Residential Design

VOL.6 2018

A business-to-business magazine focused on the collaborative process and talented work of residential architects and custom homebuilders.

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Page 15 of 75

Cabin Fever Obie arrived at Sea Ranch nearly 50 years ago, after escaping the density and traffic of Los Angeles. In South- ern California, he had been designing regional shopping centers surrounded by parking lots—work he now calls "very disturbing"—and would take nature bathing excursions to the countryside with Helena whenever they could. Final- ly, it occurred to them that they should relocate to the countryside for good, and they headed up to Northern California. Obie's first Sea Ranch commission was the now-famous Walk-In Cabins of 1972, a cluster of 15 simple, 600-square- foot hillside houses accessed by trails from a remote central parking lot. They were clad in redwood and oriented to- ward wooded and water views. Skylights brought additional natural light into the loft bedroom and central living area, and rafters were left exposed in the interior. They were the tiny houses of their day, intended as space-efficient, affordable en- try points to the idyllic, almost utopian Sea Ranch community. Obie went on to larger, more ambitious house commissions at Sea Ranch. One of his personal favorites is the 1987 Brunsell House, an earthen roofed building that disappears into its site. The house balances multiple opposing forces and concerns, ulti- mately creating an inspired family dwelling that preserves view corridors for neighbors to the rear of the site. Says Obie, "This is one house where I got it together as an architect—the site, the program plan, the budget, the contractor, and the issues with the design committee. There were so many things for a young architect to struggle with and fall flat on my face with, but I took a whole leap forward. It still has a special place in my heart." Despite such personal and profes- sional successes over the years, Obie says he's never gotten the big, lavish custom home projects. "None of our projects has been very large or high end, but they've had decent budgets and great clients," he says. Perhaps he stayed at Sea Ranch too long before moving his office to Healdsburg 25 years ago, he muses. He would like to do more urban or suburban houses, as well. "Most of our projects are in a natural setting, and I have an instant response to those," he explains. "I can size them up in five minutes—the value of the breezes, the angles of trees. I know I'm going to try to tailor what we do to the slope of the land, and I know quickly, conceptually how the house will be most comfortable in that setting. But there are similar challenges in urban work—how to har- ness the sunlight and breezes and create privacy from the neighbors." It's clear Obie has much architecture left to do, and the creative energy to do it with. But even if those big com- missions and urban houses don't come his way, he's happy with the work that does. Says our local hero, "The projects that come to me have a kind of poetry and earthiness I'm probably best suited for." — S. Claire Conroy Photo: Merg Ross Photo: Obie Bowman Obie's 1972 Walk- In Cabins at Sea Ranch were an early exploration of tiny house living, designed to be efficient, inexpensive, and immersed in nature. The 2015 Dover Guest House in Oregon turned a metal utility building into a highly crafted, sculptural outbuilding. 16 RESIDENTIALDESIGNMAGA ZINE.COM VOL. 6, 2018 PRO-FILE DESIGN

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