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On the morning Paul and Melissa Kanarek visited the five-and-a-half-acre plot that would become their future home in Santa Ynez, California, Paul looked over to find his wife crying. “The first thing I thought was, What have I done wrong?” he says. “But then she goes, ‘This place is so beautiful. I want to spend the rest of our lives here and have our grandchildren play here.’” Then she pointed off into the distance and paused: “And I want to bury you right over there, under that tree.”

By lunch, they were in escrow—“You can bury bodies on your own land,” Melissa jokes—and suddenly the pair, former New Yorkers who had transplanted to Laguna Beach, started their next life phase: becoming ranch people.

“We aren’t ranch people; we’re not even outdoors people,” says Paul. “I have no idea why we did this, other than we couldn’t stay in Orange County anymore during COVID, and being in an open space has proven to be markedly cathartic.”

To start the transformation (of the land and of themselves), the empty nesters enlisted eco-conscious maker Hygge Supply to provide them a one-bedroom, two-bathroom shelter and a one-bedroom ADU that they use as a guesthouse (The pool is an old shipping container from Mod Pools.) For them, choosing a prefab home that they could order online was a no-brainer. “The finishes looked like what I would choose if I was starting from scratch myself—and I’m very picky,” Melissa says of the black exteriors and hardwood floors. 

Hampton Sun Lounge, Harbour; Recycled Shipping Container Pool, ModPools.

There were nature-inspired reasons for loving it, too. First, there was the fact that the structure would sit on piers so as not to damage the land, and second, the patio-style living area would be completely open air—not a door or window closure in sight. It’s where they sip their morning coffee, reply to emails on their laptops, and over Christmas hosted 20 family members. “It’s as if you’re looking out at a portrait,” says Melissa. 

Mason Concrete Dining Table, Terra Outdoor; Mason Concrete Bench, Terra Outdoor; Custom Windows, Pella.
Organic Cotton Body Bed, Suay LA.
Bloak Ladders, Lostine; Solana Blanket, Morrow Soft Goods; Wood Cladding, Thermory USA.

Inside, Melissa took the reins on decorating, careful not to follow the ranch theme too literally but instead make it her own interpretation of Western country living. “I really don’t like when you walk into someone’s home and can tell that a designer did it, and it doesn’t really incorporate their lives,” she says. “Design can’t happen in one day. A home is something that’s collected over time.” 

Odger Chair, IKEA; Mt. Washington Potte, Shop Boswell.

For example, an 1800s bread-making buffet mingles with an 1930s Art Deco shearling sofa and an Eames lounger. There’s a fertility vase that they badly haggled for in Morocco. George Nelson lighting. A salvaged prison desk acts as a bathroom vanity. And then some pieces are a little more on the nose, like the neon “Ranchy McRanch” sign, a nod to the home’s Instagram account, in the entryway. Finally, a road trip to Round Top and Marfa, Texas, helped fill any design holes. 

Lou Hodges Shelving System, Mid Century LA; Deadstock Quilt, Suay LA.

The landscaping, a collaboration with Terremoto, helped connect the two dwellings with a gravel road and what Melissa calls an “energy vortex” made from five boulders placed in a circle that help visitors (and the owners) reflect on the land, which the couple filled with California-native, drought-tolerant plants and, recently, nearly 50 citrus trees. 

Heirloom Linen Sheet Set, Morrow Goods.
Bathtub, Oceana; Bath Hardware, Emtek.

Other additions to the land? Two Scottish Highland cows, two horses, one llama, and two dogs, with a set of piglets on their way this spring. And to occupy the nine toddler-like goats on the property, the couple built a playground with swings that the animals jump on at dusk every night.

For two people who never saw themselves as ranchers, you could say they’ve settled into their roles nicely. In town, Melissa is about to open Brass Tack, a shop she describes as “if Dolly Parton and Georgia O’Keeffe crashed Fashion Week,” but Paul says he’ll never get used to the fact that there’s nothing to do once the sun sets at 6 p.m.—though the blanket of stars helps. So do the animals. As Melissa puts it: “Nothing beats a baby cow coming to greet you in the morning.”

The Goods