Three historic Sea Ranch house plan designs by William Turnbulll now available for sale

William-Turnbull-house plan

Architect William Turnbull (1935-1997) was a notable California  architect and in 1965, he was one of a group of , in particular, he was lauded for his 1965-era small house designs at The Sea Ranch, a coastal vacation enclave in Sonoma County, California, about 150 miles north of San Francisco. With the Sea Ranch project — which was architecturally significant in its approach to the adjacent environment, Turnbull and the other contributing architects rejected the modern box-like ranch homes that were being built in plentiful numbers across in California and instead, favored a more rustic style. Could it be these designs foreshadowed the eclectic, hippy funky home designs soon to descend upon American in the 1970s? Seems like it. Recently, acquired three of Turnbull’s historic Sea Ranch cottage designs — and they have made them available to purchase today. If you have a little place in mind for that little cottage of your dreams, perhaps one of Turnbull’s historic designs will fit the bill.

Turnbull’s obituary from the New York Times points out:

… Sea Ranch … not long after its completion in 1965 became an icon of American architecture. Sea Ranch’s shed-like structures of wood, which stood out like abstract sculptures against the craggy Pacific Coast, seemed to be a whole new way of making modern buildings in the early 1960’s, when most sensibilities had been formed by the glass and steel boxes of orthodox modern architecture.

… (The) wooden buildings … were relaxed, almost funky, combining a sense of tradition with abstraction. Sea Ranch soon became the inspiration not only for a new California style of building, but also for hundreds of ski and beach houses on the East Coast.

Al Boeke was the visionary architect behind Sea Ranch overall. He died just one year ago (in 2011). The New York Times also has a lovely write up including calling Sea Ranch:

… a development that set a standard for environmental preservation.

““There was really nothing like this in architecture up to that time, in the mid-’60s,” said Kathryn Smith, an architectural historian and former professor at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, discussing Sea Ranch in an interview Tuesday. “And because it struck a nerve with people who were concerned about preserving the environment, by carrying out its ecological design it ushered in a new style based on integrating with the landscape rather than destroying it.”

The Wikipedia entry on Sea Ranch notes:

… The building typology of the Sea Ranch draws on the local agricultural buildings for inspiration, in the way that those buildings are designed to deal with prevailing weather and topography. Originally, the Sea Ranch had local lumber mills to draw on for the Douglas Fir and Redwood used in the homes.

The press release on gives this information about Turnbull:

We are excited to announce that has acquired the rights to sell copies of historically important plans by William Turnbull (1935-1997), who was one of California’s most significant architects. These evocative designs for small houses at The Sea Ranch, an ecologically sensitive vacation community on the northern coast of California, are part of our new American Classics Collection. Bill Turnbull first received international attention in the mid-1960s as a principal of Moore Lyndon Turnbull Whitaker (MLTW), designers of the celebrated Condominium 1 and Athletic Club 1 at The Sea Ranch. He collaborated with architects Charles Moore and Donlyn Lyndon throughout his life, but started his own firm, William Turnbull Associates, in 1970. Though Bill designed large scale projects like the Mountain View, California Civic Center, and Napa Valley’s Cakebread Winery, he especially relished house design as a way to explore three dimensional space and architectural relationships to the landscape. A percentage of the price of each plan supports the Environmental Design Archives at U. C. Berkeley, which preserves the drawings and papers of significant California architects and landscape architects. Bill’s vibrant successor firm is Turnbull Griffin Haesloop Architects:

The three William Turnbull Sea House house plans:


ABOVE: Plan 447-1, or Sea Ranch A — was originally used as Sea Ranch Employee housing. Though it is a small house at only 650 square feet, its long front porch that runs the entire front of the structure and interesting roofline give the impression of grandeur.


ABOVE:  Plan 447-2 or Sea Ranch B was also used to build Sea Ranch employee housing. At 923 square feet with three bedrooms, this is one of the larger single family vacation homes that Turnbull designed.William-Turnbull-duplex-historic-beach-cottage-plan

ABOVE: The third and historic Turnbull plan is Sea Ranch C — a duplex. Each side of the duplex is 794 sq. ft. and has two bedrooms, a bathroom, living room, kitchen and a covered entry.

