Habitat | Woodland Gem

By Habitat Magazine

Photography by Drew Kelly and Jesse Boomer

November 5, 2018

The Sea Ranch is a planned, unincorporated community and census-designated area located in Sonoma County, California near San Francisco. It’s a popular vacation spot where the community’s development played a role in the establishment of the California Coastal Commission.

It’s apt to mention the founders’ rationale behind this unique development: ‘It must be assumed that all owners of property within the Sea Ranch – by virtue of their purchase of such property – are motivated by the character of the natural environment in which their property is located, and accept, for and among themselves, the principle that the development and use of the Sea Ranch must preserve that character for its present and future enjoyment by other owners.’

What makes Sea Ranch so unique was the mindset of the developers. Rather than pack as many properties as possible onto this site, they rather wished to restore the terrain and build a community of like-minded, conservation-focused residents who would act as custodians for the land, help heal the grass starved terraces, wind burnt hedgerows, crumbling cliffs and tangled / matted forests. They recruited landscape architect Lawrence Halprin to develop a master plan and create design guidelines.

Sited in the lush redwoods forest of the Sea Ranch, this cabin is one of a series of Demonstration Homes commissioned by that original developer. Designed by San Francisco Bay Area architect Joseph Esherick in 1968, this compact structure was intended to exemplify how the Sea Ranch design guidelines could be used to build a well designed, low-cost weekend cabin. The cabins minimal footprint consists of three levels, which open onto one another forming a loft-like space.

Because of their elemental layout and small size, few of these homes remain in their original state, but Framestudio’s design team recognised this cabin’s historic importance. They sought to achieve balance by preserving the heritage fabric, while making alterations and updates to meet the practical needs of the new owners. A fully functional kitchen, the capacity to sleep six and securable storage areas were among the priorities.

The designers developed a scheme which restored many of the original details; hallmarks of Esherick’s signature, using wood which had been reclaimed from alterations not original to the design. New interventions were conceived to contrast in tone from the original framework of the structure, but constructed from materials suitable to its historic status.

In the kitchen, the lower cabinets were replaced with a more functional design fabricated from Baltic birch plywood clad in ultra matt black laminate. Appliances, including a dishwasher, were incorporated along with extra storage drawers below. The original upper cabinets were restored, and the extraction system was rebuilt to the original plan using an extractor fan from the era.

The two adjoining bedrooms on the upper level were intentionally spare in their design. The original closets were only alcoves that contained a shelf and bar for hanging clothes. Framestudio designed fitted blue laminate cupboards for these alcoves, which include a secured storage, as well as areas for clothing, linens and cleaning supplies.

The open-plan nature of the home was preserved, specifically on the bedroom level, which lacked doors in the original design. Framestudio designed a full-height partition that provides privacy between the two rooms. When not in use, it folds into the wall, seamlessly disappearing into the rough sawn Douglas fir panelling. The bunk beds in the second bedroom cantilever off the side of the main volume, adding a sense of playfulness to the simple geometry of the design. In the living room, the design team conceptualised a built-in sofa, which houses additional storage and a pullout queen-sized bed, bringing the sleeping capacity of the home to six.

Vast amounts of indigenous redwood exist in this location and most of the homes have used this timber, choosing to leave it unfinished and natural, which allows it to ‘silver’ over time. This suits the landscape and as a result nature predominates, not the buildings. So those original proposals in the guidelines of the mid-1960s represented a concerted effort to shepherd and protect this unique environment – so that it would be able to continue to evolve naturally.

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