Butterfly Grove: Take Flight: Skylights, well-spaced rooms and a forest-bordered backyard invite a lightness of being.— Hali Jones


On Ridge Road in Pacific Grove, the only path to the legendary Butterfly Sanctuary runs alongside the home of Mike and Vicki Stilwell (owners of the Wooden Nickel). Visitors from all over the world come to see the monarch butterflies gathered in the Stilwell’s backyard in the Stilwell’s own trees.

“We bought the house because the property is contiguous with the butterfly sanctuary,” Mike Stilwell says. “But it turns out our place is the sanctuary, for years now. The butterflies didn’t get the memo. They prefer our pines over the ‘official’ ones on the other side.”

The monarchs annually undertake a Herculean journey, an ancient pilgrimage away from the winters of the Canadian Rockies and southern Alaska to Pacific Grove, beginning every October. In February and March they depart for a brief stint in the Central Valley before flying back to the Great White North.

“Apparently, mating season begins as they leave here,” Stilwell says. “We’ve learned the monarchs arriving here each year are the third generation beyond those seen the year before.”

The Stilwells chose their house specifically for the thrill of living in the midst of such a beautiful natural phenomenon. “We wanted maximum enjoyment of the butterflies,” he says. The Stillwells created “orchestra seating” in the nature-preserve setting of their backyard by building a large gazebo to watch the monarchs’ annual Passion Play.

The garden path that disappears into the furthest end of their property encircles a gazebo, and high trees on all sides sway to the sweet timpani of venerable eucalyptus and pines, the lullaby butterflies have always known here. When the monarchs are not in residence, views from the gazebo reveal the bay and filtered sunsets. “We’re out there a lot,” Stilwell says.

The front of their house faces a pine-rimmed meadow within the quiet compound of the Pacific Grove Unified School District’s offices, perpetuating the mood of sanctuary. One enters into a great room with a fireplace off to the left, the open eat-kitchen to the right. Stainless appliances, black granite counters and beautiful cabinetry mark the quality in the kitchen, present throughout the home. In honor of the butterflies, Stilwell designed a large skylight with their images. “We kept it real simple,” he says.

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The home has two (or three) bedrooms and three master baths. Two smaller bedrooms are separated from the new addition by Stilwell’s design of the master suite. The ceiling is vaulted, the windows plentiful, the French doors with an astral above lead to a beautiful wooden deck. It all faces the butterflies’ vacation location. “We wake up and see them from our pillows,” Stilwell says.

Further enhancing the suite is an adjacent interior sitting room, a sanctuary in its own right, ideal for hibernating. “We felt it could also be either a nursery, an office or third bedroom,” Stilwell says.

Just steps below, one discovers another room with variable uses. Big windows plus French doors leading directly out to the back make it a possible family room, or even a formal dining room, since it also enters into the kitchen at the front of the house.

Mike and Vicki Stilwell’s home interior is infinitely livable—the appealing blend of extreme privacy and wide-open airiness feels great. Outdoors, they are totally unseen within a fabled wonder of nature. They live in their unique Butterfly House.

Price: $1,435,000. 208 Ridge Rd., Pacific Grove. Contact Christine Monteith, The Jones Group Coast and Country Real Estate, 236-7780.

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