DNM Architecture Sea Ranch Garden

Location: The Sea Ranch, CA
Program: A new single family home designed to fit seamlessly into a 1960s community.
Net pEUI: -2.27
Area: 2227sf
Images: By owner and DNM Architecture
Structural Engineer: Puns & Associates

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The Sea Ranch

Along the California coast, about 100 miles north of San Francisco, lies The Sea Ranch – a community of homes that exemplify and preserve the iconic coastal modern architectural style. Established in 1964, The Sea Ranch is based on a simple, enlightened architectural philosophy: each structure in the community should respond to the specific conditions and placement within its environment, but also respond to one another in such a way that they become a cohesive group. Many notable architects of the time contributed to the early residential designs that gave the area its unified architectural style. 

The clients are a two artists with two grown children. The lot sits at the edge of a giant meadow, nestled against mature Monterey Cypress trees, with common areas and public hiking trails nearby, and a cliffside overlooking the Pacific Ocean just 450 feet away. Among other features, the clients requested individual work studios as well as a vegetable and ornamental garden. The private garden, however, must be hidden from public view to comply with the strict community design standards, which mandate maintaining the Sea Ranch’s rustic and natural look. 

The architectural concept that developed from the design program is called “The Sun Catcher,” alluding to the south facing private garden-courtyard that catches the sun’s rays and reflects light and warmth into the living areas of the home. The design is comprised of two separate buildings: an L-shaped main house and a shorter, free-standing garage + office. Together, the buildings frame the hidden sun-catcher courtyard. Both structures are clad in vertical knotty cedar with muted, dark metal window frames to stay true to the area’s original 1960s coastal modern design standards. The design makes maximum use of the lot’s geographical location and blends perfectly with the community so that to the unaware, it would appear as if it had been standing for decades. 

The L-shaped home is oriented to block the strong northwest winds and catch the southern sun reflected from the courtyard. An expansive great room combines the kitchen, living and dining rooms into a public area of the home, and features vaulted ceilings and accordion folding glass doors that open to the courtyard, creating a true indoor/outdoor living experience. 

Perpendicular to -and rising above- the living space, the front of the home avoids a cliché traditional street-facing front door and offers a breezeway with access to the living space on the left, an artist’s studio to the right, and the courtyard straight ahead. Protecting this entrance is a wooden gate that provides security and a wind screen. Sitting above this front entrance is an expansive primary suite that occupies the entire second floor and features a small deck and corner window where the owners can catch a view of the ocean. This two-story portion is the dominant visual seen from the street. 

Lastly, the free-standing garage with attached second studio sits along the southern edge of the lot, providing privacy from nearby neighbors and completing the “Sun Catcher” courtyard. 

The house employs innovative heating strategies, including radiant floor heating from electric hot water tanks connected to solar panels and a back-up battery system. There is no gas or propane in the project. Between highly insulated walls and roof, smart geographic orientation, passive design features, and energy efficient appliances and lighting, the home is designed to achieve a net-zero energy use.