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Nobu Ryokan Malibu

Studio PCH Shares the Private Design Details Behind the Nobu Ryokan Malibu

Eliza Jordan

18 February 2022

On a recent trip to California, we found ourselves about an hour east of Los Angeles in Malibu, zipping along the Pacific Coast Highway. The seaside road, nestled between mountainside cliffs and the ocean, leads city slickers and visitors alike to a serene atmosphere that’s acclaimed for its approach to relaxed living, privacy, and fresh fare. With a horizon dotted by unforgettable oceanic views and hillside houses, Malibu is also home to a handful of world-famous food, beverage, and hospitality spaces. One notable oceanfront destination, acclaimed for its fresh sushi, unparalleled location, and celebrity guest list, is the Studio PCH and Montalba Architects-designed Nobu Malibu. Yet while many visit the famed restaurant, not many are aware of what is just steps away at Nobu Ryokan Malibu—and that’s intended by design.

Nestled between Carbon Beach and the highway, the breathtaking two-floor luxury hotel, owned by Mr. Nobu Matsuhisa, alongside investors Larry Ellison and Robert De Niro, is a one-of-a-kind property for the hotel brand’s portfolio. Also designed by Studio PCH, it opened in 2017 as the first Nobu Ryokan in the world, mimicking a traditional Japanese inn with refined, high-quality hospitality. Today, it is still the only ryokan in the brand’s growing hotel portfolio.

Nobu Ryokan Malibu

Courtesy of Nobu Ryokan Malibu.

From the outside, a subdued 9,200-square-foot wood structure with sliding glass doors sits quietly, privately awaiting company with reservations far in advance. Inside, 16 calming and sophisticated guest rooms stun with memorable features—including limestone walls, teak soaking tubs, tatami mats, skylights, shoji-style closets, vaulted ceilings, fireplaces, oceanfront patios, and garden views. Special comforts like Loro Piana cashmere robes, Bose sound systems, Nespresso machines, Anichini Italian linens, bamboo towels by Peacock Alley, and bath amenities by Mauro Spina of Beverly Hills and The Detox Market also put visitors at ease. For room service, the adjacent Nobu Malibu restaurant’s menu is readily available.

Nobu Ryokan Malibu

Courtesy of Nobu Ryokan Malibu.

In addition to the lavish lodging, Nobu Ryokan Malibu also invites its visitors to a personalized health and wellness approach through tailored experiences. Through a partnership with the local CURE Wellness Center, the hotel offers exclusive in-room spa treatments, or at the spa’s standalone location just a short drive away. For fitness, Malibu Fit Concierge coordinates personal training sessions in the on-site gym by appointment, as well as yoga classes on the outside deck, surfing and paddle boarding on the private beach, and more.

After returning home, Whitewall spoke with the founder of Studio PCH, Severine Tatangelo, about revamping a 1950s motel into one of Malibu’s most coveted private properties.

Studio PCH.

Severine Tatangelo, courtesy of Studio PCH.

WHITEWALL: Studio PCH’s first two projects were ground-up commercial buildings in Malibu. How did these designs set the stage for the studio’s approach to hospitality?  

SEVERINE TATANGELO: Through these projects, we found ourselves enthralled by hospitality, yet saw a niche to be filled. Many people who enter our buildings say there is a feeling of home. Amidst the arresting material palette and carefully detailed joinery, there is an air of comfort. Through our love of craft, detail, and rigor, we bring these characteristics of home into all our projects.

WW: What was your initial concept for the Nobu Ryokan Malibu?

ST: The concept is the fusion of a traditional Japanese Inn with coastal living architecture. The Nobu Brand is about fusion. When Nobu Matsuhisa started his fusion cuisine in Peru, he integrated Peruvian ingredients into his Japanese cooking experience. While designing Nobu projects, we take the same approach. We use local materials and understand the site, and we develop a project that relates to the site, to the brand, to the elements, and most importantly, to the client’s vision. 

Nobu Ryokan Malibu.

Courtesy of Nobu Ryokan Malibu.

WW: How did you approach the project?

ST: The original building was an existing motel from the 1950s, with its own charming, but vétuste, elements. We kept the charm of this property—some of the lush landscape, for example—but turned it into a luxurious destination. And the outdoor walkways were turned into private balconies. The main challenge was to turn the disadvantages of a hotel into effective solutions! 

