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Three Atypical Homes Beyond the Fringes of the City

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Unusual abodes waiting for you to ditch the urban maelstrom.

A football-shaped house with undulating wood shingles on the facade. Photo by Stephan Alvin, courtesy of Assemi Real Estate

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.


An aerial view of two midcentury homes in the midst of greenery and trees.
A compound with a luxe bent, featuring plenty of greenery.
An open wood front door, with star ornament on the handle, leads to a wood paneled foyer area.
A wood-paneled foyer leads to the main living room.
A large room with red brick fireplace, vaulted ceilings, and wood beams on the ceiling
A floor-to-ceiling brick fireplace highlights the living room.
Photos courtesy of The Grubb Company
A series of floor-to-ceiling windows on the side of the home reveal shrubbery and trees outside.
The views outside the wall of windows can’t be beat.

636 Wildcat Canyon Road, Berkeley

$3,900,000

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.


An aerial view of two floors of the four-story home, with a pool, patio furniture, and a roof with live plants growing atop it.
Dig that living rooftop.
A modern kitchen with limestone and a large circual light fixture on the ceiling.
A contemporary kitchen comes with a Mugnaini wood-fired pizza oven and reclaimed stonework.
Floor-to-ceiling windows of a bedroom, with fireplace, overlook the ocean.
The master bedroom, replete with fireplace, comes with quite a view.
Photos by Ryan Rosene and Robert Canfield, courtesy of Carmel Realty Company
The infinity pool can be found between the third and fourth floors.

230 Highway 1, Carmel

$14,950,000

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.


A football-shaped house with undulating wood shingles on the facade.
The football-shaped home undulates care of the shingled facade and steel beams.
Photo by Stephan Alvin, courtesy of Assemi Real Estate
Hardwood flooring would be an idea replacement for wall-to-wall carpeting.
A deck with aboral views.
Photos by Stephan Alvin, courtesy of Assemi Real Estate
A yellow, geometrical chimney adds some color to the wood-heavy home.

675 North Rio Vista Avenue, Sanger

$599,000

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.