2020 was the perfect year to fall in love with an isolated, former 5,200-acre sheep ranch nestled along the rugged Northern California coast. Between the uncertainty of on-and-off-again stay-at-home orders and a dynamic climate of powerful social change, desire for stillness and a re-solidification of my connection to the earth was calling. For the past fifty-seven years, the Sea Ranch has served as a respite for those committed to the principles of natural stewardship, community, and artistic freedom - ideals that resonate with the values we as a company aspire to embody in all that we put forth into the world. Over the past several months, the Sea Ranch as it exists today, as well as the original artists’ blueprints - diagrams, sketches, and notes full of optimism and creativity - have served as the inspiration for our seasonal collections.
The Sea Ranch was an idea before it was a place. Birthed in the early sixties, Sea Ranch was conceived while the notion of a manufactured community was still fresh in the toolkits of architects and city planners. Meanwhile, in response to the proliferation of cookie-cutter, suburban sprawls, many change-makers and artists were hard at work cultivating their own iteration of the “planned community,” resulting in the explosion of off-the-grid communes throughout the sixties and seventies. Somewhere in the middle, inspired by the principles of communal living and environmentalism but driven by aesthetics and simplicity, the plans for Sea Ranch were drawn. In 1964, a team of artists, architects, and developers were brought together to collaborate on the very first structures built at Sea Ranch, led by the architect Lawrence Halprin and graphic designer Barbara Stauffacher Solomon, both natives of San Francisco. Their writings and sketchings from the early phases of planning are a joy to pour over...Halprin’s annotated diagram of “The Sea Ranch’s Ecoscore” (figure 1), in the form of a shell or wave, exudes playfulness and boundless imagination.
It’s clear that the symbiosis of land and water was an important point of inspiration for Halprin and Solomon, evident in the official Sea Ranch emblem, that of abstracted sheep’s horns, curled inward to emulate the shape of a nautilus shell.
The idea of farmland on the cusp of the ocean is not altogether unfamiliar. Growing up in Maine I was accustomed to the juxtaposition of cow pastures butting up against windy bluffs, but what is unusual about Sea Ranch is that it has no harbor, thus rendering the sea, in terms of trade, commerce, and sport, relatively “useless.” To quote the architect Curtis Schreier,
“There was no way to use what the sea was, except to just enjoy the world’s largest picture window.”
The ocean reigns supreme at Sea Ranch - its salty emittance literally alters the surrounding environment, draining wood of its color and making the air moist. The gradual transformation of redwood, the material that makes up every building in the Sea Ranch, from a warm, fiery brown to a cool, monochromatic grey as it ages in the salt air mirrors the envelopment of the farmland by the oceanic expanse below.
The Sea Ranch Chapel
The gradient of warm to cold also invokes the physical experience of journeying from the hearth; one’s wooden home tucked in the bluffs, to the rocky, jagged cliffs that frame the sea. This commingling of temperatures came to light in our Summer collection, where the orange heat of Kelp meets the crisp coolness of the Pacific, and the paleness of Shell dances with an oversaturated Sea Urchin.
The Ohlson Pool
The mantra of living lightly on the land, which Halprin cited as a keystone of his vision of the Sea Ranch, is in the subtext of every blueprint and idea map that his team produced. A list of the guiding principles of the Sea Ranch design (figure 2) highlights Halprin’s belief that beauty need not be sacrificed in the pursuit of environmentalism, a truth that we hold tight to in our creative process, and encourage you to be reminded of in yours. The Sea Ranch stands as a testament to the promise that when we design in harmony with the earth rather than in opposition to it, we can create wonderful things.
Volunteering is a large part of the Sea Ranch community. I, Sarah, enjoy helping at the local library.
Sarah & Aila