This Is the Scandinavian Ranch House of Our Dreams
How a couple redefined their lives’ purpose while creating a Santa Ynez Valley homestead rooted in sustainability.
Ranchy McRanch is not your typical hobby homestead. Sure, there are droves of adorable animals coupled with the rolling, gold-kissed hills that only California’s Santa Ynez Valley can offer, but this is more than the “needed a change of scene and left the city for the country” kind of story we’ve heard many times before. What started as a relocation reboot for empty nesters Melissa and Paul Kanarek turned into a passion project filled with 25 animals and a whole lot of self-discovery.
When you step onto the property, a darkly stained wood cladded home seems to melt into a soft surround of native vegetation. Melissa stands at the gate greeting you with a warm smile, accompanied by a pup posse and their two Kunekune pigs, Uma and Concrete, who are out of the pen on their daily rounds. In the distance you’ll see their three rescue horses, a trio of Highland cows, a gaggle of goats, and Bart, the guard llama, grazing happily while enjoying the coastal breeze. Two adopted geese and a duck named Pinto, who thinks she’s also a goose, take a dip in a wildlife pond, which is also frequented by migrating birds and the occasional blue heron. Paul is somewhere hiding, but will eventually make an entrance with his charming British accent and a quick-witted joke or three. Everything feels welcoming and effortless, like they’ve all been here forever, and yet it’s only been a few years.
When the couple first purchased the five-acre parcel in the quiet town of Ballard, California, Paul admittedly could not see the vision buzzing inside Melissa’s creative mind. Soon after they closed escrow, she assembled a dream team to revitalize the barren landscape into a sustainably-minded oasis. Since the couple were starting from the ground up, Melissa and Paul were able to curate each addition to the landscape with care, recruiting the most eco-minded designers possible.
Going the sustainable route doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice style, so when it came to building their home, Melissa jumped at the chance to work with Sean Karcher, owner of Michigan-based Hygge Supply, to build a customized kit home that would seamlessly become one with the natural surroundings. If you aren’t familiar with Hygge Supply, that’s because this is its first West Coast construction, but it’s well-known for its intentional style created through mindful simplicity and the incorporation of environmentally viable methods and materials. These minimalist homes evoke a casual elegance with an intention to showcase the things near and dear to us—be it bright streamlined interiors to display coveted collectables or oversized framing of floor-to-ceiling windows to capture serene views. These modern modulars might be Midwest born, but they were made for the year-round indoor-outdoor living that comes with California’s temperate weather and scenic terrain. “Sean is an artist, and I connected with him because we both believe that the details are everything,” says Melissa. “It is a sustainable build, but it does not lack in style or sex appeal—I didn’t think a ‘kit home’ could feel this luxe.”
Inside, Melissa has tackled the interior design all on her own, assembling an impressive art collection from the couple’s travels paired with a combination of modern and vintage furnishings. There is a story behind everything; each piece is intentional and filled with meaning—from the Gam Klutier painting they acquired from a chance studio visit in Lima, Peru, to the vintage furniture sourced by Eneby Home during a U-Haul road trip to Texas’s famed Round Top Antiques Fair. The space is eclectic and yet extremely livable—Melissa has created her own style, fine-tuned and perfected over time, which works in tandem with the Hygge infrastructure.
When it comes to the surrounding landscape, Kara Holekamp, of design firm Terremoto, recalls driving through the valley for the first planning meeting and unconsciously cataloging a plant palette that would ultimately become the anchor for the project. The hills of the Santa Ynez Valley are abundant with painterly swaths of sage-colored shrub vegetation, ceanothus drooping heavily with purple and white puff-shaped clusters, and tufts of yellow and brown grasses highlighting the chaparral’s rocky slopes. Based on the ideology of planting purposefully and leaning heavily on local vegetation, the design was effortlessly implemented at the ranch. “This project’s thesis was to blend the native ecology and chaparral woodland with something more tended to and cultivated,” explains Holekamp, who designed seas of ceanothus melting into lavender and staccato moments of prickly-pear cactus poking through feathery grasses.
In the open space between the living areas and animal pastures, there is a meadow planted solely in a mixture of native grasses and chaparral shrubs. Lushly fueled by the previous winter’s rains, it is now a graceful transition and an inspiration as to how to successfully cover a large span of land on a budget while supporting incredible biodiversity. What was initially lifeless and compacted from construction traffic and decades of livestock grazing is now a thriving habitat rejuvenated and filled with life. As the vision continues to evolve, there is now a newly planted fruit orchard and garden boxes to harvest carrots and other veg for the growing Kanarek menagerie. The result is a cohesive balance of all things familiar while not being overly precious.
While the talent wrangled together to bring this ranch vision to life was key, what makes this particular project such a standout is the level of enthusiasm the design teams reflected back onto the homeowners. Every person involved has exclaimed what an enjoyable and collaborative experience it was to create this homestead heaven. Mindfulness and intention are a theme that has run deep since breaking ground on the project, and one can’t help but notice that the same purpose has now bled into the rest of Melissa and Paul’s life.
Melissa recently repositioned her local boutique, Brass Tack, to primarily offer vintage and used designer items while launching a line of clothing created from deadstock fabric, sourced and sewn in Los Angeles. When asked about lessons learned during the entire home process, she quips, “It’s best to have no idea what you’re doing. If we were experienced and had any clue about the level of work involved in two clueless people caring for 25 animals, we never would’ve done it. As a duo, we are much more capable than I had previously known, and I admire Paul for rolling up his sleeves and saying, ‘I’m going to try something so completely out of my lane and area of expertise.’ This project and this land is a bit of a fairytale and has made me fall even more in love with him for saying yes to the adventure.”
Meanwhile Paul, in his “retirement,” is teaching economics at a local high school, encouraging teens to broaden their collegiate and scholarship opportunities. Ranch life has delivered both humble moments and peace for him, as he truly enjoys taking care of the animals. “It is hard to be impressed with oneself when cleaning up after 5,000 pounds of hungry herbivores, yet caring for them is a beautiful constant in my day,” he admits. “I find that I am kinder, both to others and myself, less interested in the pursuit of material stuff and more invested in the things that matter—deeper and more meaningful relationships with my children, my family, my closest friends, and, most importantly, Melissa.”
Where the ranch life is a daydream for many, this homestead is a sprawling case study of sustainable design for apartment dwellers and small city bungalows alike. It exemplifies the importance of eco-mindfulness when making choices inside and outside of our own dwellings and how tending to something while tending to ourselves can collectively cast a positive ripple of change into the world around us. Here’s to all of us embracing that Ranchy McRanch state of mind.