Malibu's Architect

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Written by Holly Bieler | Photographed by Julie Wuellner

You might not know Doug Burdge’s name, but if you’ve lived in Malibu for any amount of time, you know his work intimately. Burdge’s PCH firm, Burdge & Associates Architects, is one of Los Angeles’ preeminent firms and something of a local institution, responsible for some of Malibu’s most spectacular homes, and over 250 projects total in the community since it opened in 1993. Quick-to-laugh and disarmingly warm, Burdge exudes an authentic Malibu “laid-backness,” without any of the pretension that can sometimes accompany it. Upon meeting Doug, you’ll find him distinctly un-braggy, with a dry, self-effacing sense of humor. He peppers verbose, articulate sentences about the evolution of design with stray “like”s.

Born and raised in the San Fernando Valley suburbs, Burdge has lived in Malibu since 1993, when as a USC graduate he and his wife, Laura, moved their young family to a home they built after the 1993 wildfire in the La Costa foothills. Soon after, Doug opened up shop in a small office right across from the Malibu Pier.

  Burdge still draws his plans by hand.

Burdge still draws his plans by hand.

Much has changed in that time—Doug’s sons, Reed and Hayden, are adults and artistic talents in their own right, in the fields of graphic design, painting and woodworking. Doug and Laura now live in a beautiful remodeled home at the beach, and Burdge’s firm is now located on PCH in midtown Malibu. It is there that Burdge & Associates heads up some of the city’s most sought-after projects, spanning from multimillion dollar homes throughout California, Montana, Texas and Idaho, to the ultra-luxe hotel group Auberge’s latest resort in Palm Springs. And what happened of that tiny first office near the Pier? Doug is currently at work designing another small boutique motel right near by.

“It’s kind of full circle,” Burdge said.

If his life and business have changed considerably since he first moved to Malibu almost three decades ago, so too has Malibu itself, and in no small part thanks to Doug Burdge. From contemporary Carbon Beach estates to spectacular properties in Serra Retreat and Pt. Dume, Burdge has been responsible for some of the most beautiful projects built in Malibu over the last twenty five years. Burdge is considered a renowned architect not just in Malibu but across the U.S. and abroad. Doug Burdge is who comes to mind to call first when you want to design a luxury home or exquisite commercial “social gathering” restaurant or property.

Or, for that matter, the most spectacular home ever. Which he did...

On the day of this interview, we find ourselves at one of these homes. It’s a balmy Monday afternoon, as we trailed a new property with the building team at a magnificent, Burdge-designed estate. This 11,000 square foot contemporary home, perched on a spectacular vista just above Carbon “Billionaire” Beach, is jaw-dropping even by Malibu standards. It’s spectacularly outfitted in luxurious woods and hardware, with an expansive living area and bedrooms, each boasting stunning views of the Pacific. Downstairs you’ll find an over-the-top entertainment space, with a  massive stone bar, skylit soaking tub room, steam and dry saunas and yes, there’s  a dedicated RELAX room with a state-of-the-art massage table. This is a showstopper property. Not just a place to envy but a place you want to live in. Generally, not just a fun place to attend a party. If you might think it’s never someplace you’d actually want to live in, I have some encouraging news for you: you 100% will want to live here. I still don’t fully understand how a design-forward, modern, 11,000 square foot estate with the nicest amenities I’ve ever seen can feel so warm, airy and utterly livable. This is all a part of Doug Burdge’s trademark.

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One of Burdge’s latest projects is a spectacular 11,000 square foot property overlooking Carbon “Billionaire” Beach. Renderings by Burdge & Associates Architects.

Doug is known for not only his passion in his work, but for his love of the city of Malibu. His diverse range, for which he’s demonstrated exceptional design expertise, is warm and inviting. You are at home the moment you walk through any one of his projects.

Every inch makes sense, even if you can’t quite put your finger on how it does. Indeed ask anyone that has worked with Burdge, and invariably they will bring up his talent for space planning, a truly uncanny ability to render warmth and intimacy and light from even the most intimidating of proportions, in any range of styles.

