A camplike getaway home refreshes body and soul

For Julie Westcott and her family, weekends are for slowing down and getting in touch with nature. Their new house in rural Marin County, California, where they spend most of their time on the living porch, makes that downshift possible.

“It’s my favorite place to look out at the live oaks and the Zen view of the lagoon,” Westcott says. “It’s where my husband reads the paper and takes an impromptu nap. When it’s chilly, we light a fire and keep it going most of the day ― using the coals in the evening to grill chicken.”

Flexibility is built in. “We’re always moving the couches around,” she says. “Sometimes we lock them together ― they’re designed to make a queen-size bed ― and our two girls pile in at one end with us at the other.”

The day begins early. “I often take a moment or two to listen to the rooster down the road,” Westcott says. A drive to Stinson Beach for a long family walk is next, followed by a big breakfast ― “and then we each go off and do as we please until lunchtime.” When the weather is warm, they keep at least one of the two aluminum-frame roll-up garage doors open. Dogs scamper in with muddy tennis balls as the girls deliver a bunch of mint or strawberries from the garden. “The boundary between outside and inside is nicely blurred,” Westcott says.

The starting point for the design, according to architect Richard Fernau, was an L-shaped courtyard plan incorporating straw-bale construction. The key spaces ― for eating, playing, and resting ― all open to the outdoors. Laura Hartman, the project’s other architect, says that one inspiration for the camplike aesthetic came from the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, near Carmel Valley, California. “I wanted a house that provided ample space for guests but also acknowledged the profound need to be alone,” Westcott explains.

Design:  Fernau & Hartman Architects, Berkeley (510/848-4480)