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Ranch house goes Wild West.


Movies about the Old West invariably show stage-set false-front buildings with tall facades that mask humble structures behind. Southern California designer Nick Williams applied this false-front idea to his own house in Calabasas, but he continued the tall wall all the way around its exterior, like package wrap. His original ranch house, including the roof and all exterior walls, still remains. But it's hidden behind an architectural finish that is timeless, Western, massive, heavily textured, and original.

Interior and exterior spaces got face-lifts, too. Materials (both manmade and natural), colors, and floor and wall treatments repeat throughout the house and garden to give a sense of continuity and a patina of age.


The original house had eaves that extended almost 3 feet beyond its walls. This narrow band of space is where most of the remodeling took place. In some areas around the house, walls rise from new perimeter foundations, connect to the eaves, and continue 3 to 5 feet beyond them. Elsewhere, short walls merely rise from the eave line to block views of the old roof. Rain-diverting "crickets" added to the original roof direct runoff to downspouts.

Below the eaves, interior rooms gained useful space. Although the perimeter walls appear almost 3 feet thick, they're actually hollow. Williams used the space between the old and new walls to form closets, below-window storage (accessible through inside or outside doors), display alcoves, and deeply recessed windows.

This thick-wall look repeats in the house's interior. Columns, arched entryways, and even the refrigerator alcove were built up with double-stud wall framing to appear more massive than they really are.


As the exterior photographs show, the house's color palette is based on natural materials--stone, wood, and plants. The stucco-clad new walls were left cement gray but have a water-washed finish that lets some of the aggregate and sand show through. Along the entry path, warm-toned rock walls and flagstone patios blend with precast concrete pavers and slumpstone walls colored with chemical stains.

The interior echoes most of these textures and tones, but the most noticeable is the uneven surface of the slumpstone. While interior walls look like solid slumpstone, they are in fact wood-framed walls covered with gypsum board and topped with a veneer of manufactured stone. Grout was liberally slathered over the veneer, and the walls were chemically stained to match the exterior.

Floors leading from outside patios into the entry and dining room are rectangles of flagstone, while the rest of the interior floors are covered with Mexican tile. They contrast with other interior finishes, including white plastered walls, thick flagstone counters, stumps of wood that serve as coffee tables, reed doors, and rough-sawn wooden ceilings.


Although just recently completed, both house and garden look as if they have been in place for decades. In the garden, this illusion of age is due partly to the way plants crowd the pathways and erupt between pavers. Williams left pockets for planting close to the risers in stairs or next to the numerous patios. He mixed tall grasses with drought-tolerant plants for a slightly overgrown quality. Elsewhere, he kept existing oak trees and planted new pines close to the house to make it seem more settled in the landscape.

Several intimate seating areas are defined by simple overhead frameworks of long poles that project from the house and span the patios. Like the entry path, these patio surfaces are covered with concrete pavers stained brown to resemble adobe.

Other muted and intentionally rustic garden accents include well-weathered wood furniture and interestingly shaped rusted iron objects.
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Author:Whiteley, Peter O.
Date:Nov 1, 1993
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