WW: Which Japanese cues were reimagined or recontextualized on the California coast?

ST: It combines the minimalist aesthetic of traditional Japanese inns with the natural elegance of the California coastline. A simple, chic entrance opens onto an ocean-facing courtyard. Immediately, guests are enveloped by a tranquil ambiance, as the soft sounds of the waterfall fill the courtyard, and palm trees sway in the breeze over lush gardens.

The design concept of Nobu Ryokan blends elements of a traditional Japanese ryokan with Western elements of a bed and breakfast and boutique hotel. The project includes rich wood craftsmanship, meaningful material transitions, and framing views, all reflective of traditional Japanese design. 

Nobu Ryokan Malibu.

Courtesy of Nobu Ryokan Malibu.

WW: What design elements, such as materials, aided in the balance of luxury and approachability?

ST: Rich, natural material palettes of teak, bronze, and limestone carry throughout the interior and exterior, channeling the minimalist aesthetic of traditional Japanese inns while evoking the laid-back spirit of the property’s location. The lush interior courtyard features native plants and a waterfall pool. Additional amenities include an outdoor lap pool overlooking the ocean, a fitness room, a relaxation deck, and access to the beach. The sandy tones of the concrete and the bronze left to weather organically interact with the natural materials of wood and stone and reinforce the architecture’s connection to the site and surrounding environment. 

WW: How do the Studio PCH-designed Nobu properties, both the ryokan and the restaurant, encompass the feeling of omotenashithe—the Japanese art of hospitality?

ST: One root of the word “omotenashi” comes from the Japanese phrase meaning “to accomplish through both conceptual and physical objects.” This describes our approach, as there is a warmth, an ease, and a sincerity to everything about the design. This property is very representative of Larry Ellison’s personal value, as it relates to hospitality and the things you should experience in a great resort or in someone’s home. So, the Japanese influences on the hotel are countless.  

For the bathing areas, Mr. Ellison wanted an extremely reductive and elemental bathing experience that is reflective of the way one would bathe in a Japanese bathroom. We paid special attention to the design of the bathrooms, as most of the bathtubs have a skylight above, allowing light to wash into the bathroom in a way that is almost spiritual. There is a moment in the day when the sun enters through the skylight when you can feel a stillness and calm settle over you. Witnessing this effect in person is a very special moment. 

Being inspired by Japanese inns, however, the design team had to triumph over various challenges, such as traditional Japanese sleeping arrangements. In a traditional Japanese ryokan, the sleeping actually occurs on the floor on tatami mats, but we certainly had to accommodate the Western sensibilities for the sleep experience. That is what informs the overall styling of the bed presentation and the other furniture in the room.  

Also, there is priceless Japanese artwork out of Larry Ellison’s private collection that adorns the hotel walls; each room has at least two pieces. He has one of the most important private collections of Japanese artwork anywhere in the world.

Nobu Ryokan Malibu

Courtesy of Nobu Ryokan Malibu.

WW: Do you have a favorite space at the property?

ST: Each space and each room have such a specific meaning. Each room has a different name that we chose with the client while walking the property once. We wanted each room to feel different and wanted the name to carry this particular attention to all of them. 

WW: How does being based in Venice, California impact your approach to design?  

ST: Ten years after starting Studio PCH, our firm has been in the heart of Venice, California after spending time in Malibu. We are really excited about continuing to develop the hospitality brand with Nobu. We are steadily building, designing, and remodeling hotels around the globe with them, integrating the Nobu modern Japanese approach with local contexts, colors, and cultures. With our long-standing relationship with Nobu, we continue to work on projects all over the world in England, Poland, Italy, Spain, Malaysia, Australia, Mexico, Brazil, Israel, and Colombia. Our continued partnership with Nobu is an extension of our Studio PCH family.  

WW: Aside from additional Nobu properties, what is Studio PCH working on next?

ST: We recently began a very exciting ground-up resort in Bermuda consisting of a hotel, condos, and villas set on 14 acres of landscaped gardens on a hillside setting offering stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean. We’ve also recently become more involved in residential projects in both architecture and interiors, ranging in location from San Francisco and Malibu to Hawaii and Bora Bora. We are rapidly growing and trying to have fun along the journey. 

Nobu Ryokan Malibu.

Courtesy of Nobu Ryokan Malibu.



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