Case Study: Sea Ranch Meadow II by Turnbull Griffin Haesloop Architects

The spare richness of the early Sea Ranch houses is evident at Sea Ranch Meadow II, which came along last year, some six decades after Charles Moore, William Turnbull Jr., Lawrence Halprin, and their cohorts began building this outpost along Sonoma County’s northern coastline. Carrying out the ethos of design driven by nature, the timber home’s sloping rooflines and stepped floor plan rise and fall with the land that has watched it all unfold. 

Part two of a small weekend compound Turnbull Griffin Haesloop Architects designed for the client 15 years ago, this newest piece was tailored for the empty-nester couple. Their intent was to turn the original 1,100-square-foot house and guest house over to their kids, who have growing families of their own. The architects were happy to add the next layer to the property, although it meant undoing some of their previous careful work to block views between the lots. “Originally, we had built the guest house to screen our clients’ view of anything the neighbor might be building,” says Eric Haesloop, FAIA. “The person who owned it proposed a big, ugly house on that site.” So when his clients later purchased that still-empty lot, they puzzled over how to make a connection. “We thought, ‘Oh no, we overachieved—we did too good a job of blocking the lot,” Eric says. “Then we realized we could cut a passage through the guest house, like a gatehouse, that links the properties by a footpath.”

Indeed, the resulting pathways create a cohesive whole. By removing a hot tub in the central breezeway of the bar-shaped guest house, the architects created a decked path that cuts straight through the guest house and continues on to the new dwelling and its parking lot. 

“At Sea Ranch it’s about being a good neighbor to the site and the context you’re building in,” Eric says. The 2,000-square-foot house and garage are made of three simple, shed-roof volumes. The large central roofline tracks the slope east to west across the lot and the tree line behind it, while the primary bedroom and detached garage roofs tilt up toward the meadow. The land’s natural contours are expressed inside, too. The foyer steps up to a large living and dining room. Straight ahead on the south, a 22-foot-long wall of sliding glass opens to a stone patio and the bucolic meadow. East of the living space, the semi-detached primary suite sits a few steps higher, and a bunk room on the west is slightly sunken. 

“It’s a pretty simple vacation house program,” Eric says. “While the other house has a very open kitchen, they wanted a separate kitchen because they liked the idea of not having to clean up immediately. A breakfast nook in the corner gets eastern light, and the great room, with a big TV at one end, is a place for all the generations to spend time. The owners’ bedroom is raised up a bit, and then the bunk room on the opposite side of the house is for grandkids.”

Light Craft

In every room, the architects made poetic use of sunlight. For example, an operable skylight in the living room’s southwest corner deposits a shaft of light that acts as a sundial, tracking the time of day. This wash of light balances light from the large bank of sliding doors on the south, along with two windows placed diagonally in the great room. A set of vertical windows on the northeast corner frames the property’s tall firs, while the horizontal window seat on the southwest takes in a patch of blue ocean.

The light throws the three-dimensional wood ceilings into relief. Super-durable red cedar has become the exterior cladding of choice for Sea Ranch, Eric says, and here it reappears as shiplap on the sloped ceilings—a throwback to old rowboats. “The first house had beautiful cedar ceilings the owner really liked, but it was all exposed construction with insulation above,” he says. “Now with energy codes and aiming for Net Zero and more efficient construction, this roof is super-insulated, with a foot-deep space above it filled with spray foam. We wanted to have a crafted ceiling, like we did with the exposed construction. We do build houses differently now than 15 years ago; it was fun to think about a different way to give expression to this tactile quality.”

Sourcing all that cedar was not easy. To avoid splicing, builder Eric Jackson ordered 20-foot-long, 1-by-6-inch clear vertical-grain tongue-and-groove cedar boards with a saw texture and square edge. “We purchased all the clear logs available in Northern California and still needed more,” says the builder. “It’s hard to get that much clear cedar in 20-foot lengths. Our lumber supplier in Healdsburg contacted his Canadian sources. As logs were coming out of the forest, they pulled some and shipped them down to us, which took about three months.” The continuous shiplap ceiling ties the dining room in the main living space to the enclosed kitchen, where it stops short of a skylight slotted along the outer wall. And the wood ceilings stop 1/16th of an inch short of the finished Sheetrock walls, creating a shadow line.

