But when the road narrows and the oaks make way for redwoods, you reach the old gate at San Clemente Rancho, a private enclave dating back half a century. What the 1960s-era cabins here lack in square footage, they make up for in vintage charm and, in some cases, high style.
Folks from San Francisco to Salinas have discovered this special place and brought their own sense of style – from modern organic to rustic to Americana – to these little abodes. And at nearly every one, you’ll find deck railings covered with beach towels and walking sticks for hikes and buckets at back doors for catching bullfrogs at the lake.
The look: Modern organic
Kathi Fanelli-Mann, a Bay Area interior designer, shares her one-bedroom, 600-square-foot cabin with her husband, playwright Michael Norman Mann, and their two sons.
Their large Hollister home is filled with vivid colors – but not their tiny cabin at the rancho.
“I wanted to keep it peaceful in here with the color scheme,” she said. The existing whitewashed redwood walls drove the theme and texture. From the bedroom on one side, through the kitchen, she covered the floor with a neutral seagrass – a forgiving flooring that hides the tracked-in dirt and dries quickly when the boys leave their wet bathing suits behind. The chairs are covered in linen, the windows in canvas. A block of wood serves as an end table. Fern leaves picked from the property and propped in oversize jars provide the organic color that brings in the outdoors.
The most stunning focal point is reserved for the bedroom – a huge photo-on-canvas of a snow-covered Yellowstone bison that Mann took on vacation. But this lone bedroom is no master bedroom. Indeed, the Manns gave it up for their boys and flanked the buffalo with a pair of twin beds. A mirrored cabinet from Ikea provides storage and adds visual space – and a bit of sparkle – to the room. A jar next to one of the beds keeps a collection of wild turkey and quail feathers the boys gathered on the property.
The couple sleeps in the living room, in a sleek daybed with decorative pillows that doubles as a lounge space.
The real magic is outdoors, where an old patio lined by a low stone wall nestles into a grove of live oaks and a new deck overlooks a fish pond, Mann’s favorite place to write.
“In the evenings,” Fanelli-Mann said, “we sit outside, wrap ourselves in blankets and watch the bats come out.”
When Lee Wilson first saw the Blackrock Creek surging past the cabin for sale at San Clemente Rancho, “I was absolutely enthralled.”
As a kid, he had spent time at a cabin in Boulder Creek with a stream running under it, so “when I saw this I thought, oh, I’ve got to have that. This is where I’ve got to be.”
The previous owners had left the one-bedroom cabin with a loft furnished – with a sofa, leather chair, an oak table and a pair of monumental elk trophy heads on the wall.
“I wasn’t real gung-ho about keeping those,” wife Terry Wilson said of the trophies. She thought their grown daughter “would have a fit and not want to be up there.”
But they didn’t seem to bother her, “so we just left them.”
An avid antiques collector, Terry Wilson filled the cabin with special touches, from vintage canoe paddles and embroidered samplers to a drum coffee table.
“I tried to pick little things that were Americana-looking, the red, white and blue,” she said. Many pieces are sentimental, from a handcrafted hutch her father made, to her mother’s handwoven Mexican blankets and her parents’ wall clock. On the hearth rest four pairs of children’s cowboy boots that belonged to her, her brother and the most recent addition – her granddaughter’s pink ones.
As much as Terry Wilson loves to decorate, it was Lee Wilson who was adamant about several statement pieces he acquired from places as divergent as the San Francisco Design Center (an American flag tile mosaic for the front walkway) and a roadside trash bin (a shutter for above the kitchen sink). He nailed to the kitchen wall his collection of Griswold cast-iron skillets and placed an old cigar-store Indian that was a gift from a friend at the front gate.
“I just walk in and have extreme calm,” he said. “I don’t go to the pool or the rec center because I’ve got everything right here, the best of all worlds.”
The look:Lakeside rustic
As you walk up the front path to this cabin, you spot the green canoe floating against the deck and wonder whether you’ve actually stepped into a Winslow Homer painting.
Carol and Lin Krebs of Los Gatos were smitten when they laid eyes on the lakeside cabin, made from a cedar log kit in 1972 from Pan-Abode, a company still in business today. The cabin was built by Mike and Donna Dormody and their four children, who bought the rancho in 1960 from the McFadden family that homesteaded the land in the 1920s. Some 16 miles southeast of Carmel, the property lies in the Santa Lucia Mountains – a two-hour drive from the South Bay.
At 1,000 square feet with three bedrooms and a loft, “it was one of the biggest,” said Bruce Dormody, who now runs the entire San Clemente Rancho development. While he and his family own the land, they sell 99-year licensing agreements to cabin owners. (Cabins for sale range from the mid-$100,000s to low-$500,000s, plus membership and other fees, and can be seen at www.mountain-cabins.com.)
That was a problem the Krebs family set out to change, adding a master bedroom, bath and closet. With the help of decorator Lillian Stahl, they added a crackle finish to the kitchen cabinets, vintage chairs and Western paintings. Exposed pipes in the original bathroom were wrapped with rope.
On Fourth of July weekend, they drape red, white and blue bunting from the railing of the wraparound deck and watch the fish jump, the egrets fly and the kids jump off the swimming platform in the middle of Trout Lake. “You really feel you’re floating on the water,” she said.
Inside, she said, “small, comfortable and cozy was what I really wanted.”
And like most of the cabin owners who have found a respite here, that’s exactly what she got.
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