Small Is Beautiful — Again

The great American architect William Turnbull (1935-1997) was a friend and mentor who made the complex art of architecture look simple and inevitable. So I am very excited to announce that has acquired the rights to sell copies of Bill’s iconic designs for employee housing at The Sea Ranch, an ecologically sensitive community on California’s northern coast. Built in the late 1980s, they’re what cabins should be: modest but memorable.


Shaker-simple, contemporary, and very small — 650 to 924 sq. ft. — they nevertheless have a powerful visual presence, as the image above by eminent architectural photographer Morley Baer shows (copyright 2009 by the Morley Baer Photography Trust, Santa Fe. All reproduction rights reserved).

Plan 447-1 (interior below in another Baer photo) illustrates how Bill made the most of limited space. The bedroom is an alcove off the living room, allowing each room to borrow space and light from the other. The exposed scissor truss and beautifully proportioned windows add character.


Thanks to strong outlines, rustic materials, and an efficient porch-oriented plan the vacation begins at the front door.

Plan 447-2, below, organizes rooms in a line like cars on a train, which is appropriate for long narrow sites:


Plan 447-3 is a two-story design for a duplex. Here’s the elevation, which recalls a Georgian townhouse in its classical simplicity:


Bill Turnbull first received international attention in the mid-1960s as a principal of Moore Lyndon Turnbull Whitaker (MLTW), designers of the celebrated Condominium #1 at The Sea Ranch, shown below in a wonderful portrait by photographer Jim Alinder:


Left to right: Richard Whitaker, Donlyn Lyndon, Charles Moore, and William Turnbull. Bill collaborated with Charles Moore and Donlyn Lyndon throughout his life, but started his own firm, William Turnbull Associates, in 1970. Though Bill designed many large scale projects he relished house design as a way to explore three dimensional space and architectural connections to the land. Bill was also a gardener, vineyard owner, and wine maker: a true Jeffersonian who also knew how to carve a roast turkey to perfection. His vibrant successor firm — Turnbull Griffin Haesloop Architects — continues to do exemplary work.

A percentage of the price of each Willam Turnbull Sea Ranch plan supports the Environmental Design Archives at U. C. Berkeley, which preserves the drawings and papers of significant California architects and landscape architects.


4 responses to “SEA RANCH HOUSES

  1. Nice, Dan. I’d like to live in one of those!

  2. so glad to see this here dan!

  3. just as an aside. i bought and lived in a house in The Sea Ranch in 2007-2009…it was HUGE and impossible to heat because it was poorly insulated. i think the “cabin” concept has been lost up there. there are many, many enormous homes, ill-suited to the rugged terrain. mine (since sold) was one of the older properties– about 3,000 sq feet.

  4. Pingback: Build Our Sea Ranch-Inspired Gingerbread House | EYE ON DESIGN by Dan Gregory

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