Naturally Reimagined

Mithun architects breathe new life into an iconic Sonoma county building.

By Moe Godat

Photography courtesy of The Sea Ranch Lodge


Panoramic views of the sea, sky and rocky ocean outcrops are hard to let go to waste. A 10-mile stretch of Sonoma’s far northern coast houses a privately owned community dubbed the Sea Ranch.

Before the area was settled by timber harvesters and ranchers in the late 1800s, the land was a haven for the Pomo Indians, who were avid hunters and fishermen and made seasonal use of the land for gathering kelp and shellfish. German settler and naturalized Mexican citizen Ernest Rufus received a land grant for the area stretching from the Gualala River to Ocean Cove in 1846, which began the first year-round settlement of what is now known as the Sea Ranch.

However, the region’s township and organization didn’t properly flourish until 1964, when Oceanic Properties, Inc. chose the location to build a town. Keeping true to the land’s history was paramount to the architects and builders, who sought to preserve the harmony between its inhabitants and the surrounding rugged coastline.

The original design of the Sea Ranch Lodge, one of the oldest buildings in the community, achieved just that while also serving a central role in the town and a post office, sales office and information center. Over the years, it changed ownership several times and eventually morphed into a hotel, which many thought led to it losing its original charm and natural harmony with the landscape.

Enter Mithun, a renowned architectural firm with offices in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles. They set out to reinvigorate the once iconic space, succeeding in renovating it for its grand reopening in 2021. As the Sea Ranch Design Guidelines explain, “This is not a place for the grand architectural statement; it is a place to explore the subtle nuances of fitting in—blending buildings into the existing environmental setting and the historical context.”

Mithun aimed to simplify the original Lodge and focus on the natural setting and exceptional views by removing previous additions and walls/partitions that cut-off certain rooms from light and views. Any new elements added to the building were chosen with agricultural roots in mind, leaning toward basic materials and details.

The newly completed Lodge was updated and expanded with nature and occupant comfort in mind, including a café, solarium space in the lounge, a new, open-layout for the kitchen and an improved dining room. The public spaces now celebrate the spotlight of the Sea Ranch Lodge and its greatest amenity: a meadow rolling gently toward the Pacific Ocean.