In the early 1960s, a much less cynical age, many architects believed that planned communities, with cutting-edge modernist architecture and a respectful eye to ecology and the local landscape, could make for a new, better way of living. These ideals were explored and came to great fruition in what’s known as Sea Ranch, a semi-remote unincorporated community on California’s spectacular Sonoma coast.
In 1964, developer Al Boeke tasked young faculty members at the University of California, Berkeley, with creating Sea Ranch. Ten miles of pristine coastline and 5,200 acres of a former sheep ranch became about 2,000 carefully sited homes that were originally, and still are used mostly as weekend retreats. (The community still maintains a herd of sheep to keep the grass short and reduce fire risk.)
Set on 5.1 oceanfront acres near the sprawling community’s southern flank, this home long belonged to one of the original group who founded the community, planner and architect Lawrence Halprin, along with his wife, postmodern dance pioneer Anna Halprin. Lawrence passed away in 2009, while Anna died earlier this year. The couple’s heirs listed the family’s beloved getaway last month at $8 million, with Hanne Liisberg and Marianne Harder at Liisberg & Company, and the one-of-a-kind legacy property is already pending sale.
Most of the original houses built in the Sea Ranch are quite small, though this one is on the larger side at 2,123 square feet with two bedrooms and two bathrooms. That is because the modest original cabin built by the Halprins in 1966 burned down in 2001 and the existing house, designed by architect Buzz Yudell and dramatically sited along the cliff’s edge high above the ocean, was completed in 2003. The property also boasts a separate design studio designed by William Turnbull Jr. and built in 1979.
Even though the current house is not as old as most others, and reflects a more modern interpretation of the distinctive Sea Ranch style, Yudell skillfully incorporated many of the community’s signature design features: shed roofs to shrug off strong coastal winds, open interiors with built-in window seats, and ladders to lofted overhead spaces that function as quiet lounges for reading and viewing nature, and sometimes as sleeping spaces. Resembling the local vernacular barns that dot the coastline, interiors are defined by the humble use of unpainted wood, much of it Douglas fir or local redwood. Another feature of particular note are the uneven stone edges on the kitchen counter and tables, which echo the rocks jutting from the nearby sea.
A private paradise, the grounds offer wind swept meadows, secluded coves and numerous rocky points with horizon-line views. Still, as rare and stunning as the location might be, eight million bucks and no pool? Well, actually there is. Sort of. The Sea Ranch is a master-planned community, and as master-planned communities often include, there are several clubhouses with swimming pools and tennis courts. There are also more than 55 miles of hiking trails, and, especially handy since the community is increasingly peopled by wealthy weekenders, its own airstrip.
The most striking feature of all, and what the house was designed to feature, are of course the epic views of the coastline. Job well done.