When it came time to update accommodations at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California—a New Age retreat center founded in 1962 by two Stanford grads—community leaders were focused on recruiting a local to reimagine the space. Interior designer Carissa Duncan of Salt + Bones, a Carmel native, was lucky enough to get the gig through a word-of-mouth referral. “I grew up on the Monterey Peninsula and spent time at Esalen, so I had an insider’s insight into the culture and atmosphere,” she says.
She was initially commissioned to update 10 guest rooms on the 27-acre oceanfront estate. Next up: the redesign of the Fritz House, a semicircular building named after original resident Fritz Perls, a psychologist who taught gestalt therapy at Esalen throughout the 1960s. The building became a meeting space in the early 1970s, and its carpets, furniture, and wood cladding had been unchanged since. Duncan was charged with turning it back into a residence: “one of the most luxurious private accommodations that Esalen has to offer.” Let’s take a look.
Because the house is naturally lit via skylights and windows during the day, Duncan wanted to avoid obtrusive light fixtures. She installed LED strip lighting where possible; the fixture over the sofa is a custom steel wall sconce with LED illumination.
Duncan “focused on keeping the spaces simple, earthy, serene, and sensual,” so as to not compete with the original Fritz House design.
Duncan retained all of the building’s hand-hewn original stone.
Wooden headboards have warm-hued LED strip lighting installed behind them. “The integrated effect is reminiscent of candlelight,” said Duncan, “to provide a warm glow on the walls in the evenings.”
“There is a real handmade, artisan quality to the structure,” said Duncan, “and it was very important to maintain that quality and feel in our new design for the space.”
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