Created By: Friends Of Residential Treasures: Los Angeles
Why is it on the Trail?
Ron Yeo’s Perrin House in Sunset Beach shows the influence of the Bay Area’s regional style remade for late modern Southern California. Yeo was educated at USC, and his mentorship by Calvin Straub, Conrad Buff, and Donald Hensman is apparent in his early embrace of wood post-and-beam construction. By the 1970s, Yeo became increasingly preoccupied with environmentalism and vernacular architecture. He had always been inspired by Alvar Aalto’s ability to create expressive design from the humble material, but he increasingly found contemporary inspiration in Northern California’s Sea Ranch style, with its use of rough-hewn wood, shed forms with sloping roofs, and expressed towers.
Yeo’s Perrin House in Sunset Beach is an example of this approach. It was a challenging commission. The family requested a single shelter that would provide privacy for the parents separate from their two grown children. Yeo was asked to slot four bedrooms, four baths, four fireplaces and a pool on a small, 40 x 65 beachfront lot. He responded with a plan for two separate houses designed as a series of unique independent volumes joined in the middle by an angular swimming pool, and further broke up the volumes vertically with decks and skylights. Wood planks, now replaced by a more durable siding, had clad the exterior forms, providing directional energy to the building’s shifting angles and rooflines. These rooflines terminate at each exterior wall, reflecting Yeo’s skills at merging the “shed style” with complex plans and sections.
This house has two façades of note, but every vantage point offers a new, surprising perspective. The street-facing façade features two volumes with outward-sloping rooflines that pop out above a two-car garage, delineating the dual nature of the project. On the beachfront, a double-height volume juts out beyond a large angled wall fronted by a series of full-height rectangular windows and a large balcony suspended over the sand.
Original materials: wood and glass.
Current materials: synthetic siding, asphalt roofing shingles, and glass.
The Sea Ranch style (also known as the Shed style or the Third Bay Tradition) emerged in the mid-1960s in Northern California, and was developed specifically for a community called the Sea Ranch, which occupies ten miles of rugged coastline along the Pacific Ocean in Sonoma County, north of San Francisco. The site features high bluffs, meadows of tall grass and wildflowers, and rows of cypress trees leading to a forest of redwood trees, and the structures built on it were intended to leave as light a footprint as possible on the native environment, enabling residents to coexist with nature by gazing at ocean and forest views, hearing the sound of crashing waves, and feeling the sea breezes and the warmth of the sun.
The Sea Ranch was the brainchild of architect and planner Al Boeke (a former employee of Richard Neutra), who hired some of the Bay Area’s best designers of the early 1960s to bring his vision to life, including landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, and architects Joseph Esherick, Donlyn Lyndon, Charles Moore, and Richard Whitaker. Together, they developed a distinctive hybrid of modernism and vernacular Northern California architecture whose forms were inspired by the local topography and climate while also referencing the history of the site, which had been ranch land and remains part of the territory of the indigenous Pomo people.
When the Sea Ranch opened in 1964, it included a nine-unit condominium complex, a cluster of small model homes, a general store, and a recreation center, all of them blending seamlessly into the landscape. These first
buildings were intended to set a standard for the community, embodying the style guidelines that future constructions were expected to follow. No stucco. No lawns. All new residences built at the Sea Ranch should consist of a simple volume or asymmetrical massing of geometric volumes resembling a cluster of barns and silos, with sloped roofs to deflect the ocean winds but no overhanging eaves that would disrupt the geometry and block out the sun. Exterior walls had to be clad in unpainted Douglas fir, redwood or cedar planks or shingles, and windows and skylights were to be strategically placed to let in natural light, provide heat, and reveal views. Inside, wood floors, wood stairs, and wood paneling were offset by high ceilings and large expanses of windows to keep residents from feeling overwhelmed by all the wood. In other words, the natural environment informed every aspect of the structure’s design.
In the following decades, approximately 1,800 additional structures were built at the Sea Ranch, most of them single-family houses that followed the design guidelines. The Sea Ranch style also became popular throughout the United States, and inspired many design trends of the 1970s and ‘80s, notably exterior walls clad in wood planks providing directional energy to a building’s angles, interior floor-to-ceiling wood paneling, window seats, and overhead spaces reachable by ladder used as outlooks or sleeping nooks.
IDEAS AND PROCESS THAT WENT INTO STRUCTURE:
Fifty years after the fact, Ron Yeo remembers how the Perrin House came to be:
“This interesting project started when, one day, this energetic guy came screeching up in front of our office in his Porsche, parked along the red curb, and, without any appointment or prior notice, introduced himself as David Perrin. He related that I was recommended to him by another architect, who felt that I could be the right person to design his home.
I invited him into our conference room, where he explained his goals. He wanted a new, relaxed beach house with interesting spaces to accommodate the activities of his family of five (two boys and a girl). It should include 4 bedrooms, 4 fireplaces, 4 baths and a 4-car garage. He also required a swimming pool and a place for his boat on a lot that he had just purchased in Sunset Beach.
Happy for a new large custom home project, I smiled and said “GREAT! Those are very small 40’ x 60’ lots. How many do you own?” He replied “Just one”. Now that was a challenge I could not resist.
