Surf Shacks 070

David Hertz + Laura Doss Hertz
Malibu, CA

David and Laura are both classic Californians through and through. The couple splits their time between their “Xanabu” home in the hills of Malibu, Venice, and beach house that rests on a hill above Paradise Cove, a popular summer tourist attraction in the heart of coastal Malibu. The Paradise Cove Mobile Home Park (not your typical trailer park by the way) is a stone’s throw from the funky beachfront restaurant, pier and the private beaches of Point Dume. David Hertz is a household name in the architecture world, perhaps best known for the “Wing House” and “Californication House” projects. Since opening his own firm in 1984, his award-winning work has been widely published and exhibited internationally and are too numerous to list, some highlights include exhibitions in the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), The Smithsonian Museums of Natural History and the National Building Museum, the Cooper Hewitt Museum and inclusion in the Venice and Istanbul Architectural biennale’s. He was also elected to the prestigious American Institute of Architects College of Fellows as one of its youngest members in its over 155 year history. Both David and Laura’s passion for sustainability led them to start their shared venture; Skysource, a company helping to solve global water issues utilizing sustainable and renewable atmospheric water technologies, which recently won the 1.5 Million Dollar Water Abundance XPrize. Needless to say, these two are extremely busy and I was fortunate to catch them on some down time at their local getaway pad in Paradise Cove for a beautiful blue bird day during a late season south swell.

Matt Titone
Matt Titone
Matt Titone

Who are you? Tell us a little about yourselves.

David: I am an architect, educator and inventor interested in buildings that give back more than they take. I also serve on the board of Heal the Bay and am a lifelong surfer.

Laura: I am a lifestyle photographer and environmentalist and also serve on the boards of The Bay Foundation and the Board of Community Healing Gardens in Venice and Watts Garden in Watts. I am an avid surfer, sailor, philanthropist and co-founder of with David.

Where are you from?

David: I was born in Daly City, California and my family moved to Los Angeles when I was six months old. My great grandmother lived in Venice and my grandparents lived in Malibu.

Laura: I was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay area, but my family (on both of my parents’ sides), have lived in Southern California for over 100 years. I moved to LA in 1993 and plan on never leaving.

How did you two meet?

Laura: We like to say that David’s parents introduced us, although they had both passed away the year before we met. We first met on what would have been their 50th wedding anniversary, at sailing school in an anchoring class in Marina Del Rey. It was divine intervention!

How long have you had this place in Paradise Cove and what drew you to the area in the first place?

Laura: Although I had been dreaming of owning a trailer in Paradise Cove since the 90’s after surfing here for many years, we finally got our little slice of heaven in 2015. I was drawn to Paradise Cove because of its intense beauty, the amazing surf, the close and tight knit community that is sometimes hard to find in LA, and a more simple and laid back approach to life.

David: My grandfather came to Malibu in the late 1940’s and built what is now the historic Western Town known as Paramount Ranch. (Tragically, Paramount Ranch and the Hertz family archives were lost in the Woolsey Fire, however David and his brother are already working with the National Park Service to rebuild the historic western town.) In the 60’s we lived on Malibu Road and in the 70’s moved to Carbon Beach, both close enough to drag my father’s 1965 Dewy Weber Performer to First Point. Laura and I got married at the Adamson house and I have a lot of fond memories of growing up in Malibu. We love the community, beach, surfing and living here.

Matt Titone
Matt Titone
Matt Titone
Matt Titone

David, when did you first take an interest in architecture and design?

David: I became interested in architecture as an adolescent and in human habitation and the juncture between the natural and built environment. Serving as an apprentice to artists and working in construction trades gave me a tacit knowledge of construction and fabrication. I enrolled at SCI-ARC (The Southern California Institute of Architecture), where there was a real interest in ecological design at the time and while there, and I obtained a strong foundation in pragmatic environmental design. Before graduating in 1983 with a Bachelor of Architecture degree, I worked in the office of Architect, John Lautner FAIA (formerly an apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright and Frank Gehry).

At what point did you branch off and start your own studio?

David: After travel and study in Europe, I returned to serve an internship in the office of Frank O. Gehry and Associates FAIA before opening my own firm, Syndesis Inc., in 1984 which was located on West Washington Blvd. now Abott Kinney.