“I pride myself on having an exceptional layout and organization of my plan,” Burdge explains at his beach home after the tour. “That is one of the most important things I do, is to make sure the layout is really functional. You wake up in the morning and what are your typical everyday habits? What do you do? It’s the flow and those spatial relationships that matter the most.”

Richard Weintraub, President and CEO of Weintraub Real Estate Group, has worked on various residential projects with Burdge for years, and says his mastery of space is almost unparalleled.

“He’s really almost a genius when it comes to space planning,” he said. “To using every square foot properly and appropriately, and still giving homes strong character.”

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Before and After:  At right, a Seafield Dr. home before Burdge’s renovations. At left, Burdge’s finished renovations on the property.

Nowhere is this more true than for Malibu. Renowned Real Estate agent Chris Cortazzo, who has known Burdge for 25 years and commissioned his firm to design two personal properties on Point Dume, says Burdge has a deep-seated understanding of the Malibu aesthetic and way of life.

“One of the most important aspects of a home design is the floor plan, and he really understands our lifestyle here in Malibu,” Cortazzo said. “What’s so nice about Malibu is we have a more casual existence, and are more informal in our design, and he really captures and creates that environment that is the Malibu lifestyle.”

Add this one to the list of Burdge trademarks as well: an ability to design homes perfectly tailored for Malibu. This is usually the second thing people say about Burdge’s work, after talk of his layouts have been exhausted: his innate ability for capturing the Malibu way of life in a home. 

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David Charvet, who has worked on various projects with Burdge through his company, The Jones Builders Group, and commissioned his firm to design his French chateau-inspired Serra Retreat home in 2008, says Burdge displays a strong grasp of  the community, and the influence design can wield in it.

“He’s been in this town for such a long time,“ Charvet said,  “and he has the pulse of what is needed.“

It’s this reputation that landed Burdge one of his first commercial commissions; the redesign of the Trancas Country Mart in 2007.  As a former Malibu West resident, and local architect, Burdge had long imagined that the tired center, at the time little more than a pedestrian stripmall, could in the right hands turn into a true community hub for his corner of Malibu.

He thought it was just going to be an easy project; how could the local residents not welcome this with open arms? Immediately the project garnered local resistance. Locals feared a renovated center would bring more tourists to their comparatively sleepy corner of Malibu and threaten the more homey, country look for which it had long been known. The slogan “Don’t Cross Creek Trancas” slowly seeped into Malibu vernacular.

As property prices have climbed, retail tenants have come and gone. A handful of new structures have added to Malibu’s shallow skyline over the past decade, but  much of Malibu’s existing public space looks a lot like it did twenty years ago. If you observe this city solely by its commercial centers, Point Dume Plaza with its terra cotta roofs and trademark dark-brown detailing, or Malibu Colony Plaza with with multi-colored flavors, it begins to look a lot less like a town where any whisper of construction or redevelopment incites community-wide anxiety.

“Everyone was saying [this is] going to be so terrible,” Burdge said. “[People] thought it was going to be like Beverly Hills or something. And I’m going, ‘No no no. This is going to be unbelievable.’”

Despite community qualms, Burdge continued with the project, culling from his wealth of knowledge about the community to develop a space that fit western Malibu‘s more country aesthetic and sensibilities. “It wouldn’t be mostly stucco like the Valley,” Burdge said. “[Trancas] always felt like it was more rural Malibu. [There was a sense of], this area is more the country, and we should let the country stay the country.” The style can be best described as “Napa meets the Sea.“

  Doug’s wife, Laura, runs the Bu Beach House, a home goods store in the Trancas Country Mart.

Doug’s wife, Laura, runs the Bu Beach House, a home goods store in the Trancas Country Mart.

  Burdge’s sons, Reed, left, and Hayden, right are both Malibu High School graduates.

Burdge’s sons, Reed, left, and Hayden, right are both Malibu High School graduates.

When it finally opened in 2014, replete with rustic barnwood buildings, natural zinc roofing,  and sandstone detailing, local reviews were almost universal: the new Trancas Country Market was a huge success. The design fit perfectly with the Western Malibu rural aesthetic, and any fears Trancas would end up looking like Cross Creek were squashed upon the unveiling of the central meeting space, not with swingsets, but an open patch of grass, where locals now stage summer concerts and movie screenings.

