It was a sense of nostalgia that prompted Leslie Ward and John Lindsay to relocate from Pacific Palisades to the Central Coast. “We love that it’s like old California, with the rolling hills, the oak-dotted land, the farms and ranches,” said Ward.
When the two retired journalists built their dream home in Arroyo Grande two years ago, they wanted to honor the region’s history. But instead of a nod to its Spanish past, like the many Mediterranean estates in the region, they paid homage to its agrarian roots.
They purchased a 2.5-acre lot in the Las Ventanas development, surrounded by oak groves and large swaths of farmland. They hired Gast Architects of San Francisco and Semmes & Company Builders of Atascadero. San Luis Obispo’s Chris Manning of CM Design was the landscape architect.
The couple found Gast Architects in a book of farmhouses and was drawn to their concept of creating the look of tall “pavilions” connected by lower structures. The gabled pavilions are reminiscent of the rooflines of traditional farmhouses. The illusion of a cluster of separate buildings brings to mind a farm compound that was built up gradually over time.
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The home uses updated versions of classic agrarian materials. Its metal roof is evocative of farm structures, but is made of sleek, standing-seam Galvalume. This is steel coated with a zinc and aluminum alloy, making it smoother and more durable than galvanized steel. The siding looks like traditional board and batten siding, but it is made of durable CertainTeed cement board. Both the roof and the siding were chosen for fire-resistance, longevity and ease of maintenance.
The house is long from front to back, with a yard running along each side. One side has a lap pool, the other a terraced garden. Large sliders lead to both patios. These, along with voluminous windows, fulfill the couple’s desire for indoor-outdoor living.
The windows also bring in lots of light, which is amplified by an interior cloaked in white.
“We wanted everything to be really light, bright and serene,” said Ward. “White is neutral, so you can put anything else in the house. To me, colored walls get boring really fast.” Although the open floor plan and large windows do not allow much wall space for art, the few pieces in the house stand out against their neutral background. In the soothingly neutral living room, for instance, a framed vintage California flag mounted above the fireplace becomes a focal point.
The interior architecture is modern with an open floor plan, straight lines and little ornamentation. Still, there are references to the farmhouse architecture. A sliding barn-style door leads to the media room. Tongue-in-groove paneling painted white adds texture to select walls and ceilings. Classic Shaker cabinet doors were updated with modern stainless steel pulls. The floors are a wide-plank engineered wood in whitewashed European white oak with a natural hardwax oil finish.
Ward and Lindsay went in a more modern direction in the kitchen and bathrooms. The kitchen is equipped with stainless steel appliances. The master bathroom’s strong straight lines are echoed in the rectangular sinks and square Japanese-style bathtub.
“Because of what we like, we tend to bend toward the modern side,” said Ward. “It’s hard to mix in curves, so we kept it all classic, with simple lines.”
They call their decorating style a blend of Japanese and Scandinavian design. Their previous house was midcentury modern, and, currently, so are many of their furnishings. But they are gradually replacing pieces for a look that Ward calls “comfortable and warm, a mix of modern and rustic.”
Already, they have replaced a vintage whalebone dining table with a reclaimed Russian oak trestle table from Restoration Hardware. In the master bedroom, a modern platform bed was exchanged for a farmhouse-style canopy bed from Pottery Barn.
Semmes & Company specializes in building sustainable homes, and the Ward-Lindsay project was no exception. Solar powers approximate 78 percent of the house, as well as the pool heater. They used an energy-efficient heat pump water heater. Cabinets were built with no added formaldehyde, sustainably harvested plywood. The home is also well-insulated. On the few warm days in Arroyo Grande, the couple uses a combination of ceiling fans and clerestory windows to keep air moving.
The landscaping consists of drought-tolerant and fire-resistant plantings, including many California natives. The only “lawn” on the lot is a 30-by-10-foot patch of drought-tolerant Carex sedge that is just large enough to toss the ball for their Labrador retriever, Jack.
Both the landscaping and the house were designed to be low-maintenance. Some materials, like the Caesar-stone countertops in the kitchen, are simple to clean and unfussy in terms of upkeep. The marble kitchen island, on the other hand, has already picked up a couple of wine stains. But the couple refuses to fret over it, considering it part of the character of the material.
“Europeans have marble in their homes for 200 or more years. They don’t worry about it, so we’re not going to,” said Ward.
Ward and Lindsay built their home with an eye toward the future. They incorporated accessibility features such as grab bars in the shower and doorways wide enough to fit a wheelchair. The house is all on one level, except for one tower room that the couple uses as an exercise room. The terraced garden has high raised beds to minimize stooping.
They aren’t concerned with growing old, though. They are far too busy swimming in their lap pool, working in the garden, and going on treks with Jack. They look forward to the time when the Japanese wisteria they planted envelops the trellis above their patio in showy white blooms, and when the floors and countertops have acquired a handsome patina. To them, these are signs of a house that is aging as gracefully as they hope to.
TIPS FROM LESLIE WARD AND JOHN LINDSAY
RETHINK WHITE Despite what home decorating shows tell you, don’t fear white walls. White reflects light and can make dark spaces seem brighter. It is a neutral that pairs well with most other colors. It is also a clean, neutral backdrop for art.
PLAN AHEAD Even if you don’t need them now, features that enhance accessibility in your home can increase resale value, and can also allow you to age in place later in life. If you are remodeling or building new, consider adding elements like shower grab bars and wide doorways. It’s easier to do this from the start, rather than retrofit later.
OLD LOOKS, NEW MATERIALS You can create a vintage look without using old-fashioned materials. Innovative new materials offer classic designs with benefits such as energy efficiency, fire-resistance and longevity. The Ward-Lindsay house used Galvalume roofing, a type of steel coated with a zinc and aluminum alloy for durability, and CertainTeed, a cement siding that looks like traditional wood siding.