A visit to the lovely building sites within Tehama, located not far from the seaside village of Carmel-by-the-Sea, was all it took for Chris and Fred Brown to make a momentous decision. “We’d been thinking about finding a place where we could eventually retire,” says Chris, who had been living in the East Bay with her husband. “A friend had suggested we explore joining Tehama’s golf course, and while investigating that, we began looking at properties.” The couple had entertained the idea of building elsewhere in the past, but “seeing the breathtaking sites at Tehama reignited that flame,” says Chris, adding, “Now, the time was right.”
Over time, the property—almost 7 acres within the exclusive Clint Eastwood development—continued to influence the vision for the serene home that is now seamlessly integrated into its surroundings. Looking for a contemporary design that would capitalize on the site’s views, the couple turned to architect Mary Ann Gabriele Schicketanz. “The site was completely wooded except for a building area on a knoll with a road leading up to it,” explains Schicketanz. “Our breakthrough concept came from the idea of preserving the obvious building site as outdoor space, relocating the house and rerouting the drive.”
This course of action would give not only the house, but its outdoor living areas, as well, unobstructed panoramic views of Carmel Valley and the Santa Lucia Range. Within this siting, Schicketanz conceived of a residence and its guesthouse organized around a central courtyard. For the main structure, the architect devised a long and skinny volume marked by wood and glass. “It’s one large rectangle with tall windows, and it’s penetrated by plaster cubes that push through the glass walls,” she says. When deciding on the materials and finishes of the structure, the architect kept both the couple’s wishes and comfort in mind. “The owners wanted a modern style,” she says. “And this concept is quite radical, but the choice of the finishes and materials gives the house a high degree of texture and ambience.”
In the main volume, for example, reclaimed-teak flooring and a fir ceiling warm the space, which is marked by floorto- ceiling fir-framed windows. The entry and the living and dining areas are flooded with natural light and provide little distinction between indoors and outside. According to builders Todd Hunt and Forrest Hunt, an expanse of 14-foot-tall windows on the south living area wall consists of three pieces of more than 1-inch-thick glass, which are fused at the seams with glass fins for stability and to meet the area’s wind load requirements. The result is a completely unlimited view of the landscape beyond.
Conversely, the three cubes that splice into the open volume—and individually contain the master suite, the kitchen and a library—are focused within. “During the day, you want to connect with the landscape, so you have a general living space that opens up to nature,” explains Schicketanz. “The large central space is very light; it’s like being outside under a tree canopy. We designed the plaster cubes as places to retreat whenever one seeks privacy or a cozy space.” All three rooms feature integral color plaster walls, travertine floors and niches set into 18-inch-thick walls framing French doors.
When it came to appointing the various spaces, an initial furniture plan was done by Schicketanz. The couple then worked with Elaine Bordogna—a designer and antiques dealer with a 1stdibs shop, Elaine Claire, who also happens to be part of the Brown family—and designer Rachelle Sessions of RKS Interiors to execute the design. Antiques the couple had purchased with Bordogna for their previous residence, including a large 19th-century Agra rug residing in the living area, now mingle with sleek contemporary items by Christian Liaigre and Jean de Merry.
“To us, the drama of the house is in how it highlights the beauty of the setting,” says Chris. “We didn’t want the interior to compete with that, but enhance it. We wanted the interior to feel edited yet polished.” To lend a final layer to the space, art consultant Heather Marx of Heather Marx Art Advisory helped curate pieces by Ken Fandell and David Simpson.
Outside, the architecture is supported and enhanced by the efforts of the builders, as well as landscape designer Bernard Trainor. The builders utilized about 600 cubic yards of Carmel stone, which came out of the ground during construction. “We saved it all and used it for the garage, retaining walls, and the exterior walls of the guesthouse,” says Todd Hunt, who used the stone as a veneer over structural walls. The living room fireplace was formed from the stone, as well, bringing the texture inside.
Following Schicketanz’s lead, Trainor created what he calls “a variety of different landscape experiences.” Outside the building footprint, he added sculptural coast live oak trees and native grasses to augment those natural to the site. When it came to the central courtyard, things got a little more artistic. “We created a whole new understory of plantings with rosemary, thyme, oregano and sage around the gathering and sitting areas, and added olive trees for a canopy effect,” Trainor explains. “There’s a lot of crossover with the hardscape, and many of the plants come up through the gravel in the courtyard.” Additionally, Trainor refined the landscape around the driveway and installed a green roof above the garage.
The owners’ overriding desire of connecting the house with the land and making the views a focal point proved prescient. “The view of the mountains draws you in and the weather patterns are very dramatic,” Chris says. “Magical clouds give way to rolling blankets of fog that line the canyons. Whether it’s sunrise, sunset or the moon overhead, we are always aware and impacted by what’s happening outside. It’s a lovely way to live.”
— Linda Hayes