Malibu City Council member Laura Rosenthal, who has known Doug since their sons were in Little League together years ago, said community reaction shifted overnight. “People were afraid the feel of it would be more for tourists,” she said. “But the design elements made it something that was more appropriate for western Malibu. The use of old barn wood, the low-slung, one-story buildings. It very much fit the vibe and desires of western Malibu.”

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  Burdge’s sketch ahead of his renovations of the Trancas Country Mart and above, the finished product. If the Country Mart project sustained some community pushback in the beginning, as soon as it opened it was garnering glowing reviews from locals. “It very much fit the vibe and desires of western Malibu,” said Malibu City Council member Laura Rosenthal.

Burdge’s sketch ahead of his renovations of the Trancas Country Mart and above, the finished product. If the Country Mart project sustained some community pushback in the beginning, as soon as it opened it was garnering glowing reviews from locals. “It very much fit the vibe and desires of western Malibu,” said Malibu City Council member Laura Rosenthal.

“It’s very ironic to me that I see people that were all up in arms, pushing theories that it was going to become a little Walmart center, show up for Friday night concerts on the lawn [now],” she added. “I’m glad they’ve come to see that the sky didn’t fall, and that the center really is a hub for the community.”

And if Burdge was caught off-guard by the initial community uproar, he was less surprised by their reaction upon its completion. “They came up to me when it first opened, and they thanked me,” he said. “People would say, ‘I’m so sorry.’ I said, ‘Listen, I’m not some [out-of-town] architect from the Mid-West. I wasn’t  going to give you a not so attractive retail building out of the Valley.”

Indeed if Malibu-ites have long been historically averse to commercial construction and redevelopment of any kind, Burdge says his 25 years in Malibu have informed a distinctly different understanding of the city, and of its potential. The redevelopment of Malibu’s commercial and public spaces aren’t inherently a threat to the Malibu way of life he says; in fact, if you do them right, with people who know and love the city, he thinks they can make it even better. “Locals are staying here, you‘re getting a lot of great, new people, and the people who have been around, they don‘t want to move anywhere,” Burdge said. “So, you‘re taking a place that we have, and you‘re looking at thinking, how can we make that better?” Burdge continued, “Here’s a novel idea: we need to create some intimate music venues in Malibu. So, how about we make the vacant 2nd floor restaurant space at the Lumber Yard into a hip and happening jazz club? Who wants to go to bed at 9 p.m. on Saturdays? It’s about trying to create new things that allow people to take the spaces we have and make them stronger.”

From Trancas to the Surfrider, Burdge’s commercial projects in Malibu have accomplished just that, serving as blueprints along the way for how to elevate and modernize Malibu without threatening it’s way of life. Following his work on Trancas, Burdge was commisioned to head renovations on a Point Dume Bates Motel like space that would eventually become the Native, a chic jewelbox of a boutique motel. Soon thereafter he began working with the insanely creative ownership team on the Surfrider, which is also the Surfrider Inn, a dilapidated 50s-era motel just across from First Point  break, widely beloved for its dated design.

“That process of modernizing a building that’s been so iconic in Malibu,  you didn’t want to disappoint people who had known it  for so many years,” said Charvet, whose company, Jones Builders Group, served as the builder during renovations. 

  The Burdge & Associates Architects team at their office just off PCH.

The Burdge & Associates Architects team at their office just off PCH.

However when it opened in 2017 the hotel was an immediate success, hipper, perhaps, than what had been there before, with the addition of the amazing roof deck, but so distinctly Malibu and so beautifully done it elicited nary a community grump. Rather, locals began increasingly booking up rooms for themselves.  

So add this as well to the list of Burdge design trademarks: the ability to convince even Malibu-ites that change can be good. “I live here, my kids went to school here, and we’re not going anywhere,” Burdge said. “And I want to make changes here for the better. It’s an insanely wonderful place to live, work and play, and there’s still a lot of good work to be done.” MM


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Holly Bieler