37th Homes of the Year: Bruce Peeling and Anita Dawson – Ranching Out
A contemporary home in Santaluz takes inspiration from mid-century California style
Sometimes you have to reach into the past to move forward, as architect Bruce Peeling did when he reimagined how to modernize a California ranch house for the 21st century by reflecting on the style’s early roots.
Inspiration came from architect Clifford May, who designed homes for Californians starting in the 1930s and became known as “father of the California ranch house.” Rather than building up, Cliff built out, with the goal of bringing the outside in to take advantage of the state’s sunny climate; sprawling farms and citrus groves; and easygoing, outdoor lifestyle.
But it was homeowners Andy Brown and Lorna Mildice who really drove the design after purchasing a lot overlooking the golf course in Santaluz. With acres of open space, ocean views and groomed trails, the planned community offers plenty of California charm, but bears strict guidelines about what home styles can be built, from Tuscan villas to Spanish-style bungalows.
“It’s set up so that people will build variations on the same type of home, but you get the same thing repeated over and over again,” Bruce says.
Breaking out of the mold, Andy and Lorna approached Bruce with a rough sketch of a contemporary, one-story house designed around a central courtyard. Together, they worked within the Santaluz guidelines to emphasize the modernist influences that define California ranch architecture.
“We realized that there are contemporary architects that have worked within this realm,” Bruce says. “Cliff May was one of them in particular. So we thought, ‘Why don’t we approach it from that angle?’”
“There are a few other ranch-style homes in the neighborhood that have been here for quite awhile, but they are more traditional, with clad siding and things like that,” Lorna says. “So ours is definitely different.”
The challenge was convincing the architectural review board that the home wouldn’t upset the status quo in the planned community — especially from the street.
To achieve that goal, Bruce designed a front courtyard with a walled screen that shields the contemporary elements from public view. Once you step into the courtyard, the restrained façade turns into a modern oasis punctuated by bold, sleek lines; structural materials of stacked stone, wood and glass; and straight-edged planters brimming with succulents and grasses. The covered corridor runs parallel to a linear water feature with a concrete bridge that continues to the back yard and even across the pool, inferring the spaces are connected.
The architecture hints at the influence of its early predecessors with a low-pitched roof; broad, overhanging eaves; exposed beams; and a central living area with walls of glass. The doors open up completely, creating a covered pavilion that bridges the interior and exterior and splits the house into two wings. This open-concept living/dining/kitchen space serves as the heart of the home.
Interior designer Anita Dawson played with organic materials and asymmetrical forms throughout the space to give it a warm yet contemporary feel.
Serving as the only division between the living room and dining room, a double-sided, quartzite fireplace with an off-center design steals the spotlight. Lightweight steel panels above the fireplace that open to reveal a flat-screen television are a feat of engineering the homeowners helped execute.
Reminiscent of the wood paneling you might find in early ranch homes, bamboo ceilings continue seamlessly to the over-hanging eaves outside, adding warmth to offset the concrete, glass and porcelain-tile floor.
“It’s an engineered product; that’s why you can extend it outside,” Bruce says. “It’s so much more practical than a normal wood treatment on a ceiling.”
Chosen in a neutral color palette, furnishings complement Lorna’s photography hanging on the living room wall in a gallery-like setting.
“The first thing we picked out was the exterior stone, and that really determined the palette of the furnishings,” Anita says. “It’s warm, it’s cool and it has a little bit of this violet thing going on and some gold. Everything built off that.”
The dining room features a floor-to-ceiling, glass wine cabinet with a geometric grid of shelves and interior lighting that immediately catches the eye.
“I thought, “Let’s do something that’s really different with the materials and super modern, like it dropped in the room from outer space. I wanted it to feel like it was a completely different element, not a part of this room at all,” Anita says.
Horizontal windows in the kitchen flood the space with natural light and provide a garden view. A natural wood burl island bar top and flat-paneled walnut wood cabinetry soften the black-leathered granite countertops and black bar chairs.
Customized to Andy and Lorna’s lifestyle, the house includes a bar area large enough to accommodate a shuffleboard table and pool table and a 1,845-square-foot garage for Andy’s race car collection. The couple converted spare bedrooms into a home gym and his-and-her offices.
In the spirit of traditional ranch style, the plan was configured to embrace the exterior. Every room flows effortlessly to the outdoors, without any steps or grading, to make what Cliff May termed “ground contact.” Fire elements and water features in the front courtyard and back yard lure one outside.
“I love the flow of this home — the easy, clear path from front to back,” Homes of the Year judge Anne Sneed says. “The home feels ‘settled,’ with beautiful materials inside and out. The kitchen, with a standout wine cellar, is a favorite. It’s the best of what Santaluz can be.”
Bruce attributes the project’s success to Andy and Lorna.
“Ordinarily you get three-quarters of what you want done and the rest sort of lingers. People either run out of money or energy, so it doesn’t quite come together — the landscaping doesn’t get done, the furnishings don’t get put in.
“When I called Andy to tell him that we won the Homes of the Year contest, I said, ‘You know, this is all about the clients.’ Anybody in town can design an award-winning house if they have the right client, because it’s the client that ultimately is going to allow you to do these things. There are a lot of talented people out there; you just have to have the clients that will go along with what you want to do and who have a vision of their own.” ❖