Beach House, Mate Ocean View

This article is part of our latest design section, on nature-inspired spaces.


When Ben and Rebekah Shaffer set out to search for another home that feels like a world away from their everyday reality in Silicon Valley, they aren’t sure which direction to go.

At first, “we were thinking we could find something in the woods somewhere,” said Mr. Schafer, 44, an industrial designer at Apple. Then they began to think of a place near Lake Tahoe, about four hours northeast of their main home, a house in San Jose, California, designed by Joseph Eichler.

but with three kids – Brooklyn, now 15; Liam, 12 years old; And Naomi, 11 – who had to sit through a long car ride, which just wasn’t possible.

The couple reset their search and searched for a home on the coast that was an hour away from their main home. At first, the goal seemed like a distant dream. But then, said Mr. Schafer, “we found this amazing community called Pajaro Dunes,” a resort in Watsonville, California, about an hour south, where dozens of quirky, independently owned mid-century modern homes are pressed against the ocean.

After touring a number of homes, they found what they wanted: a 1,500-square-foot home with an angled roof, rambling into grassy dunes, just a stone’s throw from the waves. “It looked really interesting: it’s just this weird wooden pyramid,” said Mr. Schafer.

The Shaffers bought it in September 2017 for $1.55 million and began planning a large-scale renovation. The house, designed by architect George Cody in 1968, received an award from the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects when it was built. But more than 50 years later, the interior was outdated, and even worse, getting inside was like stepping into a tree trunk.

“It was very dark,” said Shaffer, 45, an interior designer, with walls lined with cedar panels and more shingles covering ceilings.

Despite the house’s ability to open up sight lines to the water, the deck on the ocean-facing side also ended up about five feet into the sand, blocking much of the view.

Seeking help, the couple spoke to Daniel Gomez, a partner at Fuse Architects near Santa Cruz. “Inside, you would have to bend over or sit very low to see this peek at the ocean,” Mr. Gomez said. “While talking with Ben and Rebekah, the question was, how do we best share this view without completely changing the scale of the project and how it fits into the environment?”

Over the following months, they planned an overhaul with builder Hagen Colbert that preserved the house’s original imprint but made major architectural changes to open it up.

Importantly, the team modified the roofline as the house faces the surroundings to allow for taller picture windows. Now the glass box containing the dining room appears to jut out into the sand and pop up higher than the main ceiling, capturing endless views of the water and sky. The renovation also added more windows, under shorter eaves, to the living room and basic bedroom, so these spaces seem almost to extend into the dunes.

The team replaced the cedar shingles on the exterior of the house with a permanent seam black metal roof and vertical cedar sides stained black. “We almost made it Pizza Hut at Darth Vader,” said Mr. Shaffer, noting with a laugh that he wanted the house to look like a hideout.

As people approach the house, the clip reveals an entrance lined with a warmer natural cedar. And as they step inside, they enter a bright white space bathed in light from expansive windows and a skylight where the ceiling rises to its pyramidal summit above the kitchen.

“It’s the full experience journey,” said Mr. Shaffer. He added that the design of the house was “very similar to my work at Apple, thinking about how people approach and interact with the product.”

Like a smartphone, a home is packed a lot into a small package. “We modified the walls here and there to be really smart and efficient about the space we had to work on,” said Mr. Shaffer. “We had to think about what we would need for our family of five, as well as being able to keep other families with us.”

This vision resulted in three compact bedrooms and two bathrooms, including a laundry room. Rehabilitate wasted space in the kitchen by creating a hidden storage cabinet within the island and a shoe nook.

Above a white oak floor, the couple laid out simple arrangements of furniture, including pieces by designers Kieran Kinsella and Stephen Kane, their friend, and some items designed and made by Mr. Schafer (basic bedroom side tables and a coffee table in the living room).

Since the house was completed last summer, it has bragged about its ability to welcome the public. “A few weeks ago, I had the Apple design team out to work off-site,” said Mr. Shaffer when about 20 people descended on the property.

And as Shaffers emphasized, when your home is right on the beach, the interior dimensions are less important than the exterior.

“We wanted the natural environment to be the focus,” Ms. Shaffer said. “With the dunes, grass, and ocean behind it, it’s just magical.”

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