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A Storied Retreat in Big Sur Gets an Update (for the First Time in 50 Years)

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A Storied Retreat in Big Sur Gets an Update (for the First Time in 50 Years)

May 5, 2017

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.

Photography by Laure Joliet, courtesy of Salt + Bones.

the entire house is clad in old growth redwood; duncan refreshed it by having i 9
Above: The entire house is clad in old-growth redwood; Duncan refreshed it by having it sanded and sealed. She turned to onsite Esalen woodworkers to make a sofa bench using discarded redwood found elsewhere on the campus. The sofa pillows are hemp and wool, and the living room chairs are from Janus et Cie.

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.

the living room coffee table is from four hands. the concrete dining table is  10
Above: The living room coffee table is from Four Hands. The concrete dining table is from CB2, with black Eames molded plastic chairs from DWR. Above the dining table hangs a Bird’s Nest pendant light from Ay Illuminate.

Duncan “focused on keeping the spaces simple, earthy, serene, and sensual,” so as to not compete with the original Fritz House design.

 the kitchen backsplash is made of two by nine inch heath ceramics field tile  11
Above: The kitchen backsplash is made of two-by-nine-inch Heath Ceramics field tile with gunmetal chalk glaze—a color reference to the nearby ocean and in harmony with the house’s original palette.
german psychologist fritz perls delivered his gestalt workshops from a chair ne 12
Above: German psychologist Fritz Perls delivered his gestalt workshops from a chair near the stone fireplace.

Duncan retained all of the building’s hand-hewn original stone.

white cotton sheets are from matteo home. the salvaged redwood headboards were 13
Above: White cotton sheets are from Matteo Home. The salvaged redwood headboards were made by Esalen craftspeople, as were the built-in nightstands.

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.”

bedroom curtains are simple white linen. walls are finished in natural earth p 14
Above: Bedroom curtains are simple white linen. Walls are finished in natural earth plaster by American Clay.
duncan had a redwood closet built with locally sourced wood. 15
Above: Duncan had a redwood closet built with locally sourced wood.
 in the bathroom, the stone shower, concrete countertops, and wooden walls are 16
Above: In the bathroom, the stone shower, concrete countertops, and wooden walls are all original.

“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.”

 the sink and shower fixtures are unlacquered brass from waterworks. 17
Above: The sink and shower fixtures are unlacquered brass from Waterworks.
 the house required some exterior maintenance after 60 years, including all ne 18
Above: The house required some exterior maintenance after 60 years, including all new windows and some new exterior wood.
 fritz house is built partly into the cliff and has \180 degree views of the p 19
Above: Fritz House is built partly into the cliff and has 180 degree views of the Pacific.

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