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Sea Ranch-esque Compound Comes With its own Funicular

Thursday, August 20, 2020   /   by The Villages Home Search

Sea Ranch-esque Compound Comes With its own Funicular

Location: Alamo, California
Year built: 1981
Architect: John Nance
Specs: 3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, 2,729 square feet, 2.51 acres
Price: $3,295,000, includes two parcels


When native Californians Joan and John Jamieson set out to build a house near a wilderness preserve just 29 miles east of San Francisco, they were inspired by Sea Ranch, the famed mid-century planned community on the Sonoma Coast known for its sloped-roof wooden homes. Although the Jamiesons’ architect, John Nance, designed mostly commercial projects, he won them over with one of his few residential projects, which featured a shed roof similar to Sea Ranch’s Binker Barn.

The couple wanted the house to blend into the hillside site as much as possible and for nearly every room to have a mountain view. So instead of building on the ground level, they chose to sit the house atop 35 eight-foot piers, which are drilled deep into the ground and are connected by grade beams. This building method, which does not require excavating the land, also helps to reduce the environmental impact of construction as it does not contribute to erosion. In lieu of a concrete driveway that would have covered the hill, they opted to put in five flights of stairs, concealed within a ramrod-straight, shingled structure that matches the house.

The interior combines elements of mid-century modern charm — like exposed beams and floor-to-ceiling windows — with an over-the-shoulder wink to ’80s postmodern whimsy (think geometric cutouts in the walls, colorful exposed ducting, and sunken beds). The property, notably, also comes with a funicular for stair-free access, plus a detached garage, barn, pool, and horseshoe pit.

“[John Jamieson] passed away last year and the house isn’t the same without him,” says Joan Jamieson. Their home is now on the market for the first time in its 40-year existence.

A front door with two circular cutout windows.
The front door, accessible via the funicular or five flights of stairs, leans into the geometric theme.
A black fireplace in the center of a white room with reddish tile and white carpeting.
Exposed ducts painted red, yellow, and green can be seen throughout the home. As Jamieson recalls, Nance said, “‘Why hide it? Let’s make it part of the decor.”
Open living are with a white sectional couch and glass walls.
Glass walls in the living room offer a view of the hillside and beyond.
A kitchen with a wood paneled ceiling, a kitchen island with three white circular stools, and glossy black cabinets and drawers.
The kitchen is all glossy black, tile, and wood.
A tree-studded scene can be seen outside the windows of this dining room with glass table, square light fixture, and red chairs.
The glass-enclosed dining room has expansive mountain views.
A white wall with a keyhole-shaped doorway that leads to another room. A staircase sits to the left.
A keyhole cutout puts a playful twist on archways. Don’t miss the rock garden under the staircase.
A white bedroom with a bed bounded on all sides by a carpeted border, giving it a sunken look. There’s a black cast iron fireplace and lots of windows here too.
Nance originally designed the home’s sunken beds as waterbeds, but they were soon changed to normal beds as the awkward aquatic sleeping trend of the late-1970s didn’t float with the Jamiesons.
A shower with massive picture windows and beige tiling.
Dare to go bare inside this airy tiled shower that looks onto the hillside.
Room with curved wall covered in shingles. There
“The Moose Room” features a curved wall of shingles similar to the ones found on the façade. It’s where the grandchildren stayed when they visited.
An open and airy room painted all white, with a staircase nearby, red-painted duct pipe and a circular cutout.
On the top floor, a circular cutout comes with a lid-like contraption.
An outdoor deck, with siding of glass and wood beams, next to a large oak tree.
This appendage-like outdoor deck was originally designed as a diving board into a pool. “[That] didn’t work out, so we decided to leave it because it used to go right out to a beautiful oak tree that we lost several years ago,” says Jamieson. Two protruding walkways nearby pull double duty as lookout points and escape routes in case of fire. And the pool, which features a waterfall and boulders from nearby wine country mecca Healdsburg, can now be found at the foot of the home.
A steel and glass tram with a cover sits at the bottom of its terminus, with two steel cables supporting it on its side.
“We always thought we wanted to put [a funicular] in and had provisions made to remove an exterior wall to provide a landing when the house was built,” says Jamieson. “We continued to use the five flights of stairs for 30 years until we had some health issues.” The couple found a tram builder in Washington State, where it was built and hauled down in a trailer. “After we installed it, we never used the stairs anymore. It is absolutely wonderful. Maintenance free and holds up to 700 pounds.”
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Last updated October 29, 2020 Copyright © 2020

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