Lessons in Longevity

Words by Chris Grunder

It’s fitting that Utopia is Greek for “No place,” as the Sea Ranch could hardly be further from anywhere. Of course, that’s half the charm. A hundred miles on the wiggly Highway 1 from San Francisco, it’s just far enough to deter day trippers while drawing the determined in with what Kerouac called the “end of the land sadness, end of the world gladness.” The landscape is abrupt, eschewing the slow-sloping dunes of Southern California for sharp sandstone cliffs, like the western edge of an endless canyon filled by the Pacific. Along with a climate that could be charitably described as “vaguely Scottish,” it’d be easy to write the place off as foreboding, but it couldn’t be further from it. It’s enveloping, wrapping those that live here, insulating them against extraneous cares.

That homey utopian potential was instantly apparent to landscape architect Lawrence Halprin when developer Al Boeke approached him to spearhead the project. Al wanted a “New town,” and Larry wanted a kibbutz, so they met in the middle. Larry had trained at Harvard under Bauhaus refugees Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer, but unlike many of his classmates (notably I.M. Pei and Phillip Johnson), he saw modernism as an escape from grandeur, a way to understand the relationship of human needs and human scale with natural realities and natural forms. Larry set down the rules that the architects at Sea Ranch would follow: Light on the land, local materials, and listening to the surroundings. It wasn’t environmentalism per se (both Larry and architect Bill Turnbull bought gas-guzzling Porsches specifically to expedite their site visits) but more finding a way to be unobtrusive. The rugged vistas and outcroppings were already counterweighted by curving crooked cypress trees and waving wild grasses; whatever buildings they would add needed to be harmonious within an already balanced equation. So they cribbed the rooflines from the trees and gave the buildings just enough mass to stand their ground without overreaching the nearby rock formations. It worked. To a quick passerby, it all blends easily with the land, not to mention echoing the slanted chicken coops, historic fur trading forts, and weathered barns that make up the sum total of the region's surviving vernacular architecture. 

Sixty years after its inception, the homes here have come to resemble their forebearers even more.  The redwood used for siding has bleached to a soft silver from the sun and salt spray, the foliage has thickened, and what once stood out for mimicking its surroundings now appears to emerge from them. This was, of course, all part of the plan. By employing time-tested building techniques and utilizing high-quality materials, a foundation for physical longevity was established that the latest generation of inhabitants continues to benefit from. The homes here need upkeep and repair like any other, but the values embedded in them through their initial design all but guarantee a light touch, more restoration than renovation. This isn’t a result of preciousness or even reverence for the past. It’s a result of utility. When something is made with a purpose, and that purpose is left apparent, it becomes easy to use and easy to care for. Another of the Sea Ranch architects, Charles Moore, referred to this as ordinariness; “Not an act of ordinariness, but allowing a building to do what it was meant to do by ordinary means with a minimum of strain.”

This reliance on everyday functionality to temper high modernism is the most lasting legacy of the Sea Ranch, serving as an inspiration for everything from hippie communes to college campuses. Its influence goes beyond architecture as well. It’s a sort of vanguard for what Barbara Stauffacher Solomon, the original graphic designer of Sea Ranch, calls “reverse snobbism”: a way of getting things just right without being showy, an ideal that’s now almost inseparable from the Northern California lifestyle.

The concepts that birthed Sea Ranch are self-evident. Over sixty years later, our lives remain intrinsically and increasingly intertwined with our natural environment. As with Sea Ranch, our collection draws from our own experiences and local history while honing in on the utility required for daily use. The past and its relevance today inform designs that we hope will stand by your side long into the future. By creating with an understanding of the world we live in, we’ve set out to create a collection that will last for years to come.


Mens Fall 23

Womens Fall '23