What have been some of the biggest challenges so far in your career and running your own studio?

David: It is always difficult to challenge the status quo with disruptive concepts and technologies, the biggest challenges are to take calculated risk within the context of a risk adverse system.

On the flip-side, what have been your greatest successes in your mind?

David: The greatest successes have been achieving the impossible by attempting the extraordinary.

Matt Titone
Matt Titone

Living in Venice, I was first introduced to your work through the “Californication House” — which was your personal home that you designed and built. Give us the back-story of that project. How long did you live there and was it hard to sell it?

David: The Californication House was a home I designed and build in 1995 for my family and it was designed in two phases. The first phase featured two separate volumes connected by a bridge. Some years later the adjacent lot became available and it became a compound made up of four discrete two-story buildings linked by three enclosed bridges that all face onto the courtyard, in a style one might call “Balinese Modern.” I used my house as a case study for green building techniques. Recently we sold the house leaving behind that chapter of our lives and purchased the ranch in Malibu.

Another iconic project that you are known for is the Winghouse. You have designed so many amazing residential, commercial spaces and products. Is there something in particular you want to be most known for?

David: I have been fortunate to be at the right place at the right time positioning me as a pioneer in several fields, by being ahead of the curve in several areas. Bringing concrete inside as surfacing material with high recycled content, radical reuse and repurposing, leading the charge on sustainable building and now regenerative architecture and atmospheric water generation to name a few. I would like to be best known for being a thought leader, a systems thinker, a creative problem solver and an innovator.

Matt Titone
Matt Titone

You have lived in Venice for some time, seen a lot of change and been a part of transforming the area into what it is today. Do you have a specific “glory days” period of living in Venice, or is there “no time like the present” in your mind?

David: The only constant in Venice is change. Some of my favorite memories from Venice are as follows.

1960’s: Going to the POP Pier with my great grandmother on it’s closing day.

1970’s: Surfing POP and being a part of the birth of skateboarding and Dogtown.

Early 1980’s: Working with Frank Gehry off the Ocean Front Walk.

Mid 1980’s: My first studio on West Washington (now Abbot Kinney).

1990’s: Working with Jean Michel Basquiat, Robert Graham and other artists.

2000’s: Moving the studio to Market Street.

Present: Riding my bike to the studio along the bike path.

Future: Helping to preserve the past.

What has driven you to integrate sustainability and eco-friendly materials and practices into your work over the years?

David: Being conscience of what we take, make and waste.

Matt Titone
Matt Titone

Tell us more about the Skysource project you started (and won the Water Abundance XPrize for recently). How did that idea come about?

Laura: We founded Skysource to address issues of water scarcity and water quality. After David found a few technologies/methodologies to address these issues, especially in Southern California’s drought stricken region. We began to work with atmospheric water generators that use a patented process to condense moisture in the atmosphere and filter it, resulting in fresh drinking water.

What was the Water Abundance XPrize competition process like?

David: It has been a once in a lifetime experience! The Water Abundance XPrize was a two year open competition and international call to make 2,000 liters of water from air using 100% renewable energy at a cost of less than 2 cents/liter. The prize brought 98 teams from 27 companies the $1.5M competition. In the end, we were the only company to actually exceed the challenge. It was such a huge honor, especially because the XPrize is likened to a Nobel Prize for technology.

What are your favorite parts about Los Angeles and the area(s) in which you live?

David: Boney Ridge and Deer Creek are my new favorite places in Malibu because it reminds me of “Old Malibu” when I grew up with the vistas and open space and abundant hiking trails. I do like riding my bike to work to my Venice Studio, and particularly love the contrast between “Town and Country.” We are really so fortunate to be able to sail to the Channel Islands and anchor in front of our surf shack at Paradise Cove.

Laura: The reason I love LA so much is that there are so many amazing places to go and so many amazing things to do here. But my heart is the most at home surfing or sailing on the ocean or tucked away within the majesty and beauty of The Santa Monica Mountains

What is a typical day in the life when you are at home?

Because of the nature of what we do, it all depends on the day. But, on a perfect day, it starts with an outdoor morning yoga session, or a surf at our favorite secret spot or a hike or a mountain bike ride through the mountains. Then we work our butts off the rest of the day and depending on where we are, we either go for a sunset hike with our three dogs, a glass off surf usually followed by dinner with friends.

