The Lovely Woods
A Carmel home with style and grace.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Decades ago, Alleene Withers was teaching school in a little town near Sacramento when she accepted a job on the Peninsula, a place she had visited. “And of course I fell in love with it,” she says. “When the offer to teach there came, I took it even though it meant a lower salary.”
She taught several years in Carmel during the late ’40s and in 1950 bought land on a hill in the Carmel woods known locally as the hill of the saints. Withers’ street is San Mateo; two others, for example, are San Luis and San Pedro. “I wanted a house in the thick of the woods,” she says. She wanted it deep among the pines, cypresses, oaks and other dense flora, a house that would disappear into its surroundings instead of obscuring them.
“I built the (three bedroom/two bath) house in 1951,” Withers says. It’s a classic ’50s contemporary, with the main roof slanting away in back, unseen from just about anywhere. Only the flat roofs of the double carport and portico and a part of the façade are noticed. It’s built of stucco with redwood clapboards across the front: solid construction, a mighty house that no amount of wolf huffing and puffing could ever blow down.
The home’s most noticeable mid-century adherence to Carmel’s sensibilities to nature is its rust-red color, a choice anathema to today’s tastes, a color widely appreciated then to prevent stark contrasts between houses and land, a blending color.
In 1964 Withers married, moved, then rented her house to the same person for the next 45 years. She says, “When I saw it for the first time since 1964 I couldn’t believe the beautiful ocean view. It took the death of all those trees and in their place I see the ocean.”
That didn’t keep her from seeing how much the house needed, though. She wasn’t comfortable selling it without retrieving the interior first. She says, “I wanted the inside just as it was when it was built.” She calls those precise labors a “1950’s retro-fit.”
What one encounters upon entering the house would amaze no matter the genre. The front door opens and an entire house is all but ignored for the draw of the floor-to-ceiling windows providing 30 feet of riveting forest and ocean views and bouncing sublime light across every surface.
The refinished hardwood floors (throughout) beneath high, slanted ceilings with rows of beams literally gleam from all the daylight. Finally, looking away from the windows, one appreciates the home’s clean lines, the appropriately unostentatious brick fireplace/surround/hearth in the living room and the grace of the layout. The dining room and living room are wide open to each other yet designed as different spaces designated by a deep crossbeam and a support wall on one end.
The many ceiling beams in both of the big rooms blush again with coffered lights that Withers had reinstalled at the ceiling nexus of each; warm, lounging cross-slants of light made imperceptibly kinetic by the ambient light of day or night influencing their shadow paths.
Light from the windows comes through dark wrought-iron railings in the dining room along open stairs (carpeted) down to a big family room plus a 1/1 apartment on the lower level. It has its own deck for private sunset views.
Withers says, laughing, “I once bought a house deep in the woods, and I’m selling it now with a million-dollar view.”