How nice it is to see these modest-size historic house plans made available again.

See all our stories about historic mid century house plans available again for sale today.


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  1. Olivia says

    Very cool. I really like the long, covered porch in the first plan. I wonder why it looks like the the designs only have one window on the back of the house?

    • Dulcie says

      My first thought was: what the heck? Was this guy allergic to windows??? Besides that flaw, I absolutely love these plans, especially the first one. Once I get all the kids raised and out of my house, I’m totally going for an itsy-bitsy place – I’m just a natural born minimalist.

        • Chase says

          I’m guessing (by looking at satellite photos) that this was done for privacy. The single story homes are placed very close to each other on long narrow lots, to where the front porches are facing the back of the neighboring home (where the bedroom windows would have been located). As the porch was probably a great hang-out spot, especially during evening hours, I can see why he would probably get rid of windows where shades would constantly be drawn and just add skylights.

    • Kate says

      That’s what I thought when I saw the first plan too — that it looked like something from the deep south. My grandparents used to live in Mississippi — so I’m familiar with some of the “southern architecture.”

    • Robin, NV says

      That was my first thought too. I lived in Arkansas for a while and these remind me of the vernacular architecture in the Ozark and Ouachita Mountains. If you put a couple of chimneys on the ends of Sea Ranch C, it could easily be called an “I house” (minus the windows of course).

  2. Chutti says

    this is NEAT!
    I grew up about an hour away from Sea Ranch, and did get to spend a weekend in a lovely home there once. Yes, Sea Ranch is the epitome of that sort of 70’s California architecture. Sort of Sunset magazine come to life. And in a spectacular location.

    I’d love to think more of these great houses might spring up somewhere.

    Another key person in the development of Sea Ranch was landscape architect Lawrence Halprin. My sister and I saw an exhibit of his drawings in the early 90’s that knocked our socks off. He was very influential (as was his wife-a modern dancer) and created some spaces that are very memorable.

    In Portland-this fountain is cool:

    Lots of people will recall this one in Seattle:

    And most will recognize the Nicolet Mall in Minneapolis from the opening of the Mary Tyler Moore show:

    I am just starting to reconnect with what I call the “Utopian Architecture” of my youth in the 1970’s. It’s both hopeful and inclusive. And pretty groovy. There is a space age look to some of these things that makes me kind of wistful. But it really holds up.

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Marta says

    I wonder if William Turnbull could be the son of Gale Turnbull the artist and one-time art director of Vernon Kilns pottery in California?

    I’m fascinated by the Sea Ranch plans. Fascinated by all house plans, actually, but these I’m so intrigued by the backstory here.

  4. Robin, NV says

    I’m wondering why they released the plans for employee housing (built in the 1980s, apparently) and not the iconic condos and single family homes from the 1960s that made Sea Ranch famous. Anyway, here’s the link to some photos of the employee housing (the plans shown above).

    Here’s the link to photos of the condos. Gosh I’d love to have a loft sleeping area!

    I love this little house too:

  5. says

    Funny how they tout the “environment” when, especially, the first two plans are energy and materials hogs, due to the long narrow shape. A square building is more efficient for providing more interior space relative to the exterior.

  6. puddletowncheryl says

    Thanks for the link to the Portland Keller fountain. My 1971 graduation was held across the street from the new fountain. In spite of firm orders to stay out, as soon as we exited the graduation the kids jumped into the fountain and had a glorious wet time. We deserved it because our principle hated us and spent his whole speech hurranging us and telling us how worthless we all were. We hated him just as much. Our parents let us because they were so mad at him. It was 1971 after all. LOL

    • Chutti says

      Great story!
      Sounds JUST like 1971. And also very much in the spirit of Halprin.
      He always drew community activity into his sketches. I imagine he would have jumped right in with you!

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