The extremely small lot dictated a compact plan utilizing every conceivable space for the 2,300 sq. ft. living area. I applied for and received a variance to be able to build within the street side yard 3-foot setback, which helped considerably. Everything needed to be tucked in tight or overlapping, with the master bedroom cantilevered over the deck, which cantilevers over the swimming pool. I raised the living room floor so that Mr. Perrin’s boat could be tucked under it. To avoid furniture clutter, all beds, TVs, etc. were built in. And we even had enough space to add a bar!
Neighbors referred to the home as the ‘House of Four’ because it had four of everything.”
The Perrins requested a house that would provide separate living quarters for the parents and their grown children, with four bedrooms, four bathrooms, four fireplaces and a swimming pool. Yeo came up with a plan for two separate houses comprised of a series of asymmetrical volumes broken up by decks, balconies, windows and skylights, and joined together by a central swimming pool.
The finished house has two main façades but every angle provides an unexpected perspective. The windowless street-facing façade features two towers whose outward-sloping rooflines rise above a two-car garage, while on the beachfront side, a volume juts out beyond a large angled wall fronted by a series of tall, narrow windows and a wide balcony. Around the angular swimming pool located in the house’s inner sanctum (and thus protected from the ocean winds), criss-crossing wooden beams reminiscent of Buff, Straub and Hensman’s post-and-beam style cast striated shadows that shift as the sun moves.
All of the exterior walls were originally clad in wood planks set in different directions to emphasize the house’s unusual angles and sloping rooflines. Sometime in the 1990s or early 2000s, some of the original cladding was replaced by faux stone walls, and in the following decade, the exterior walls were completely redone in gray synthetic siding that, while more durable, goes against one of the Sea Ranch’s guiding principles: using natural building materials.
BIOGRAPHY OF ARCHITECT:
Ron Yeo was born in Los Angeles in 1933 and grew up in Long Beach. He studied architecture at the University of Southern California under some of the most influential architects of the period, including his mentors, Conrad Buff, Calvin Straub and Donald Hensman. Yeo became a licensed architect in 1960, and after starting his career with the small Long Beach firm of George Montierth and Jack Strickland, and working in Sweden for a time, he struck out on his own and established Ron Yeo, Architect, Inc. in 1963, with an office in Corona del Mar. In 1967, he purchased a duplex and converted it into a studio that could accommodate a staff of up to six employees, including his business manager and wife, Birgitta.
Yeo’s early work showed his affinity for the modernist post-and-beam style of Buff, Straub and Hensman. In the late 1960s, he hired the renowned architectural photographer Julius Shulman to photograph the Hall House in Corona del Mar, and Shulman’s pictures were reproduced in the Los Angeles Times’s Home section and in Sunset magazine, which led to the house receiving an AIA/Sunset Magazine Western Home Award. This exposure led Yeo to specialize in custom residential design, working closely with clients in Orange County and beyond to build houses that suited their needs.
Throughout his career, Yeo has been dedicated to open space and land preservation. In 1965, he joined a local initiative called Project 21, leading the Open Space Action Group, which made proposals for the preservation of natural lands in Orange County. His participation in Project 21 led to appointments to the Orange County Planning Commission, and he eventually became the chairman of the Orange County Housing and Community Development Task Force. In 1976, he was selected as a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).
In the late 1960s, the Sea Ranch, the environmentally-conscious community on the Northern California coast, attracted Yeo’s attention, and he began to design residences in the Sea Ranch style. He eventually moved away from the style around 1980, when it fell out of fashion (in part because the exteriors clad in unfinished wood proved costly to maintain) but he remained committed to environmentally conscious design and sustainability. Starting in the late 1980s, Yeo’s involvement in environmental initiatives led him to design nature centers. He would go on to build over ten nature centers and parks in Orange County and beyond.
Yeo has now retired from architecture and converted his Corona del Mar office into an art studio in which he makes colorful assemblages out of bottle caps and other discarded objects. He remains active in local civic issues. As the chair of the Corona del Mar Residents Association’s Historic Resources Committee, he has been advocating to document and attempt to preserve the area’s historic cottages.
ELEMENTS OF STRUCTURE THAT ARE TYPICAL OF ARCHITECT'S WORK:
The Perrin House features all of the hallmarks of the Sea Ranch style. It’s a complex but efficient grouping of simple geometric volumes that have multi-directional sloping roofs with no overhangs, and its windows of various shapes and sizes are strategically placed in order to capture views and let in natural light. Just like at the Sea Ranch’s recreation center, the swimming pool is located in an inner courtyard to protect it from the wind. The house’s original natural wood siding was also in keeping with the Sea Ranch design guidelines, but has since been replaced with synthetic gray siding.
According to architect Ron Yeo, David Perrin owned a restaurant overlooking the Dana Point Harbor called The Quiet Cannon, named as an homage to the old “tall” ships that sailed through Dana Point in the 1800s. The restaurant later ran into geological slope problems.
TALES AND TIMELINES:
The Perrin House is built.
June 11, 1987
The house sells for $750,000.
Sometime during this period, some of the house’s exterior walls are covered in faux-stone panelling and the remaining wood siding is painted gray.
Sometime during this period, the faux stone walls and original wood siding are replaced with a synthetic siding material, and the entire exterior of the house is painted gray with white trim.
The house is currently valued at $3.5 million.
This point of interest is part of the tour: Surfside 70s