Published by Soundings Magazine for The Sea Ranch
Like so many homeowners, we went up to The Sea Ranch for a relaxing weekend, then returned with a dazed grin on our face and an offer on a house in our pocket. A year ago we became the new owners of an Esherick designed Demonstration House, which hadn’t been significantly changed over the decades. During preparations of our first meal, we quickly realized the tiny kitchen was technically functional, but far worse for wear. The burnt orange countertops, while charming, were unevenly faded, the plywood doors were warped, and the entire kitchen contained only three small drawers which tended to dump their contents when opened.
Our plans were to restore the house to the original, but after initial success finding burnt orange laminate, we discovered the cabinets could not be rebuilt. Douglas fir plywood in grain matching the original was no longer manufactured. Like many owners of historically significant homes, we were faced with a dilemma: make a good faith effort at recreating the kitchen with the available materials, or create a new design in the spirit of the original, mixing period appropriate new materials with functionality. We spent many evenings looking through photos, gathering insights and resources which we hope you’ll find useful in your own kitchen redesign.
Plywood, with its durability and lack of pretension was the perfect solution for a Sea Ranch kitchen. Europly Plus from Colombia is a high quality, domestic birch plywood made without formaldehyde. It’s a favorite of architects and designers, who often seal and expose the evenly layered edges of the plywood. It can be faced with wood veneers, like local Redwood, Madrone or Douglas Fir, or with inspiration from Esherick’s own kitchen by mixing in a few doors veneered with colored laminate. Kitchen cabinets like these would need to be crafted by a local cabinetmaker.
Many of the kitchens at The Sea Ranch had rectangular open shelves or cubbies. These are easy to build, highly functional, and can be made from solid wood or plywood. And don’t forget the classic Sea Ranch peg rail, perfect for hanging shopping bags, aprons, dog leashes, and drying herbs.
Many of the original countertops in The Sea Ranch were made from laminate. As a countertop material its reputation suffered from peeling edges and chipped faces. However, laminate technology has greatly improved through the decades, with durable adhesive, scratch resistance, and integral color (no more black lines at the edges). Karran USA has undermount stainless sinks specifically designed to work with laminate, and Pionite is a great resource for all those 60’s and 70’s era colors. Man-made quartz is a popular countertop due to its durability and heat resistance. Silestone offers quartz in retro burnt orange for those wishing to keep an original look, or grey and whites for an understated, clean look.
The little details are so important in creating the look and feel of The Sea Ranch. The spherical wood cabinet pulls used in the kitchens of Condominium One can be purchased on Amazon. For a simpler look, consider integral finger pulls routed into the door edge or front.
Many of the homes in The Sea Ranch have beautiful tilework. Tile countertops are notoriously difficult to clean, but tile backsplashes can add a handcrafted feel to your kitchen. McIntyre Tile in Healdsburg and Heath Ceramics in San Francisco are two sources of the tile originally used in many homes. Be certain to pair a handcrafted backsplash with a simple solid colored countertop, letting the backsplash have all the attention it deserves.
While not everyone is as daring as Charles Moore, who painted his Condo kitchen in checkerboard, many of our homes could benefit from the injection of some playful color through paint. Consider painting your cabinets a bright color that contrasts with the wood tones of your interiors. It’s just paint, and if you hate it, you can change it.
As for our house, we opted for a charcoal laminate over Europly plywood for the countertops and the cabinet faces. Our cabinetmaker routed in integral finger pulls, and built oversized drawers for our cookware. There’s even a hidden drawer in the toe kick for trays and serving platters. The original open upper shelves were restored, and the spice rack that conceals the extractor fan was rebuilt to the original design. A colorful Barbara Stauffacher Solomon enamel panel has pride of place, overlooking the kitchen.
Sadly, the burnt orange from our original kitchen did not make it into the new kitchen. Though with a bathroom remodel on the horizon, there’s still hope. We’ll let you know if it makes a repeat appearance.
Chad and his husband James share their time between Oakland and The Sea Ranch. Chad’s architectural design practice can be found at www.framedesign.studio.