“William Wurster created that California ranch house look,” says interior designer Paul Vincent Wiseman, describing the inspiration behind the interiors he and design principal James Hunter devised for a young family’s renovated Bay Area home. “We took our cues from that simplicity.” Wurster—whose circa 1928 Gregory Farmhouse in Scotts Valley is considered by many the prototypical ranch house—innovated such features as using natural materials and flexible spaces with strong indoor-outdoor connections, traits which resonate with the house after its dramatic transformation.
Architect Charlie Barnett and his project architect, Scott Baughman, were charged with reimagining the existing ranch house into a more contemporary, light-filled version of the style. Retaining only the existing footprint and one fireplace, Barnett opened up the rooms to flow into one another and opened up the house to its wooded lot. Set adjacent to a grove of mature redwoods, the home originally had a hipped roof and broad low eaves that prevented sunlight from entering the structure. To remedy the situation, Barnett “carefully brought in shafts of light with skylight wells,” he explains.
Barnett also raised ceilings up to 12 feet and added floor-to-ceiling window walls and transoms to instantly brighten spaces. Natural light was welcomed through skylights over a built-in banquette in the living room, two over the double master bath sinks, another in the master dressing room, and still another in the kitchen. On the exterior, the architect used western red cedar cladding and mahogany on the doors and windows to warm up the new flat-roofed, rectilinear structure. “We try to bring in a lot of materiality so it doesn’t read as a stark modern house,” he says. A pivoting 8-foot-square front door flanked with glass side lights also adds a sense of graciousness.
For builder Philip Wilkinson, those huge expanses of glass proved challenging. “The size and weight of the glass walls, windows and doors were enormous, and the openings were huge!” he exclaims. “They were also split-finish windows and doors—mahogany exteriors with white oak interiors.” That, coupled with the fact that “everything in the house relates to something else” meant, he says, “that the framing is almost like finish work because everything has to line up.”
That integrated approach extended to the interiors as Wiseman and Hunter collaborated with Barnett on the material and finish selection, creating “a marriage of architecture and interiors,” says Hunter, adding that he and Wiseman based their design on what he describes as their philosophy of “being really honest with materials—the cedar, the gray stone floors and plaster walls—so we kept the palette restrained.” A neutral array of beiges, grays and golds rules the roost, punctuated with infusions of subtle color. They chose celadon accents in the library to play off a striking limestone fireplace surround, above which hangs a painting by Gina Borg. Pillows sewn from rust-and-gold-hued Fortuny fabric rest on similarly rich-toned chairs in the living area. For the glassed-in master bedroom, the designers worked with creamy caramel colors to keep the focus on the lush landscape just outside.
In the living area, the designers worked with Barnett to develop built-in floor-to-ceiling shelving made from light cerused oak that “looks like a Mondrian grid,” says Hunter. “Once the Mondrian grid was locked in, we used it throughout.” The geometry of the shelves inspired the room’s stainless-steel fireplace panels—treated to look like white bronze—and a high-backed bench at the dining table. The latter creates intimacy by delineating the dining area within the larger space, adds Wiseman. “Dropping lighting fixtures low into the living area and kitchen,” he says, also helps accomplish this. The coffee table—a series of rectangles joined at the base—and a Joseph Jeup console marked by raised squares also lend nods to the grid motif.
Outside, landscape architect Scott R. Lewis connected outdoor areas with limestone terraces and paths, and played up the graciousness of the entry with a generous patio. He winnowed some large redwoods in the back, clearing underbrush to create a fire pit. And he moved ornamental plants and trees in the front to reveal “the new sleek lines of the home.” Last, Lewis wanted to give the existing pool “the deep gray-blue character of a forest pool,” he says. “We got it by picking a plaster color and tile that made it a deep azure to look like a reflecting pool.”
The design works as a whole to move from the scenic outdoor spaces to the warm light-filled interiors and back again. “It’s a very indoor-outdoor aesthetic,” says Wiseman, adding that the house “integrates Wurster’s understanding that we live in California.”