As speculative trend piece after speculative trend piece purports a mass exodus of big-city folk escaping to small backwoods towns a la The Simple Life, it’s hard to decipher what’s real and what’s pandemic panic press.
However, if you were truly ready to watch the cityscape shrink in your rearview mirrors, here are a handful of design-savvy homes that might catch your fancy, from a four-story Carmel affair to a secluded Hobbit-like dwelling near a national park.
636 Wildcat Canyon Road, Berkeley
For many a San Franciscan, traveling to the other side of the bay is far enough when it comes to a getting-away-from-it-all move, which is why Berkeley, that bizarre little gourmet-sect town in the East Bay, is the perfect amount of distance between Market Street and Main Street.
Christened Wildcat Canyon Compound, this property offers one large home and one smaller guest house sitting on nearly an acre of lush land, with both units sharing a private gated driveway.
Featuring a total of four bedrooms and three bathroom—three beds and two baths in the main house; one bed and one bath in the guest home—the compound overlooks private gardens and the hills of Tilden Park. Built in 1954, the home comes with early midcentury-modern details aplenty, including vaulted ceilings, exposed beams, floor-to-ceiling windows, and an Eichleresque brick fireplace punctuating the living room. The formal dining area also still has its original brick wood-fired pizza oven.
The verdant landscaping here is particularly noteworthy, especially the stone accent that traces the concrete steps connecting the main house with the guest quarters.
The listing is through Bebe McRae and Alexis Thompson of The Grubb Company.
230 Highway 1, Carmel
If the secluded life atop the Berkeley Hills is too close to the city, head south and veer west until you reach Carmel, the elite beach town known for its Hollywood pedigree (Clint Eastwood was mayor here in the 1980s) and mix of exceedingly charming and jaw-droppingly bombastic homes.
The coastal town is best known these days for providing the backdrop to HBO’s Big Little Lies—located 15 minutes from Monterey, the setting for the show—which is why Renata fans should check out this 6,670-square-foot, four-story home designed by Studio Schicketanz.
Featuring a series of boxy cedar-wood and limestone blocks nestled into the hillside, this five-bedroom, eight-bathroom house, awash in neutral colors, comes with living rooftops, a cantilevered third floor to better capture the oceanic views, and an infinity pool. An elevator reaches all floors between the four-car garage and the home.
In addition to said pool, you will also find other aqua amenities like steam and outdoor showers, a sauna, and a hot tub.
The listing is through the Carmel Realty Company.
675 North Rio Vista Avenue, Sanger
Should neither Berkeley nor Carmel be far enough, go east until you hit Sanger, a little town in Fresno County just outside Kings Canyon National Park. Here you’ll find a home designed by award-winning architect Arthur Dyson, who created the Creek House, an organic, free-form abode most notable for its wavy, Hobbit-like shingled facade, domed roof, and peace sign front door.
“The design is polarizing, people seem to love it or hate it, but you’d miss the point if you pass judgment based on photos alone,” says listing agent Nader Assemi. “Everything about the design is intentional and serves a purpose; I think that’s what makes it special.”
Featuring three bedrooms, two-and-one-half bathrooms, and 1,845 square feet, 675 North Rio Vista Avenue, built in 1986, doesn’t reserve its postmodern bravado for the outside. Inside you’ll find a staircase banister bearing a Neo-Art Deco railing, peaked and arched windows, and a circular cutout between the master bedroom and the living room.
The backyard is just as whimsical as the front, featuring a series of decorative wood beams jettisoning out from the side of the home, the waving shingled theme cumulating in a wave, and a yellow steel beam shooting straight out of the top of the garage. Glorious.
The secluded home sits on over six acres of land amid honeysuckles, cottonwood, and sycamores.
The listing is through Nader Assemi of Assemi Real Estate.