By Julie Sheer
Nestled into a coastal canyon near Santa Barbara, California, this family retreat does its best to be one with nature. Surrounded by 100-plus-year-old oak trees, it is set deep within steep sandstone canyon walls with distant ridgeline views. The spectacular Gaviota Coast nearby represents a transitional zone between the South and Central coasts of California — an ecologically rich area treasured by nature lovers and surfers.

Designed to be low maintenance and unfussy, it's a comfortable retreat for weekends of surfing, beach walking, hiking and relaxing, says Dave Mendro of Neumann Mendro Andrulaitis Architects, who oversaw the project. The home "needed to be in tune with the natural environment around them," he says. The homeowners "wanted a sanctuary — a place they could retreat to that is perfectly in tune with their needs and makes them happy and comfortable."

House at a Glance

  • Who lives here: Parents with two sons use the home as a retreat for weekends and extended stays
  • Location: Inland canyon near the Gaviota Coast in Santa Barbara County, California
  • Size: 2,096 square feet (195 square meters); two bedrooms, two bathrooms in main residence, plus an 800-square-foot guesthouse with one bedroom and one bathroom
  • Architect: Neumann Mendro Andrulaitis Architects
  • General contractor: RHC Construction

Integrating the home into the remote canyon site proved to be the main challenge, Mendro says. The result was a "snaking" floor plan with living spaces linked by flat roof connections. The photo above is a view of the back of the home looking toward sandstone cliffs in the distance. The roofing is flat-seam weathered copper, with rusted rain chains hanging from it.

Its location in a pristine woodland also presented an opportunity for the team to work the home into the natural terrain, fitting the living spaces into existing boulders and oaks. "We worked hard to preserve the natural setting and trees so that the building feels natural, like it evolved from the site and has been there many, many years." Mendro says.

A guesthouse and detached garage-utility building are located slightly downhill from the main residence, which has an attached two-car garage at the lower level. In the photo here, the main residence is on the left and a coastal live oak shades the area between the structures.

The curved roof played a big part in the design of the interior space, resulting in a unique ceiling. "The curved roof creates some wonderful, spacious volumes inside with the added texture of the exposed Douglas fir stained beams," Mendro says. The expanse of sliding glass doors faces south and opens to a large outdoor patio with a gas fire pit and dining area beneath oak trees. "The irregular flagstone floors on the interior flow seamlessly to the patio, further blurring the line between indoors and outdoors, and bringing nature inside," Mendro says.

The dining and living areas incorporate elements that reflect the family's devotion to the nearby Gaviota Coast. The dining table, designed by the homeowner and built by Neil Crancer of RHC Construction, was constructed of reclaimed wood salvaged from the beach when the Gaviota Pier was destroyed in a winter swell several years ago. The table's steel base, created by Jeff Mielcarek of Artistic Wrought Iron, emulates the steel railroad trestles along the Gaviota Coast. The two leather-and-wood rocking chairs were made by a craftsman in Costa Rica and were a gift from the owner's parents.

Beautiful views of the Santa Ynez Mountains through floor-to-ceiling glass walls extend through the great room to the kitchen. An eye-catching wood pelican light fixture over the kitchen island was carved by Santa Barbara craftsman Danny Smith of Wood Reflections. "These fit the owners' theme of celebrating the nature and wildlife of the Central Coast setting," Mendro says. The kitchen countertops are blue-gray Lagos Azul limestone, and the custom cabinets and shelving are kiln-dried Douglas fir.

The master suite forms the south wing of the home. A painting above the fireplace by the late artist Robert Heeley was purchased by the owners at an event to raise money for the preservation of the Gaviota Coast. "Robert, since passed, specialized in landscape paintings of the Central Coast and loved to surf, so the owners felt it really fit with their house and lifestyle," Mendro says. Cherokee sandstone was used for the fireplace hearth.

The master bathroom features an open shower "wet room" plan. The sink is concrete. The water closet and clothes closet are enclosed by horizontal kiln-dried framing lumber. Though the property is remote, utilities are provided by a public electric company. Water and the septic system are from private water and septic companies.

The shower and closet curtain is made from a salvaged waterproof banner ad featuring a picture of the family's oldest son surfing at the World Surf League Vans Triple Crown of Surfing contest on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii.

The guest bedroom is at the opposite end of the house, creating the north wing. The cozy space features stained Douglas fir ceiling beams and walls constructed of integrally colored plaster and board-form concrete.

A window set in the guest bathroom walls, which are made of board-formed concrete, looks out on the front yard.

A stairway with a railing of painted wrought iron leads to the laundry-utility room and garage at ground level. A skylight illuminates a surfing poster.

Cherokee flagstone flooring continues from the house to the outside patio, which was created to provide both sunny and shaded areas among natural boulders and oak trees.

Natural landscaping blends in with the surrounding woodland habitat. Primarily native and drought-tolerant, the plants and materials were chosen for their fire resistance. The fire-prone area dries up when temperatures soar and winds blow.

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