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Not-Your-Average Beach House

Architect Mark A Silva designed an oceanside abode fit for the gods
Photo Credit: James Brady
Can Deus La Jolla SDM 02-23

Two-story windows frame the ocean view in the great room.

Photo Credit: James Brady

You can build your dream house, but you can’t build your dream view. So when a London-based family with San Diego roots started its search for a vacation home in La Jolla, it kept one thing in mind: potential.

In 2013, the family purchased a property on Mount Soledad, a 1960s home with a pool and a guest house. The foundation was failing. The pool had seen better days. But the sweeping view of the Pacific was priceless.

The owners interviewed a half dozen architects before landing on Mark A Silva (who doesn’t punctuate his name). They gave him a design brief: number of bedrooms and bathrooms, key features—and all of their trust.

The design process was done almost entirely remotely. Silva frequented the site until he was intimately familiar with the lot size, its orientation and the levels of privacy throughout. He memorized the view. Walked the terrain. Inhaled the salty breeze. Traced the sun’s path. And started to sketch.

The owners understood Silva’s concept when it was just lines on paper. He presented an angular, contemporary home, brimming with natural light, multiple indoor-outdoor living spaces, and floor-to-ceiling windows that did the ocean view justice.

Early in the process, the family dubbed its vacation home Can Deus: “House of the Gods.” Construction was completed in 2016. The steps that wind through the backyard, and the retaining walls that line them, are the only original element.

Can Deus Pool SDM 02-23

The backyard steps are the only original element on the property.

Photo Credit: James Brady

Inside the home, a light-wood ceiling soars toward a wall of windows, showing off an infinite sky where it collides with the blue-green of the ocean. Outside, lush landscaping frames the steps as they descend toward the lowest point of the property, home to a new pool and guest house.

As you walk back up the steps and face the back of the home, the lines of the roof “are like two arms embracing you,” says Silva.

“The outcome of a project very clearly shows: How much did you care?” says Silva. “It’s not just doing the design, plans, and permit. It has so much more meaning to me.”

As he reminisces on the Can Deus project, Silva points to eight design elements—from the cantilever deck that captures an unexpected view to the natural light that pours in through skylights—that combine to form a home fit for the gods.

Can Deus Skylights SDM 02-23

A row of skylights illuminates the south stone wall.

Photo Credit: James Brady

Organic Architecture

Coined by the iconic Frank Lloyd Wright, organic architecture is a design principle in which structures are inspired by, and built into, their environment. Those who adhere to the principle first consider a lot’s features: sun, wind, orientation, existing slopes, and shapes. Then, they factor in the homeowners: their preferred aesthetic, must-haves, lifestyle. Finally, they note any limitations, like height restrictions. Massage all that together, and the design will evolve on its own. “It’s functional sculpture,” Silva says.

Can Deus Exterior SDM 02-23

Can Deus Exterior SDM 02-23

Photo Credit: James Brady


The home’s blend of metal, glass, wood, and concrete was Silva’s directive, influenced by the owners’ vision. They had requested an aesthetic that was, in their words, “sludgy,” a nod to the moody weather in their native London. Interior designer Anita Dawson collaborated with Silva and the owners to fulfill that vision, using statement pieces—a motorcycle in the great room, a custom wood record player, a neon sign from an English artist—to establish a California vibe with a splash of London.

Front Door

The home’s façade is intentionally “mild mannered,” says Silva. “More of a sleeper,” merely hinting at what’s inside. Initially, it was even more so. Silva and the homeowners had settled on and installed a simpler front door. Later on, Silva rediscovered his original door designs. On a whim, he emailed them to the homeowner, saying, “[C]oulda, woulda, shoulda.” A nearly immediate response came through: “Let’s do it.”

Silva collaborated with a wood craftsman and a metal artist to bring his vision to life. The door’s slab is sandblasted redwood; the harder grain remains and softer grain is stripped away, like a carving dictated by the tree itself.

The door swings open on a pivot hinge to reveal nearly the entire view. Can Deus’s wedge shape mimics that of a telescope—its walls angle out at nine degrees, and the roof angles up at nine degrees, too. The effect draws the eye both up and out before you even step inside.

Can Deus Front Door SDM 02-23

Can Deus Front Door SDM 02-23

Photo Credit: James Brady


To create distinction between the kitchen and the great room, Silva designed a sculptural fireplace. It’s a piece that adds warmth, both visually and literally; clad in copper, the wood-burning fireplace stretches from the first floor through the second-story loft. This was one of the first design elements to be finalized, and its concrete base was poured at the same time as the building foundation.


A tiny pond greets guests by the front entrance, while the back deck houses a larger pond with stocky koi. The initial plan was to run a pond right through the house, along the south interior wall, under the skylights. Since Can Deus is a vacation home, concerns about the upkeep and the potential for fish fiascos nixed that idea. Now, says Silva, the owners wish they had gone for it. They’re in town more often than they’d anticipated, and the homeowners even opened an office locally to have additional cause to visit.

Can Deus Bedroom SDM 02-23

Can Deus Bedroom SDM 02-23

Photo Credit: James Brady

Natural Light

Southern California’s constant sunshine is a welcome deviation from rainy London. While designing, Silva harnessed natural light as much as possible. Afternoon sun flows through the great room’s western-facing windows. (The homeowners’ cat splays out in the patches of sun in between jaunts through the garden.) A row of skylights on the home’s south side runs from interior to exterior, illuminating the south stone wall.

Silva arranged the bedrooms on the north side of the home and the game room and garage on the south. In the bedrooms and bathrooms, Silva incorporated extra high windows. Flush to the ceiling and often in a corner, these windows invite sunlight in while maintaining privacy.

The owners’ extensive art collection is on display on the second story. To ensure each piece is well lit without incurring sun damage, Silva installed a multi-layer skylight. One on the roof, with a pane of glass in a hallway floor. Light travels freely through two stories, brightening both at once.

Can Deus Interior SDM 02-23

Can Deus Interior SDM 02-23

Photo Credit: James Brady

Cantilever Deck

When Silva first explored the site, he had a hunch that there might be an untapped view. He returned with an A-frame ladder, climbed to the top, held a camera up high, and snapped a photo. He was right. From the right height and angle, the property boasts a southern view: Mission Beach, the curve of the shoreline down to Point Loma, the islands off of Mexico, and beyond.

One of the homeowners is an avid surfer who grew up in Mission Beach. When he was a teen, his family moved to London, and he’s lived there since. Now, from the tip of the cantilever deck off the primary bedroom, he can see where he grew up. A long, low window on the room’s south wall also frames the Mission Beach view, making it visible from the bed.

Mark A Silva Can Deus SDM 02-23

Mark A Silva Can Deus SDM 02-23

Photo Credit: James Brady


When the property was purchased, three towering pine trees were removed due to overgrown roots. Today, the drought-friendly landscaping brings together some of the rarest species in San Diego. Initially installed by David McCullough of McCullough Landscape Architecture, the plants are now tenderly maintained by Paul Lough.

In the front yard, a jacaranda shades Mexican birds of paradise, and wispy feather grass lines the sidewalk. Throughout both front and back yards, the trained eye will spot variegated aloe (one regular, one reversed) and 25 species of agave.

The garden, which resembles a postage stamp from above, regularly lures hummingbirds. It offers everything from plump lemons to bay laurel, rosemary, and mint. A strawberry tree by the guest house scatters its edible fruit; it’s juicy, studded with seeds, reminiscent of a peach.

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