Wanted: a multi-generation country house and serene retreat, a hideaway where family, friends and community can gather far from the glittering lights and frenetic pace of the city. Must have elements:  fun and whimsy, close to nature, have lots of trees and horseback riding trails nearby, and a healthy dose of sunshine and casual elegance. 

This might have been the Ranch.com profile for a prominent, family-oriented Pasadena couple, she a former hunter-jumper equestrian; he a seasoned roper. They found their perfect match in the rolling, oak-studded hills of the Santa Ynez Valley—Happy Canyon to be exact. Perhaps it was fate that they found and fell in love with 500 golden acres that was once part of the legendary College Ranch—a large rancho granted to the Catholic Church by the Mexican government in 1843. The parcel they purchased had been in the previous owner’s family for over 50 years, and its historic pedigree demanded a certain architectural respect.

Marc Appleton was the architect chosen to transform the classic “Californio” setting into a residence suited to the needs and sensibilities of a modern family. Appleton grew up on a 9,000 acre ranch in Arizona. “Responsiveness to history, to style, to context and, not the least, to clients—is Marc Appleton’s specialty.” In the architects own words: “I want to make sure that my personal signature doesn’t overwhelm the simplicity and appropriateness of a design.” He set out to preserve what buildings he could while making new structures as authentic as possible. Soon, Patti Skouras came on board as Interior Designer. Her penchant for exquisite upscale fabrics, including Fortuny, and her eye for perfect arrangement did not dissuade her practical approach to creating a space as usable as it was attractive. The result is a timeless Rancho Californio, where nothing is too precious to be utilized and enjoyed. Guests can kick back in their cowboy boots, relax in a antique French chair (with original Aubusson Verdure needlepoint) and sip sherry before a glowing hearth, without a second thought to soiling a “showcase” home.

One of interior designer Patti Skoura’s most notable finds is the set of vintage leather and chrome chairs around the kitchen island. Purchased from JF Chen Loft in Hollywood, they were designed in the 1920s by Charlotte Perriand, a collaborator of Charles Edouardo Jeanneret-Gris, better known as Le Corbusier, pioneer of modern architecture and design.

The design collaboration was a personal one for the new owners, who moved into one of the ranch cottages during construction of the main residence, which was built from scratch.  At the conception of the project, their horses were brought up to acclimate to their new home, and the couple began their exploration of the entire property on horseback. “We wanted to understand the land,” explains the wife. Once a suitable location for the main ranch house was selected, they visited the site at various hours of the day and evening, evaluating wind, light and shadow. The views from what would be various rooms in the envisioned structure were a major consideration, taking into account the subtle but beautiful California seasons. For instance, a master bedroom facing the northeast would afford a vista of the nearby mountains, awash with wildflowers in spring and dusted in white on chilly winter mornings when overnight rain had turned to snow.

The east porch loggia is a popular family gathering place throughout the year, no matter the weather. Fuss-free fabrics from Chella, in vivid red and classic cream, dress up the rustic hacienda armchairs. Colorful tiles top an antique table in the foreground.

Among Appleton’s design elements, the Arbor is a particular standout. The architect suggested two rows of fruitless, deciduous mulberry trees be planted on either side of the outdoor seating area, which is located on the west side of the Gallery. The trees were thoughtfully planted a year and a half before the couple moved into the main residence, allowing the design to gracefully mature. The trees’ growth towards the center allowed them to overlap and be braided together, providing shade from intense summer heat, both for the Gallery and for the outdoor dining area. In the fall and winter when the trees drop their leaves, the trunks and bare intertwining branches create a dramatic natural sculpture.

A tree shaded arbor enhances the “South of France” ambiance, with its crushed gravel and the muted blue and yellow shades of its table and chairs. Whimsical goat sculpture by artist Lygia Chappellet. Chairs from Janus Et Cie. Tables from Exquisite Surfaces.

The Happy Canyon construction venture was a shared endeavor, and the magical imagination of children added an enchantment beyond even the most acclaimed architect: visiting grandchildren on Easter break convinced carpenters who were framing the residence to build them a tree house in one of the ancient oaks along the road leading into the enclave. The kids then tarped and painted their rebel outpost themselves! In a world of boundaries and expectations, The Quail H offers the epitome of a stylish California lifestyle, without rules. Well, almost. “The Rules of the Quail H Ranch are that there are no rules of the Ranch,” the owner’s explain. Except, of course, for the classic and unarguable mandate: Leave fences and gates as you find them.

Beloved horses grazing near an old oak that offers its own ride on a charming tire swing.

 (Originally published in the December 2014 issue of Cowgirl Magazine).