The Sea Ranch, California

The lot is at the end of a cul de sac on a grassy hillside overlooking the coastal meadows and ocean below. Cold northerly winds, while somewhat diminished by the mostly forested hills still dictate the need for southerly deck spaces.

This house for a retiring professional couple is based on three primary requirements, each with its own inherent complications:

  • A desire to have all daily used rooms on one level versus a distinctly unlevel site.

  • A lot with a 35 foot height limit and great coastline views from an elevated position versus a desire to respect the views of easterly neighbors.

  • A modest budget versus a desire for responsive, sophisticated architecture.

A spine scheme is employed with the longitudinal axis set parallel to the cul de sac street and perpendicular to both the sloping site and coastline. This allows the house to merge with the site on the east and elevate above it on the west with the various program requirements arranged along the sides. The spine is the main circulation corridor for the house and uses one wall as a library constructed of exposed 2×6, 8 and 10 studs with blocking for shelves, and a rolling ladder with full length track. The living and dining rooms are cooled naturally via manually operated hatches beneath ventilation chimneys located at ceiling high points.

The contradictions of the program are resolved as follows:

  • With the daily used rooms arranged on one level the garage/shop mass is dug back into the hillside and the living/dining rooms are elevated above office and guest spaces towards the ocean. Because the driveway is quite steep, an alternate street to entry approach, a bridge, provides access to the house.

  • The spine’s narrow ends face both the easterly neighbors above and Highway One below. The building mass presented to the Highway is reduced by compositionally breaking down the southwest fa├žade into two separate elements. Because local height limits are measured from the highest point a structure touches the grade, the house technically projects only 3 1/2 feet into the allowed height limit.

  • The general contractor was chosen at the beginning of design to provide cost input and work as an integral part of the team. With difficulty and sacrifice, the overall economic, aesthetic, and philosophical goals were achieved by directing the budget towards overall form and site response rather than numerous interior amenities.