The Face of Malibu by Johanna Spinks

Douglas Rucker

The Face of Malibu is an ongoing series by portrait artist Johanna Spinks to record the many unique personalities and newsmakers who shape the modern Malibu community. Each sitter is always painted in a single live sitting. If there is someone you would like to nominate, please email associate editor Knowles Adkisson at 

Longtime local architect Douglas Rucker has lived in Malibu for many years, opening his practice in 1957. He served as the core founder and leader of the Malibu Recreation Council that helped raise money for the Malibu High School Swimming Pool, as well as the architectural consultant for the Marblehead Land Company. During his career he has designed more than 80 new Malibu houses, apartments and projects, and well over 50 additions. He has also written 10 books, including three autobiographies. He is now enjoying the creative life with his wife, Marge, in a small house with two studios on an acre of land as neighbors of Calamigos Ranch in the mountains above Agoura Hills and Malibu. The Malibu Times got a chance to sit down with the man who has designed some of the most beautiful homes in Malibu. 

How did you decide to become an architect? 

After finishing eighth grade in Chicago, Illinois, I was awarded a scholarship to the Chicago Art Institute before entering Austin High School. I had a wonderful time there in athletics and pursuing a three-year college preparatory course in architecture. At the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, I took a Bachelor of Science degree in architecture and afterward worked as a draftsman in Denver and San Diego. In Pasadena I married my first wife and received my California Architectural License. I’m proud of my life work doing small homes and remodeling in Malibu. Up until now architecture has been the first and foremost focus of my life. 

Who are some of your clients? 

Clients have included people from all walks including Busch Real Estate building remodeling, the Recreation Complex for the Adamson’s Mobile Home Park, a study for the former judge, John Merrick, and guesthouse for Malibu mayor, Carolyn Van Horn. 

What inspired you to adopt your unique designs? What is your inspiration? 

Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies Van Der Rohe, Le Corbusier and architectural peers of 1950s in Southern California. 

What would be your dream home? 

My own two homes. In our house of my own design in Santa Monica Canyon, my first wife of 25 years gave birth to three marvelous daughters and in 1966 I built our own Malibu “dream house,” the main floor floating on a 26-square-foot pedestal 40 feet in the air with a wrap-around deck and spectacular views of the estuary and Surfrider Beach. I received much notoriety and publicity before it burned late in 1970. By 1972 I’d built another, more fire-resistant and equally dramatic house over the same foundations. It was similarly honored and published, but lost to a divorce in 1980. A short time later it was included in Gebhard and Winter’s “Los Angeles Guide to Architecture.” 

What is your favorite thing about Malibu? 

The magnificent natural environment and the casual lifestyle. Running the hills, surfing, springboard diving. I trained in the Pepperdine pool for three years and placed first in the 50-55 class in the Master’s Diving Program in Mission Viejo. I loved the hot tub. 

Working: I’ve had beautiful days, fresh air, beautiful views and worked to place houses in the most advantageous ways to achieve all Malibu has to offer. 

Pepperdine art shows and theater, Spruzzo’s and Debbie, the checker at Malibu Ralph’s! 

What do you not like about Malibu? 

First signs of a strong Santa Ana wind send chills down my spine. In the 1993 fire I set a Malibu architect’s record by losing six houses I designed for other clients. (Three were put back better than ever.) 

Prior to the geological report era, [also] I lost three houses to landslides. Very embarrassing. 

How was it having your portrait painted by Johanna Spinks? 

I loved sitting and talking with Johanna. She kept me relaxed and talkative. I felt we had an unusual bond through our mutual love for art. As a juror in a Simi Valley show I was in this year, she wrote encouraging notes to the ten artists and attached them to each work. I thought that was unusual and how could I not love her for that. 

Johanna Spinks paints portrait by commission. Visit johannaspinks. com or call 310.384.7029 for more information.