Sea Ranch style

See how the California coastline inspired a couple to build the house of their dreams
Mary Jo Bowling

Stand in front of the weathered gray wood and glass house that Maynard Hale Lyndon and Lu Wendell Lyndon built on the northern coast of California, and it's immediately clear what inspires them: the landscape. Every direction yields a spectacular view of grassy meadow, trees, ocean, or sky. Inside the house, each window and glass door is strategically placed to frame these scenes.

"We love the Sea Ranch premise of living as one with the land," says Maynard, referring to the ecology-oriented plan that guides this community, which clusters living units together to preserve a minimum of 40 percent of the 4,000-acre site as undeveloped space.

For the Lyndons, who have made good design a way of life, the house represents both a return to their native California and the beginning of a new chapter.

The couple headed east 30 years ago to pursue work with a renowned housewares company (Design Research) before opening their own group of housewares stores (Placewares) and then launching a line of products under the name LyndonDesign.

But about 10 years ago, they were ready to return home, combine their companies into Placewares+LyndonDesign in nearby Gualala, and build a house. "We wanted to create a home that represented what we love most in the world ― things like nature, friends, and entertaining," Maynard says.

As the Lyndons had spent the better part of their lives designing beautiful, functional, and whimsical household items, it was inevitable that their house would be something special.

 

Efficient, thoughtful ― and fun

A double torii ― a Japanese temple gate made of upright posts and beams across the top ― marks a main entrance to the home. Two small, trellis-covered benches frame the walkway and are the first of many opportunities to sit and enjoy nature.

"We wanted a sunny place in front of the house to relax with a cup of tea," Maynard says. The glass front door is aligned with rear French doors, creating the illusion of a lens focusing on the grassy meadow and ocean beyond the house.

Inside, the modest 1,750-square-foot home comes to life with the colors and playfulness that define the Lyndons' style. "We loved the idea of infusing a piece of California history with a casual, modern flair," Lu says.

The living room, dining room, and kitchen share one big window-lined space; sliding barn doors separate smaller rooms located off the larger living area.

Deep built-in benches topped with heather gray cushions and a vibrant collection of throw pillows form an L-shape around the room, enveloping it in comfort and color. Another bench serves as seating for the dining table.

"The benches are the perfect spot to curl up and read ― they were designed to be the right height to enjoy the view from any angle," Maynard says.

Lu chose energetic yellow, orange, and red for the pillows and dining room chairs, envisioning the room as "a field of poppies." A central island houses a cylindrical Rais woodstove that projects warmth in all directions.

Open shelves in the kitchen house plates, bowls, and glasses ― each selected for its functionality and appearance.

"We love everything in our house," Lu says. "We still use the same dishes I bought more than 40 years ago, and I like them just as much today as I did then."

Upstairs, Maynard designed the bed in the master bedroom to face a pair of glass doors that lead to a small balcony overlooking the meadow and the ocean.

"We can see the sunset in the evening and the stars at night," he says. "Waking up in this bed each morning is like glimpsing paradise," Lu adds.

It's almost impossible not to get swept up in the Lyndons' affection for their home. On their 20th wedding anniversary, Maynard presented Lu with a metal plaque etched with early sketches of the house.

The plaque, which hangs at the entry, reads in part: WITH THE COMPLETION OF THIS SPECIAL PLACE, WE SET OUR FEET FIRMLY ON SEA RANCH GROUND, AFTER VISITING AND LOVING THIS AMAZING LANDSCAPE FOR OVER 35 YEARS.

 

Elements of Sea Ranch style

The Sea Ranch is a community of houses and condominiums that stretches 10 miles along Northern California's rugged Sonoma coast.

Crisply contemporary, regionally inspired shed- and gable-roofed houses ― generally without overhangs ― are made of weathered wood and glass. Architect Donlyn Lyndon, who designed this house, was one of the originators of this way of building; many Sea Ranch houses have won AIA- Sunset Western Home Awards.

Recommended reading: The Sea Ranch (Princeton Architectural Press, 2004; $65) by Donlyn Lyndon and Jim Alinder. Visit www.tsra.org for more information about the Sea Ranch.

Design: Donlyn Lyndon (510/845-1525); Placewares+LyndonDesign, Gualala, CA (707/884-1184).

Resources: Hanging sculpture The Toy (1951) by Charles and Ray Eames. Throw pillows from Placewares ($30–$50; 707/884-1184). Freestanding wood stove from Rais. Carpet from Woodnotes. Cloud stacking armchair in red by Carlo Bartoli manufactured by Segis. GlassGlass pendant lamp over dining room table from Luceplan (212/966-1399).