The Post Ranch Inn, designed by famed local architect Mickey Muennig, overlooks the Pacific and offers 960-square-feet of glass and wood surroundings. In 1971 he arrived in Big Sur, where he fell in love with the solitude and geography of the storied region. He immediately bought 30 acres on Partington Ridge, where he still lives. "I became a hippie real fast," he says. "I didn’t even care if I did any more architecture."
The 30-room Post Ranch Inn, which opened its doors in 1992, is Muennig’s largest project and consists of a series of freestanding units that fuse his organic vernacular with a modern sensibility. After surveying the property for several weeks and climbing the trees to find the best views, Muennig designed a few defining structures: tree houses built on slender stilts sitting ten feet above the ground; earth-sheltered, hobbitlike rooms covered in sod, grass, and wildflowers; and cylindrical cabins echoing the beauty of the majestic redwoods that dot the property. "What Mickey was able to do here," says Mike Freed, owner and developer of the Post Ranch, "was to take this amazing piece of property and not have the architecture compete with the beauty of the landscape." Freed also notes the challenge of convincing investors of the logic of a hotel with no right angles.
Seventy-three, slight, and soft-spoken, Muennig has lived in Big Sur year-round for 37 years. He is known and revered by locals, who recognize him by his shock of white hair and the bright red Mini Cooper he drives along the dirt roads and hairpin turns of Highway 1. "Straight lines are a cop-out," Muennig says in his laconic Midwestern drawl as we sit together on a sunny Saturday afternoon. His curvaceous structures, their congruence with nature, and a near absence of right angles seem to corroborate this statement, as does the process—both literal and figurative—of getting Muennig in the same room with me. It was only after a series of persistent phone calls and a couple of missed crossings that we finally met at the restaurant of the Post Ranch Inn, the famed eco-luxury hotel Muennig designed. "He’s not trying to avoid you," a sympathetic Post Ranch employee said to me as I waited in the lobby, just as I’d waited the evening before. "He’s just a little…capricious."
It doesn’t take long to realize that the gentleness with which Muennig seems to approach life belies a radical design ethos and a complex relationship with nature. "I like to cantilever the room over a cliff," he says straightforwardly, gazing out of the gigantic windows of the bar at the Post Ranch Inn, their presence a thin veil between protected shelter and the wild Pacific 1,200 feet below. "It helps people get rid of their fear."
For the Butterfly cabin, which is part of the Post Ranch Inn, Muennig chose materials that age gracefully when exposed to the elements. He regularly uses Cor-Ten steel, a group of steel alloys that form a stable rust-like appearance when battered by wind and rain.
The Treehouse, also part of the Post Ranch Inn, features Cor-ten panels.