LEWIS W. BUTLER of Butler Armsden Architects in San
Francisco is proof that architects design their earliest work
for family and, in his case, for several generations at once.
Indeed, while Butler was still at Harvard in 1985 and
under the tutelage of architect William Turnbull of Sea
Ranch fame, one of the first homes he worked on was a
2,200-square-foot beach dwelling for his grandmother Lucy
Butler and his parents, Sheana and Lewis H. Butler.
Their weekend redoubt on a broad stretch of Stinson
Beach’s Seadrift sandspit was built on land that had belonged
to Butler’s grandmother since the 1950s. “She bought two
adjacent 60-foot-wide lots for just $3,000 each,” Butler says,
with the idea that a house would rise there someday in the
spirit of her 1935 retreat near Santa Cruz, designed by the
prominent California architect William Wurster. That house
had an unusual central courtyard that she loved, and Wurster’s ranch-style, gable-roofed houses with large overhangs for
outdoor living were the kind of Bay Area modern structures
she always admired.
Butler worked under his architecturally savvy family’s gaze
and cleverly split Wurster’s central courtyard notion into two.
An ocean-facing enclosure and, opposite it, a rear court-
yard with a mountain backdrop are contained within the
H-shaped plan of the house, which has two parallel wings,
each containing small bedrooms and guest spaces. They are
bridged by a large 20-by-24-foot family room in the middle
with sliding glass-paned barn doors on opposite sides that
open the room to both courtyards. The result is the ultimate
in indoor-outdoor living; “it feels like a tent where breezes
flow through,” Butler says. “When the wind picks up from
the ocean side you can close the doors on that side and still
leave the doors facing the mountains open.”
Butler included a fireplace inside the living room to echo a
double-sided fireplace at his grandmother’s house. However,
veering from the painted vertical board-and-batten exteriors
Wurster favored, Butler used cedar shingles and white trim to
echo weathered beach cottages in Massachusetts and Maine
on the East Coast.
“We strode outside regionalism,” he says. “Instead of
channeling Sea Ranch or the California beach vocabulary,
we opted for the national beach house model.”
He made the house as small as he could, with thin bed-
room wings so that the courtyards could be larger, with a
feeling of open space.
Lewis Butler designed his parents’ recently refurbished weekend
home in Stinson Beach for his grandmother like a “national beach
house model,” he says, but the shingled structure’s H-shaped plan,
which allows for two sheltered courtyards, is not unlike her Santa
Cruz house by Bay Area architect William Wurster.