This article is part of our latest Design special report, which is about expanding the possibilities of your home.
The first place David and Dorothy Measer looked during their long and frustrating search for a house in the country was the area around Sequoia National Park, near Bakersfield, Calif. It’s wild, rugged, real-deal countryside there, as the realtors the couple met with made clear.
“They would tell us, ‘If you want to have a vegetable garden, you’ll have to cover it with a fence because there’s wild boars here,’” said Mr. Measer, 50, an advertising executive. “We’re kind of artists and creative people. We have this soft idea of country life. We can’t hang with wild boars.”
Next, the Measers, who live in the Los Angeles area with their two children, Luca and Phoebe, looked closer to home, in Ojai and the Santa Ynez Valley. But they found those communities New Age-y and “shockingly” expensive. They liked the area around Yosemite National Park, but the drive (over five hours, in good traffic) was too far for a retreat. They found a beautiful lot, in the Santa Monica mountains, in a remote corner of Malibu within budget, at around $300,000, but learned they would have to put in a multimillion-dollar road to build there.
This went on for five years. The terrain, distance and cost never aligned. With all roads leading the Measers back home, they began to think about what they were really after. Their fantasy of retreating to the wilderness and listening to the coyotes howl at night was maybe just that, they realized.
“David and I have always loved the idea of camping but aren’t totally comfortable camping,” said Ms. Measer, 51, who runs her own residential design firm, DK Design House. “We thought, ‘What if we could bring the country house and camping to the city and have all the comforts and urbanity that we enjoy?’”
Their house in Venice, Calif., a modern dwelling with standing-seam metal siding and a steel exoskeleton, which Ms. Measer designed for her family, wouldn’t work. It was too urban, too brutalist, too exposed to the street. Ms. Measer envisioned a house with a more reserved approach to the neighborhood; the plantings would overtake the building.
On his commute to work, Mr. Measer noticed a house for sale in nearby Mar Vista — like many homes in the post-World War II neighborhood, a bungalow. The place was beat up and on a heavily traveled, noisy street, but it occupied a large corner lot with promise.
“That’s where Dorothy started looking at a very urban spot and putting the lens of nature and country living on what it could be possibly be,” Mr. Measer said.
The couple bought the property for $898,000 in 2015, tore down the existing house and started to build in 2018. Ms. Measer’s design embraces the idea of “urban pastoral,” as she calls it. She was inspired by a magazine cover she saw of people glamping and her own family’s talk about raising backyard chickens. At a time when so many people are buying country homes as escapes from dense urban environments, the Measers’ home functions as both country house and full-time residence in one. They can retreat into nature while staying put.
While the two-story, 3,400-square-foot house is a modern design built with hard materials like stucco, concrete and steel, the landscape surrounding it is soft and wild. Tall meadow grasses, succulents and other low-water plantings practically spill onto the sidewalk and make the site feel tranquil and inviting. And for hedging, the Measers planted Grevilleas, a drought-tolerant tree native to Australia, rather than the colossal privacy hedges that are off-putting and everywhere in Southern California.
With their lacy foliage and wispy moon-yellow flowers, the Grevilleas create an indefinite border between the home and the city, a “soft scrim,” as Ms. Measer described it.
“If you’re driving by, you’re not going to see me walking around in my underwear,” said Mr. Measer. “But if you do want to look through it, you can stop and look through it. I think of it as more like a mist.”
Speaking of which, because the area gets a pervasive fog at certain times of the year, Ms. Measer chose white glazed brick for the home’s facade, a material that, during these misty moments, fades into the environment.
Indoor-outdoor living in the modern sense was basically invented in Southern California. But Ms. Measer took it a step beyond, creating a green roof that wraps around the house midway up the building. From every room on the setback second floor, the family first sees prairie-like tall grasses, before seeing the power lines, streetlights and other features of the urbanscape.
The downstairs rooms, with their big glass windows that face, variously, the scruffy lawn, citrus trees, sea pink flowers or Mr. Measer’s vegetable patch, impart a trompe l’oeil nature effect, too.
If all that doesn’t give the family the feeling of green acres, there are the chickens. Only hens are allowed in Mar Vista, five maximum, which is how many the Measers have. The family moved into their home before it was completed at the beginning of 2020, and the hens began laying as the pandemic hit the United States.
The chickens became a draw for the local children and their parents, allowing the Measers to meet many of their new neighbors at a time of social isolation, and they inspired a homesteading approach to life during lockdown. Long an avid gardener, Mr. Measer threw himself into growing vegetables and tending the citrus trees. In the garage, he set up a “full-on fermentation lab” to make moonshine, beer and pickled foods like kimchi.
Ms. Measer had time to manicure the roof garden and complete other house projects. She would sit every morning and drink coffee and watch the hens.
And all while the traffic whizzed by outside.
“Throughout the day, there’s an ebb and flow of the nature and the urbanity,” Ms. Measer said. “The chickens are competing with the sound of the traffic in the morning. The traffic slows down a little bit midday and the nature takes over.”
Said Mr. Measer, “There’s a little bit of Bakersfield in there, except instead of the wild boar it was the pickup trucks and the airport right down the way.”