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NorCal community blends nature with communal & private space

In 1965, a group of young architects- inspired by the local Pomo Indians’ belief in “living lightly on the land”- began planning a community where the buildings blend with the terrain and where, instead of yards, there are “commons”: miles of shared fields, oceanfront, and walking trails.

“It’s about experiencing the place rather than following a golf ball or something,” explains Sea Ranch architect Donlyn Lyndon. “One of the things most important about The Sea Ranch is that half of the land is held in commons. When you get a deed it describes your property and that you own an indivisible portion of the commons which is to say you can’t sell that, but you are an owner of the commons.”

Located two and a half hours north of San Francisco, The Sea Ranch covers 10 miles of rugged coastline. To preserve the coast for the community, the homes are built at least 100 feet from the cliff leaving room for a bluff trail (with public access points) along the entire stretch.

The weathered wooden houses are inspired by the local barns and according to original pomo materials “strong without being assertive, simple without being plain.” There are no lawns (only native flora), no mailboxes, no streetlights, and cars must be hidden from view.

Donlyn Lyndon (one of the original architects and author of The Sea Ranch) gave us a tour of his home, the commons, and a new build of concrete and Cor-Ten steel that remains in the Sea Ranch spirit with its natural weathering and design reflective of its surroundings.

* Photos courtesy of The Sea Ranch Archives