Architect Cass Calder Smith Designed the Ultimate Family Weekend Retreat Home


Architect Cass Calder Smith designed a weekend retreat for a family of seven that can expand to accommodate multitudes.

When a San Francisco couple, Stuart Gasner and Kate Ditzler, first started looking for a vacation home, they had a long list of requests. Since they hadn’t bought the land yet, the location was at the top of their priorities. “Our criteria was that the house be less than an hour and a half from the city and 30 minutes, at most, from a good surf spot,” says Gasner. “And I just wanted it to be sunny, so we could get away from the foggy San Francisco summers,” adds Ditzler.

So when they found 16 acres for sale on a hillside in Aptos, a beach town just south of Santa Cruz, they showed it to architect Cass Calder Smith. “It was an easy choice,” says Smith. “There was a beautiful hill with great views, facing south. I could immediately see a couple of buildings aimed toward that view.”

The couple’s next set of criteria described a series of activities they wanted the house to be used for. Their blended family included five children, ages 17 to 23, and a dog, so Gasner and Ditzler needed their getaway to be a place for both big, boisterous groups and more intimate weekends. Gasner wanted to be able to host holidays for 30 and parties for 60 and Ditzler thought it should sleep as many as 20 when necessary. Aside from the surfing, priority was placed on entertaining, cooking and gardening. But they also had budgetary concerns and wanted to impact the earth as little as possible. And the list went on.

Having gathered inspiration over the years for their dream getaway, Smith’s clients proffered a series of images. The tents at Costanoa resort in nearby Pescadero were one example, a simple red cabin outside of Stockholm where the couple had spent an idyllic weekend was another, and a house in Napa designed by Smith for friends of the couple was the final cue. It quickly became clear that Gasner and Ditzler wanted the feel of a summer camp, the look of a barn and all the comforts of home.

The first space one encounters upon entering the official front door (on the side of the building) is the dining area, which can comfortably seat up to 10.

Since the property came with an approval for an auxiliary building, the first structure to go up was what the family calls “the barn.” It started as a place where Gasner could store his surfboards and rinse his wetsuit, but it became much more than that. “Stuart wanted to use this place as a surf shack right away,” says Smith. Starting with a pre-engineered steel warehouse building, Smith designed a mezzanine within it to create a loft-level lounge. Then he clad the whole building in sheets of corrugated Cor-Ten steel. Interior designer Lynn Ross, who has known Gasner and Ditzler for nearly a decade and helped design their Cole Valley home, helped make the barn a welcoming hangout with banks of colorful sofas, a pool table and a Ping-Pong table.

The result of creating this insta-hangout in the barn was that the plan for the rest of the property got smaller. The main house was designed as one long public room, with dining, kitchen and living areas that can open up to a wide front porch via walls of glass sliders. Upstairs, the master bedroom offers a glimpse of the ocean and a luxury two-room bath has a separate bathtub space—the one exception to the simple life suggested by the contractor.

In response to the clients’ summer-camp vision, a detached bunkhouse was built a few steps away from the main house, with a dormitory-style bath and two rooms. Though the bunkhouse originally contained enough space to sleep eight, the team decided instead to set up two canvas tent-cabins a little farther down the hill—Costanoa wishes granted.

In what has become his firm’s signature maneuver, Smith connected the two buildings by extending the roof of the main house, creating an overhang under which the long, low bunkhouse sits. “The space between the buildings becomes another outdoor room, and having separate buildings makes it more energy-efficient, especially when it’s just the two of us down here,” says Gasner, who installed an evacuated-tube solar collector that powers the hot-water heater.

The corrugated Cor-Ten of the barn reappears as the roof on the house, which is clad in old barn siding. “The barn was like an appetizer,” says Smith. “We used agricultural shapes and Cor-Ten, and it proved to them that they really liked that look. And the barn siding was a no-brainer.” Ordered in a mix of 50 percent red, 20 percent gray and the remainder an even ratio of brown and white, the reclaimed barn siding is authentic without feeling heavy-handed.

Overall, the house communicates a familiar yet contemporary vibe. The exterior forms are reminiscent of old cabins with simple porches. A lush green lawn runs the length of the main house, and below that, there is a terraced pool area, but the surroundings have otherwise been left alone. Inside, the materials are a mix of rustic (cedar paneling on the walls and Virginia ledgestone on the fireplace and in the bathhouse), and modern (concrete floors throughout and cold-rolled steel in the kitchen). Though it’s a far cry from the family’s traditional home in Cole Valley, Ross and Smith added details that would help bridge the gap, including the kitchen’s live-edge claro walnut counter and the bathhouse’s travertine floors and shower walls.

The best proof that the house is everything they wanted: A month after moving in, Gasner and Ditzler threw a family reunion for 25 people, who easily mingled inside and outside the main house. Last spring, one of the kids celebrated his graduation with a sleepover for 20. The family hosted Thanksgiving for 40 people at a long table set on the front porch. The vegetable garden is in and now there’s talk of a chicken coop.

The living area is versatile enough to go from cozy fireside seating to indoor/outdoor entertaining.

A few yards away, the barn was a pre-engineered structure, inside of which Smith built a mezzanine for a rec room (above) then clad the whole building in Cor-Ten.

The bedroom has the best view in the house.

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