A Gorgeous, Off-Grid Guesthouse Perches Lightly on a California Ranch

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By Jenny Xie
On an undulating stretch of California coastline, a hidden guesthouse runs free of the grid.

As they approach, visitors to Steve and Margaret Cegelski’s new guesthouse north of Santa Barbara might be momentarily confused. Their quarters are hidden from sight, tucked under the lip of a hill, with a green roof as camouflage. It’s not until they descend a concrete staircase dividing a sunken two-volume structure that they see their accommodations, not to mention the spectacular view of the coastline straight ahead.

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Steve and Margaret Cegelski, a retired couple who invented a popular tire sealant, welcome guests to their Santa Barbara County home nearly every weekend for hiking, surfing, and horseback riding. Overnight visitors stay in the new guesthouse designed by Dan Weber of Anacapa Architecture and Steve Willson of Willson Design; the builder was Curtis Homes, and the structural engineer was Ashley & Vance Engineering. A green roof helps the structure disappear into the site high above the Pacific. "We wanted to capture the quality of the setting, but with minimal impact on the land," says Weber. 

Steve and Margaret Cegelski, a retired couple who invented a popular tire sealant, welcome guests to their Santa Barbara County home nearly every weekend for hiking, surfing, and horseback riding. Overnight visitors stay in the new guesthouse designed by Dan Weber of Anacapa Architecture and Steve Willson of Willson Design; the builder was Curtis Homes, and the structural engineer was Ashley & Vance Engineering. A green roof helps the structure disappear into the site high above the Pacific. "We wanted to capture the quality of the setting, but with minimal impact on the land," says Weber. 

An intimate connection to the environment suffuses every aspect of this singular retreat, set amid a wildlife preserve and working cattle ranch defined by majestic bluffs, oak trees, and chaparral-blanketed slopes. "Imagine California a hundred years ago," says project architect Dan Weber of Santa Barbara–based firm Anacapa.

Margaret worked with interior designer Jessica Helgerson on the planning of the rooms, interior finish materials, fixtures, lighting, and furnishings for the guesthouse. 

Margaret worked with interior designer Jessica Helgerson on the planning of the rooms, interior finish materials, fixtures, lighting, and furnishings for the guesthouse. 

The guesthouse sits about 300 yards from the Cegelskis’ Craftsman-style home, which existed on the property when the couple moved there in 2009. They started the guesthouse project shortly after, in order to have a separate space for hosting family and friends. Land use and access in the area is a contentious issue, and concern about increasing limits on construction led the couple to build sooner rather than wait. The design includes a detached garage, which is similarly buried in the earth.

Handmade leather Fernando chairs by Jayson Home surround a live-edge custom walnut table by Ben Riddering in the dining area. 

Handmade leather Fernando chairs by Jayson Home surround a live-edge custom walnut table by Ben Riddering in the dining area. 

The long, narrow layout of the guesthouse follows the natural contours of a sheltering ridge that runs perpendicular to the coast. Measuring 800 square feet, it cantilevers over a steep rock face, and the living/kitchen/dining area flows through glass sliding doors to an L-shaped deck. "You can sit there with a glass of wine and be eye level with a red-tailed hawk," says Steve. The smaller, accessory unit is set farther back.

A chandelier by Lindsey Adelman hangs overhead. The floor-to-ceiling windows throughout are by Fleetwood Windows.

A chandelier by Lindsey Adelman hangs overhead. The floor-to-ceiling windows throughout are by Fleetwood Windows.

"The house is elemental," says Weber, who collaborated on the project with designer Steve Willson. "We endeavored to make it out of materials that would wear and take on a patina over time, so they could feel like part of the landscape." Unfinished steel, board-formed concrete, and glass continue inside, where rich black walnut—used for ceilings, cabinetry, and furniture—provides an inviting contrast. "On a foggy day, you want that feeling of warmth around you," says Margaret. Brass fixtures complement the deep-hued wood.

Shop the Look
Finn Juhl Chieftains Chair
Finn Juhl Chieftains Chair
Designed by Finn Juhl in 1949, the Chieftain Chair is now an icon of Danish furniture art. Comprised of a sculptural teak and walnut frame with luxe leather upholstery, the chair was inspired by primitive weaponry, as is evidenced in the chair’s distinctive shapes.
Lindsey Adelman Branching Bubbles BB.05.28 Chandelier
Lindsey Adelman Branching Bubbles BB.05.28 Chandelier
Produced by Lindsey Adelman in her New York studio, the Branching Bubble Series is inspired by the complex yet interconnected forms found in nature.
Jayson Home Fernando Chair
Jayson Home Fernando Chair
Pull up a seat with our Fernando Chair. Pairing warm, handmade Paraguayan leather with a sleek iron frame, this handsome seat is at home almost anywhere, from a casual kitchen breakfast nook to a rustic dining room.
The living area features a Le Bombole ’07 sofa by Mario Bellini for B&B Italia, a Chieftan chair by Finn Juhl, and a rotating hanging stove by FireOrb. The poufs are by Tazi Designs. 

The living area features a Le Bombole ’07 sofa by Mario Bellini for B&B Italia, a Chieftan chair by Finn Juhl, and a rotating hanging stove by FireOrb. The poufs are by Tazi Designs. 

"It’s almost as though you peeled up the grass on the hilltop and put it back down on the roof."

Dan Weber, architect

Surrounded by glass panels, the deck has an infinity-edge effect.

Surrounded by glass panels, the deck has an infinity-edge effect.

Both the main house and the new structure are completely off-grid out of necessity, as power doesn’t reach the property. "It would have cost $250,000 to bring electricity up here," Steve explains. A 6kW photovoltaic array and a 48-volt battery system power the guesthouse’s LED lights and low-usage appliances. A propane generator acts as an emergency backup.

Brass and bronze accents appear throughout the guesthouse, including in the Waterworks taps, Workstead pendants, and Rejuvenation mirror in the bathroom. 

Brass and bronze accents appear throughout the guesthouse, including in the Waterworks taps, Workstead pendants, and Rejuvenation mirror in the bathroom. 

The lodging also has its own well and water treatment system, while wastewater goes to a septic tank and dry well. Radiant floor heating, cross ventilation, and an insulating green roof—designed by the Cegelskis’ daughter, landscape artist Danielle Gaston, and thriving with yarrow, succulents, sedum, California poppies, and other native flora—keep the inside temperature comfortable.  

The Drum table is by Milo Baughman for Thayer Coggin from Design Within Reach. The ebonized oak headboard has upholstered insets of tie-dyed kona cotton.

The Drum table is by Milo Baughman for Thayer Coggin from Design Within Reach. The ebonized oak headboard has upholstered insets of tie-dyed kona cotton.

Because of the stringent ordinances and review process, the project took six years to complete, but the Cegelskis were determined to take as long as necessary to preserve the integrity of the design, rather than compromise or seek out cheaper, faster alternatives. "We went slowly," says Steve. "Because of the location, we felt like we were creating a work of art."

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