Matt Titone
Matt Titone

Laura, when did you first take an interest in photography?

Laura: Photography has been a lifelong passion of mine and is the result of my traveling adventures around the world, discovering the visual beauty and intrigue of foreign lands, cultures, customs and the human condition. I was always drawn to visual expression and the feelings that photography can evoke in a single image. To me, it is such a masterful and powerful tool.

At what point did it become a career for you?

Laura: I had always dreamed of being a photographer. It all began in high school and the desire to become a photojournalist. After graduating from the University of Florida with a degree in Journalism, I worked for several national newspapers including the Detroit News, and as a stringer for The Miami Herald and Associated Press. But then I discovered South Beach in its very early days, long before it exploded onto the international stage. I was mesmerized, as it was nothing like I had ever experienced before in my life. That is when I decided to pursue a career in Lifestyle, Beauty and Fashion photography.

As a veteran photographer who has worked through the transition from film to digital, what advice would you give aspiring photogs out there?

Laura: It seems easier than ever now to be a professional photographer because of the advent of digital photography, the low cost of camera equipment and nearly non existent film, Polaroid and film developing expenses. But with that being said, it is more of a challenge to make a good living at it these days because the market is completely saturated with really, really good photographers with iPhones. Not a bad thing, just a bigger challenge for those who aspire to make photography a career. I have always been keenly aware that technologically, photography is an ever evolving medium and art form. I knew that I had to explore whatever changes came my way or my work would become irrelevant. When the first professional digital camera came out, I experimented very early on with it and realized that a change was coming and that I needed to embrace it. I began convincing my clients to make the jump from film to digital as I wanted them to be ahead of the curve as well. It is really important to move in the direction of change, not be stagnant and encourage and inspire those around you to move with you as well.

Aside from the above, the advice I would give aspiring photographers would be to listen to your own voice, and always keep an open mind. Always inspire, never imitate! Shoot what moves you and not what you think will sell. Work on developing your own style that is true to who you are. It’s a process and doesn’t happen overnight and never really ever ends, but that is the beautiful journey of photography.

Matt Titone

You are both busy souls with a lot going on. How do you achieve balance in your lives?

David: Keeping our lives in balance is not always easy because our work/travel schedule is so demanding. We do make time to check in and connect with each other. Since we have a full understanding of how hectic and crazy life can get, we are also hyper aware that we need to make time to disconnect from that world and connect and cocoon with each other. We help each other regenerate and restore. Closing up shop for a few hours and surfing together really helps us keep all things in balance.

Malibu has been through a lot lately with the Hill and Woolsey fires destroying so many homes and businesses in the area. What is it like on the ground there in the wake of the fires? How is the community recovering?

Laura: The community definitely feels much closer, more tight knit and smaller. Where you used to see lights on the hills at night, you now see absolute darkness. A constant reminder that mother nature is boss and that we are here to serve her as best we can with the knowledge that we have about global climate change and the fine balance of the planet. We have survivors guilt because we were miraculously spared, due in part to a lot of planning but a lot more luck. We are now offering shelter and resilience services to those of our community not so fortunate.

Matt Titone

What’s next — what are your current goals?

David: Urgent interest in decarbonization strategies, that reduce carbon emissions to avert an ecological genocide, in a manner that works with natural systems to create positive feedback loops to help offset the impacts the built environment has on the natural. Creating water from air from a concept of abundance rather than scarcity and creating deployable energy and water solutions that address global water scarcity and offer strategies and systems for self reliance, climate resilience and disaster relief.

Any parting thoughts, words of wisdom, or sage advice?

David: ARS LONGAS VITA BREVIS – Art is long, life is short!

Discover more creative surfers’ homes in our book, “Surf Shacks®”


Matt Titone

A goofy-footed graphic designer who hails from the first state, Delaware. After attending Flagler College in St. Augustine, FL then graduating from SCAD in Savannah, GA with a BFA in Graphic Design and Illustration, Matt moved to NYC and found work as a freelance designer and art director. In 2006 he moved west to Venice, CA where he co-founded ITAL/C Studio and now resides a bit further north in Oxnard.

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