Inspired by California seaside homes in his family’s storied past, architect Lewis W. Butler built a Stinson Beach retreat for his parents to enjoy year-round.
Although Sheana and Lewis H. Butler’s Stinson Beach retreat was built in 1985, the oceanfront red cedar-shingled home was three generations in the making. “My grandmother and her best friend bought side-by-side lots in Stinson in 1950 for $3,000,” says the couple’s son, Lewis W. Butler, president of Butler Armsden Architects in San Francisco. Butler fils designed the house while still at Harvard architecture school, working with renowned architect William Turnbull Jr. He also sought input from his grandmother and his parents, who had returned to San Francisco after stints in Malaysia establishing the Peace Corps program there, as well as Washington, D.C., where his father worked as undersecretary of what was then the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.
Butler was inspired by the William Wurster house in Pasa-tiempo, near Santa Cruz, that his grandparents had commissioned in 1935. Wurster, the prominent architect largely credited with designing the first California ranch house, was known for blurring the lines between indoors and out. When Butler’s grandmother purchased the Stinson lot, she wanted to carry forward the spirit of her former residence. “It represents not just a family history,” he says, “but a family architectural history.”
He placed a spacious living room at the center of the H-shaped floor plan, with the wings creating outdoor courtyards facing the Pacific Ocean and the mountains serving as a backdrop. Large sets of sliding doors open on either side to bring in the ocean and mountains for a dramatic indoor-outdoor experience. Referring to the open framing used in early California beach houses, Butler left the beams exposed but added 3-foot-tall fir wainscoting to hide plumbing and wiring. “It evokes the feeling of the hull of a wood boat, or perhaps the skeleton of a whale,” he says. The bow-shaped kitchen also connotes the nautical, with fir-clad cabinets and clerestory windows that open to the ceiling above.
Barbara Scavullo of Scavullo Design in San Francisco helped decorate the home; the dune-colored palette takes cues from native coastal grasses. She added textiles with touches of blues and greens, as well as classic California casual pieces such as McGuire wicker furniture, which keeps company with vintage benches, tables and bunk beds original to the family’s Wurster home. Butler’s vintage Bear surfboard also lives at his parents’ beach house, as does his 1965 convertible Mustang—yet another instance of keeping tradition alive.
By Heather John Fogarty.
Photographed by Matthew Millman.