It’s the heart of a compound in rural Mendocino County, and the perfect low-key escape.

Mendocino Ranch Cabin Living Room
Holbrook furnished the restored 19th-century cabin with a mix of vintage pieces and furniture from Portland-based Rejuvenation. Photo by Thomas J. Story.

“The owner of the property really wants to preserve and regenerate the land, to be a steward of sorts,” says Topanga-based interior designer Eva Holbrook. She helped transform this one-bedroom redwood-paneled hideaway near Ukiah, CA, two hours north of San Francisco and a world away from the glamor of wine country, into the ultimate rural retreat. On 2,000 acres of land, there’s a guest cottage, a barn with a corral, a former distillery, a caretaker’s cottage, and a hut that was once used to shear sheep which is now a small guest house. Just looking at the photos of the pristine landscape makes you want to take a deep breath of fresh air. It’s the ultimate ranch life fantasy, and some would argue that its rural surroundings are more appealing—and less attainable—than ever.

Eva Holbrook Arranging Flowers in the Dining Room
Holbrook arranges some grasses found on the property in a ceramic pitcher. New paneling milled from redwood harvested on the property takes its cues from the home’s original walls. Here it’s installed horizontally in the dining room and vertically in the living room beyond.

Thomas J. Story

Here are a couple of statistics about the Golden State that may help explain the land lust. The 2020 Census revealed that 94.2% of California residents live in urban areas, beating out Nevada by a tenth of a percentage. And there’s an average of 4.79 residents per square mile, denser than New York, and the highest urbanization share of all 50 states. In short that means most of the residents are huddled together in packed city centers, leaving all of that wide-open space, well, wide-open. Anyone who has flown from Burbank to Oakland can attest to the fact that there’s plenty of room to spread out, in theory. However much of it is either protected land, inhospitable terrain, or out of reach of basic amenities like water and power. Finding your personal Eden away from the throng requires a sizable budget, a lot of effort, a willingness to go far afield, and the vision to spot a diamond in the rough, like this one.

Mendocino Ranch Cabin Exterior
There are a couple of more modern structures on the expansive property, but this settler’s cabin is the focal point.

Thomas J. Story

When the owners found this large swath of property in Northern California, it needed, in real estate parlance, TLC.

“To get to the house, you take a long, dirt logging road from town for about five miles out to the property, so it feels pretty remote once you are here,” Holbrook says.

The first structure on the ranch was originally built in the late 1800s as part of a homestead and sheep ranch. It was renovated sometime around the 1940s, but it hadn’t been touched in decades. Its time-capsule simplicity was part of its charm, and Holbrook’s goal was to modernize the home, adding two bedrooms and bathrooms, new windows and doors, all while keeping as much of its rustic appeal as possible.

“We were inspired by the Ralph Lauren ranch in Colorado as well as the Georgia O’Keeffe home and studio in New Mexico,” says Holbrook. “We wanted that lived-in super cozy feel but with a few more modern elements blended in. So we knew right away we wanted to keep the original stone fireplace and redwood paneling.”

Mendocino Ranch Cabin Kitchen
Holbrook kept the original terracotta tile backsplash and floors and upgraded the cabinetry and plumbing.

Thomas J. Story

The original panels were carefully removed to upgrade the electrical system and plumbing and then replaced. Redwood found on the property was milled to mimic board and batten paneling for the expanded and new rooms on the first floor. There was some debate over whether to keep the terracotta tile floor and backsplash in the kitchen, but they ultimately decided to keep it and install oak floors throughout the rest of the home. Holbrook used Zia tile in all three bathrooms, choosing a grass-green glaze for the primary bathroom that brings the colors of the outdoors in.

Mendocino Ranch Cabin Bathroom
Rectangular tile from Zia in Prairie Green in the primary bathroom adds a pop of color to the otherwise neutral decor.

Thomas J. Story

“We also decided to keep the old wood stove and turn it into a bar area in the dining room. It was my client’s idea, and it was genius,” she says. “We leaned into the rustic vibe in the kitchen with the pine cabinets and wood countertop. I really wanted it to still look somewhat ‘original’ and classic.”

Vintage Stove Bar
The original wood stove was cleaned, polished, and repurposed as a bar.

Thomas J. Story

Holbrook honors the Western ranch design style with a few nods here and there, a subtle antler on the outdoor dining table, the occasional thick wool blanket, rough-hewn Adirondack chairs outside. But the scale never tips too far into the wild west theme.

Mendocino Ranch Cabin Fire Pit
Rough-hewn Adirondack chairs arranged around a metal fire pit create an ideal spot to admire the view during the day and the infinite stars at night.

Thomas J. Story

“I wanted that ‘ranch’ feel but more subtle and neutral,” she says. For others who are interested in achieving that subtle homestead look, Holbrook suggests considering the history of the location, and the people who lived on the land before. “It’s important to connect with the land and history that surrounds us. The native Pomo tribe was living in that area long before American settlers arrived, so naturally the style of that time speaks to tribal ways. Many of the settlers adapted some of those key elements like animal skins and woven wool rugs in specific colors not just for aesthetics but for warmth and survival. Cut to modern day, we have a central heating system in the house and a gas range. But I think of these classic elements as an ode to the past and an honoring of those that have come before us.”

Mendocino Ranch Cabin Bedroom
A thick sheepskin rug and soft textiles create warmth in a simple bedroom.

Thomas J. Story

A new phase of the project is underway. Holbrook is helping the owner and his new wife construct a detached game room and indoor/outdoor spa area with a sauna, a hot tub, and a shower. The long-term strategy is to create a completely self-contained destination that’s got everything one would need without having to set foot off of the property… for a couple of reasons.

“There is only one neighbor, and they grow weed, which is pretty common for the area, and there’s still a lot of logging up here, sadly,” Holbrook says. “It’s a very strange little town.”

There’s a strong chance the locals disagree, and very possibly think that San Francisco and Los Angeles to the south are the stranger towns by far. Though the town is very much not the point, what with all of that room to stretch out and settle in.

Lite Ranch Dressing

Mendocino Ranch Cabin Dining Room
Rush-seat dining chairs surround a long farm table. An extra-large vintage brass pendant light has a rustic appeal and casts a warm glow at night.

Thomas J. Story

Honoring the location and history of the property while resisting the urge to decorate it like a swinging-door saloon requires some restraint—and a few modern touches sprinkled in.

Log Adirondack Chairs

A few groupings of these chairs add just enough primitive charm to the outdoor spaces.

Antler Accents

While resin replicas are available, there are plenty of shed antlers to be found from Etsy dealers in the West (if you can’t find them discarded naturally in the grass).

A Handsome Leather Sofa

Holbrook sourced much of the furniture from vintage dealers and Portland-based brand Rejuvenation.

A Thick Wool Blanket

As part of Pendleton’s Preservation Series, each made-in-America blanket sold generates a donation to Native American arts, culture, and health-care initiatives.

Reclaimed Redwood Pieces

If you aren’t lucky enough to have a source for redwood on site, there are plenty of artisans working with found and reclaimed materials doing beautiful work. Carved Coast in Santa Barbara hand-makes tables in a workshop on an avocado ranch using salvaged timber and steel.

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