Just 45 minutes north of San Francisco lies one of California’s most picturesque foodie destinations. The Sonoma County is known for its valley wine region and rugged Pacific coastline, dotted by towering redwoods. Here, the Bluff Reach home takes up a prime spot in the Sonoma County Sea Ranch community, on a jagged cliff overlooking the Pacific ocean. But the vista isn’t the only thing on its side — the home’s been blessed with design intervention from Butler Armsden Architects. Spoilt with ocean views and towering timber proportions, a San Francisco couple now has all the ingredients for a secluded coastal retreat.
DESIGN Butler Armsden | PHOTOGRAPHY Joe Fletcher
The Sea Ranch community in Sonoma County was planned in the 1960s, host to homes that honour the sacred natural setting, including the 44-year-old Bluff Reach home that sits atop of a rocky outcrop. The neighbourhood is characterised by vertical timber sliding, muted materials and “views full of drama”. While it was architects Lewis Butler and Reba Jones of Butler Armsden’s mission to abide by the community’s original details, they wanted to fill the home with their clients’ own.
The Bluff Reach home was first designed by Ralph Matheson and renovated in 1990 by William Turnbull Jnr. This capital A architectural history may have been intimating for some, but the architects said the rework “proved easier than expected”. For the architects, this could be attributed to the serenity, who admitted they were as enamoured by the curving coast and soothing landscape as their clients. “With its relaxing lushness, the site itself played the role of mediator,” the firm said. Structurally, edits made to the plan by Butler Armsden were minimal. A new top floor addition is accessed through the power-coated steel staircase in the living room, leading to a tower housing a new office.
Butler Armsden Architects spent a lot of time deliberating window placement. Views from the bedroom and family room are let in through smaller openings that match the boxy protrusions of the exterior. In line with the Sea Ranch philosophy, the exterior is entirely clad in cedar. It’s a grand sight, softly cascading down the stairs that flank various angles of the home. At this level there’s not just one pocket for outdoor dining or a seat to read and recline, there’s many balancing over the ocean.
On the inside, the white-washed vertical planks of Douglas fir wrap the ceilings and walls and are underscored by the natural light. The bedroom window seat is a sure winning feature of the home for its opportunity to soak up the sun and the sea, as if you’re suspended over the Pacific shoreline. These spaces feature a neutral colour palette, “letting in the precise dose of its surroundings through its materials” and creating a tranquil coastal atmosphere.
As articulated by Butler Armsden Architects, the blur between the built and the natural, smooth and sharp and interior and exterior makes this home — and its inhabitants — feel entirely at ease in Sea Ranch. Northern California, you’ve delivered a stylish taste of what it means to slow down by the seaside.
“The art pieces throughout the home capture the eye but release it quickly, a nod to the Sea Ranch philosophy that guides every home on the site: nature is forthright.”
— Butler Armsden Architects