over 50 years, it hasn't tilted at all.

[mellow music]

This is the dining area on the corner of the living room.

When I was younger,

this is how my father would call me in from surfing.

The meal would be cooked in the kitchen

and the table would be set here

and he'd go out right to this door.

He'd open it up.

[blows shell]

And believe it or not,

you can hear that all the way out in the water.

This was also where we would have our Thanksgivings,

our Christmas dinners, family get togethers.

It was always a lot of fun at night.

We'd have music and the fire going in the living room

and some amazing food.

Just great.

[mellow music]

My father in the sixties, late sixties,

was commissioned to do an interior decorating design

of a kitchen in the Los Angeles Convention Center.

They were taking it apart and they said to my father,

Well, we're just gonna be throwing this stuff away.

Do you want it?

And my dad said, absolutely.

So this round chopping block,

the countertops, the round bar,

this whole design that you see here

came from an installation

that was at the LA Convention Center

and my father just made it work seamlessly in this house.

I love these little touches, the hot plates,

beautiful old tile that are scattered

around the center table here

and you have all your cooking knives

are all right here at hand.

We also have a beautiful fireplace over here

that was always lit at night,

and this is really where the community came and hung out.

For a while we had Rod Stewart next door

who had come over here

and suddenly the door would open and hey, here comes Rod.

It was just the community center.

Everybody felt comfortable coming and hanging out here.

[mellow music]

This is my first bedroom, a lower floor of the Sandcastle.

This was the original room I kind of grew up in

until the age of seven.

And you can see a little indication of it

over there by the door.

My father converted this into an office for his later years.

So this could be an office,

it could be converted back to a bedroom,

but I think a really special point of this

is the greenhouse.

You really feel a connection to nature

and having this kind of indoor-outdoor feeling.

It's very peaceful, especially in the afternoon

when the afternoon sun hits those stained glass windows

and just projects all the light and color into the room.

It's just gorgeous.

[mellow music]

Tons of circles.

There's circles everywhere.

The whole room, the sunken area over here

with the primary bed right there.

You look up and you have these vaulted ceilings

with this beautiful, beautiful circle design.

At the top of the staircase

you have this yellow stained glass window

that is almost like you're looking through a magical lens.

In the primary, you have this great little fireplace,

but on the other side of it you have a daybed

that looks out over the entire ocean.

It's where my mother used to read her scripts.

It's where I used to just hang out and read books or draw.

There's a story about this

which leads up to my father's design studio.

My father used to get up there up a ladder

and scurry up the ladder through a small hole at the top.

One day he was up there designing

and he looked out at the ocean

and he saw a tree floating by.

So he jumped on the ladder, came down, grabbed a surfboard,

paddled out, and dragged it in to shore.

Got me and a bunch of my surf buddies

to help him drag it up,

tie it to a Monterey pine that's just outside,

and we started sourcing out individual pieces of driftwood

to make the steps.

We put this whole thing together out there,

including laminating this handrail all around the tree,

and then we took it all apart

and brought the whole thing

in through this two-foot window down here

and rebuilt the whole thing inside.

And this is now the way up to the design studio.

The design studio above is a magical space.

I think it would make an amazing painting studio.

It's like all of the energy of the house

is all centered around this tower and like a lighthouse.

That's where the light comes from.

[mellow music]

This was one of the places that I spent most of my youth.

This backyard patio area

with all this reclaimed brick on the ground.

We would have amazing parties here.

This whole space would just be alive with people

and seafood that we had caught out in the kelp bed.

This outdoor area here,

it really kind of lended itself to being a community center.

The shape of the house was very welcoming to people.

I think the fact that it was round, unconventional,

so creative, it was exciting for people to visit.

The kelp forests that are just off the beach

are some of the most beautiful in the state of California,

full of life.

Growing up surfing out here was always an adventure.

Sometimes you wanna step inside

and take a break from the sun.

We've got a cabana over here.

Started out as a garage for our cars,

then turned into a games room,

then into my father's archives.

And now it is a very comfortable cabana.

So you surf, you come in for lunch, you have a seat,

read a book and go back out and surf again.

It's a good lifestyle.

And now I'm gonna take you up above the cabana to the nest.

[mellow music]

Welcome to the nest.

We have a little kitchenette over on this side.

This is set up as a recording studio right now

because one of my sons is a musician

and he's doing a lot of creative work out here.

But this is where I spent my youth and my teens.

It echoes the same round structure as the main Sandcastle.

Growing up out here was a bit like Swiss Family Robinson.

The fact that my father really built this with his hands

and the property evolved every year.

There was always something new, something exciting.

The stained glass window here,

the panels on this door over here.

They came from another house that was being demolished.

And of course you have this amazing view.

When I woke up in the morning as a kid,

I had that in front of me and there's the entire ocean.

[mellow music]

So we're standing in the tree house apartment,

which is on the front end of a three-car garage.

You have one bedroom here.

You have a bathroom, shower.

It has a great kitchen area, a great dining area

with these floor to ceiling windows

that look out over the Sandcastle and out to the ocean.

And one of the most amazing views of the whole property.

It's really special up here.

When we built the tree house,

we put wooden bowls on this tree and the birds loved it.

So this really did become a tree house, birds included.

[mellow music]

We are in the boathouse.

This is a separate apartment

and we are currently standing in the living room area.

This is a great, great guest apartment.

There's plenty of room for a family to stay here.

You have a very comfortable sitting area.

You've got a kitchen.

You've got a bedroom and a bathroom with a shower,

all filled with beautiful little touches.

There was a battleship that was decommissioned

and they were tearing it apart

and taking all the steel and everything

and repurposing that into other boats and ships,

except for the portholes

that they were just gonna throw away.

And my father thought that was ridiculous.

So he found a way to incorporate it.

This mural that's behind it, a family member of ours,

she stayed out here for about two weeks.

We had no idea what she was doing, and basically she left.

And when we came up to see the place, it was all painted

and she did this beautiful undersea mural.

[soft music]

My father felt that to live in a structure

that challenged your mind,

nothing would ever get boring.

There'd always be something new to see,

somewhere new to sit.

He believed in marrying a design to the environment.

Being on the beach, a sandcastle being pretty much the root

of the inspiration for the design.

He felt this would fit, and it does.

People walk down the driveway, walk into this house,

and it takes about 15 minutes and they're changed.

And it has to do with the magic that this house creates.

It's like you're stepping into another world.

[soft music]

Sandcastle is a bit of everything.

It really is a perfect example of who my father was.

To some people, it looks medieval like a castle.

To some people, it looks like a Dutch windmill.

To some people, a Spanish lighthouse.

I think that whoever lives here

can't help but evolve with it.

This is a very specific place

with a magical quality about it.

There's nothing ordinary, nothing boring.

For the first time on the market, from my family to yours.

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