Wood for Thought

“I love the old Sea Ranch houses,” Eric says. “We’re working on an iconic condo with 10-by-10 posts and beams. That’s not how you build today, but we’re looking at how and where we use wood.” In addition to the ceilings, he used it to line discrete spaces set into crisp, light-washed walls, such as the breakfast nook, the primary bedroom bay, and the living-room-to-bedroom connector, where built-in niches hold the owners’ collection of Japanese objects. 

On a visit to a lumberyard, the design-focused couple claimed a strikingly textured log for their bed headboard. They also worked with the architects and a local metalsmith to design and build the walnut dining table and sideboard from fallen trees and sustainably harvested slabs. 

In keeping with a nature-first ethic, materials are plain but perfectly detailed: white oak floors for the bedrooms, painted wood cabinets, durable Neolith countertops, and dark limestone floors set in a Japanese pattern that’s characterized by random angled cuts. The radiant-heated stone provides insulated thermal mass to maintain a comfortable indoor temperature. And the long, sloping roof is an ideal surface for the photovoltaic array, which generates surplus power.

Small or large, none of these thoughtful gestures is lost on the owners. “They are effusive about living here,” Eric says. “Part of what’s so satisfying as an architect is that the owners are so visually aware and have a very sophisticated design sense. Sometimes the details don’t get valued, but in this case they are fully appreciated.”

Sea Ranch Meadow II

Sonoma, California

Project Credits

Architect: Eric Haesloop, FAIA, and Mary Griffin, FAIA, principals in charge; Yan Huang and Sara Dewey, AIA, project team, Turnbull Griffin Haesloop, Berkeley, California

Builder: David Hillmer, Empire Construction/Pioneer Construction; and Eric Jackson, White Barn General Contracting & Electrical, both of Gualala, California

Interior designer: Owner, with Turnbull Griffin Haesloop

Landscape architect: Joni L. Janecki & Associates, Santa Cruz, California

Metal fabricator: Joseph Farais, 3D Studio, Oakland, California

Tabletops: Ed Clay, Carneros Studios, Napa, California

Wood slabs: Evan Shively, Arborica, Petaluma, California

Project size: 2,038 square feet

Site size: 0.6 acre

Construction cost: Withheld

Photography: David Wakely

Key Products

Cladding: Western red cedar

Cooking vent hood: Miele

Cooktop/range: Wolf

Countertops: Neolith

Decking: 6×6 redwood blocks

Dishwasher: Miele

Entry door hardware: Baldwin

Exterior lighting: BK Lighting

Faucets: Dornbracht, VOLA

Foundation: Concrete slab on grade

Insulation: DuPont™ Styrofoam™ Brand Cavitymate™, Icynene

Interior lighting: EST Lighting, Milpitas, Ingo Maurer

Lighting control systems: Lutron

Outdoor grill: Wolf

Paints/stains/coatings: Benjamin Moore, custom white

Passage door hardware: Emtek, Omnia, Green Street

Photovoltaics: Sol-Ark inverter, Simpliphi batteries, LG wall panels

Refrigerator: Sub-Zero

Roofing: Owens Corning Supreme 3-Tab shingle, Onyx Black

Sinks: Berlin, Duravit

Skylights: CrystaLite

Thermal barrier: PREPRUFE, W.R. Grace, BITUTHENE, Adcor, AQUAFIN

Toilets: TOTO

Tubs: Kohler

Vanities: Duravit

Ventilation: Panasonic

Washer/dryer: LG

Window shading systems: Hunter Douglas

Window wall systems: Fleetwood

Windows: Milgard