“We're not Costco shoppers,” Anne Evans told Eric Haesloop, AIA, and Mary Griffin, FAIA, before they started designing her vacation home. This tidbit of information let Haesloop and Griffin know they didn't need to include tremendous amounts of storage space in the Sea Ranch, Calif., residence. On a more metaphorical level, Evans' simple statement summed up the philosophy of The Sea Ranch, a predominantly second-home community that hugs the foggy, wild Northern California coastline. The place isn't about grabbing as much property as possible and then building the biggest house you can. It's about tiptoeing on the land, enjoying the enormous expanse of natural beauty it provides without claiming the terrain as your own. “The Sea Ranch guidelines were written to enhance the idea that buildings can coexist with their sites,” Haesloop explains.

He should know. The late founder of his and Griffin's firm, William Turnbull Jr., was one of the design guidelines' chief writers in the 1960s. Haesloop and Griffin have been working on houses at Sea Ranch for years, but they insist it never gets old. “The sites there are very, very different from one another,” Haesloop says. “You really dial in pretty quickly on site-specific responses.” At the Evans house—a weekend retreat for Anne and her husband, Greg—the narrow blufftop lot overlooks the Pacific Ocean. Griffin and Haesloop wanted to take advantage of water views, of course, but if they pushed the house to the western edge of its site, it would end up too close for comfort to its neighbors on either side.

So they pulled it back from the coastline, separating it into two buildings—one containing the public areas and guest bedrooms and one for the master bedroom. “Mary and I have been experimenting with the idea that the landscape can flow through the site,” Haesloop explains. “By pulling it apart, we're framing the view.” Because vacation houses are, by nature, more casual than full-time residences, the independent master bedroom seems more of an asset than an imposition; it becomes an excuse to go outside. “Instead of walking down a hallway, you get to walk down the coastline,” Haesloop says. He and Griffin placed the two buildings ever so carefully, ensuring that each window looks onto a tree, a meadow, or the water, rather than another house.

They designed a smaller, more open kitchen than they would for a main residence, dropping it right in between the living room and the bay-windowed dining alcove. “Oftentimes we'd put a kitchen closer to the back of the house or to the door, but again, it's a vacation house,” Haesloop says. “We put it down near the view, so people can linger and hang out. It doesn't have acres of pantry space—it's all very direct.” This arrangement, as well as the rest of the house, grounds the Evans' exhilarating experience of the rugged Sea Ranch environment.

Evans House, Sea Ranch, Calif.
architect/interior designer:
Turnbull Griffin Haesloop Architects, Berkeley, Calif.
general contractor:
Timothy Carpenter General Contractor, Sea Ranch
project size:
1,675 square feet
site size:
0.4 acre
construction cost:
Jim Alinder