Five months into the 2020 lockdown, a young San Francisco couple bought an empty lot in idyllic Lafayette to build a spacious, modern farmhouse. They’d been living in a luxurious high-rise building in the city and hustling at their jobs—he in civil construction, she in corporate retail—while fully enjoying the amenities of urban life. But the triple whammy of the pandemic, working from home and a new baby caused them to question some of their life choices. “We knew we weren’t going to live in the city forever, but suddenly our interest in leaving town increased,” the wife says.
She has family roots in Tennessee and her husband grew up in the wilderness of Alaska and Oregon. “I like to say we are city people with country souls,” she says, noting that their closets are full of cowboy boots, the soundtrack to their lives is country music, and their ideal vacation involves skiing down mountain slopes. With this newly purchased land, they could live out their open-space dreams with their daughter while also staying connected to the larger urban center with easy access to downtown Lafayette and a BART station that makes visiting San Francisco a quick trip.
The lot came with mature oak and redwood trees as well as preapproved plans for a large, traditional abode with notes of both ranch and Craftsman styles. Hoping to build something more contemporary, they hired friend and interior designer Sondra Ganz to adjust elements to suit their preferred aesthetic and needs. “They had been living in a high-rise. Since this is a much larger home, we practically started from scratch furniture-wise,” the designer explains. “I asked them: ‘How do you want to tell the story of your life with this house?’ ”
They landed on a livable, effortlessly elegant modern farmhouse look. Ganz admits that this style can feel cookie-cutter—even ubiquitous— in the wrong hands. But for these homeowners, it was the right fit. “They embody modern farmhouse,” the designer says. “If I were to write the script of their life together, it would be mountain man meets modern-country woman. Their love story is a meeting of the minds.” With Ganz’s guidance, the decor tells a tale that feels both elevated and personal.
In the charming powder room, this mix of his-and-hers is on full display. The woodland-inspired wallcovering is a nod to the husband’s bird-hunting hobby—a vestige of his Alaska days. Nickel and black metal fixtures along with dark granite round out the masculine feel, while milk-glass sconces, blue basket-weave marble flooring and pompom- trimmed hand towels bring in softer notes.
The same goes for the approachable-yet-luxurious living room, where an oversize iron chandelier and deep leather sectional find delicate counterparts in the petite shearling-and-acrylic stools and bone inlay accessories on the custom oak bookshelves.
The home’s original exterior plans called for green shingles; its Craftsman vibe was heavy with bay windows, mullions and railings. Ganz’s preconstruction design changes were simple yet impactful: She shaved off many of these elements, making the front porch more accessible and inviting. “We love this feature,” the wife says. “It reminds me of my Southern roots.” The designer also changed the siding to classic white board-and- batten and paired the neutral canvas with black- framed windows and a gray standing-seam metal roof. At the rear of the dwelling, she made tweaks so that indoor-outdoor entertaining would be more effortless, such as using bifold windows to connect the classically elegant chef’s kitchen to the patio.
Landscape architect David Thorne was brought on to reimagine the backyard for family living. Traditional sod lawn was nixed to make way for sports-friendly artificial turf. The much-used pool features bluestone coping, and the surrounding architectural concrete pavers are topped with chaises. Shaded by mature redwoods, the gardens feature a mix of California-native rushes, ferns and groundcover geraniums to “add a feeling of woodland understory,” Thorne explains.
Further honoring local materials, the home incorporates charred oak salvaged from a 2020 wildfire in Santa Cruz’s Big Basin Redwoods State Park. The entry console, living room coffee table and front-porch columns all come from this cache of burned oak that would have been disposed of otherwise.
Taken together, the resulting residence is a place that suits the people who live there. “Sondra was able to blend our love for all things country and Western with our desire to keep things fresh and modern,” the wife says. Ganz agrees: “The home truly feels like they dreamed it and built it for themselves.”