Modern Rustic

The powerfully humble abode of noted architect Ross Anderson and Patricia Teague Anderson.

By Leslie A. Westbrook

Photo by Mike Baker

Patricia and Ross at home with their dogs, Belle and Rufus.


crolling through architect Ross Anderson’s website and Instagram posts before meeting him in person at the “modern rustic” Ojai abode (that he hashtags #shack) he designed and built five years ago, I am impressed by a photo of a wood, steel and concrete building at Ravenswood Winery in Napa. To my eye, it’s Le Corbusier meets Frank Gehry, with a little sprinkle of Luis Barragán thrown in for good measure, yet it is completely original and seems very much from the imagination and heart of this very talented architect. I’m also attracted to a uniquely wonderful sleeping porch in a St. Helena vineyard house. Based on these two snapshots alone, I can’t wait to meet the marvelous Mr. Anderson and experience one of his projects in person: the home and gardens that he and his wife of five years, Patricia Teague Anderson (originally from Zimbabwe), share in Ojai’s bucolic east end.

Ross Anderson, FAIA, FAAR, is a native Californian born in San Francisco whose family moved around a lot. He attended and graduated from Ojai’s Thacher School, and from there studied art and architecture at Stanford followed by Harvard Graduate School of Design. Returning to California, he worked for renowned Bay Area architect William Turnbull, Jr. in San Francisco, among others, before deciding to move to New York City in 1979. Thirty years ago, he opened his own practice, Anderson Architects, in the Big Apple, and recently joined forces with a large Bay Area firm, MBH, to create a boutique design footprint in New York.

“I had lots of artist friends in New York, which was the pull. It was cool, cheap and interesting. I taught for a while and worked in other offices. Apparently, I wanted to have my own studio,” he said over a cup of afternoon tea.

Most of the design studio’s output has been with startup companies and established brands, like Levi-Strauss and Abercrombie & Fitch, creating work spaces and inventive retail spaces, as well as residential projects. Design projects spread from Ohio to Florida, Vermont and New York to California and around the globe. He’s designed the Fossil flagship store in London, O’Neill in Amsterdam, Cole Haan in Tokyo, Abercrombie & Fitch headquarters and even a soccer stadium at Princeton. A building published in DWELL was likened to a “Swiss Army knife” because it had components with multiple uses.

“I love doing houses,” he admitted, so being his own client to create the Ojai home “created an opportunity to build a modest structure that responded to the local vernacular of shacks, sheds and barns, but still had its own relationship to the landscape and the outdoors, as well as aspirations of grandeur and modernity.”

Those attributes, plus timely and valued input from his wife, shaped the outcome. The couple met while Ross was a “visiting scholar” at his alma mater, The Thacher School, where Patricia, whose two children from a previous marriage attended Thacher, was proctoring exams.

“It’s a work in progress,” Ross told me as we walked the 1.25-acre property that feels much larger, thanks in part to one of his credos:

“I always tell my clients to buy the biggest piece of property they can afford and build the smallest house they can. This is my reaction to the whole hideous McMansion thing. People who need 10-, 20-, 30-thousand square foot houses, it’s absurd. I’ve always liked the landscape to be dominant,” he maintains.

The fantastic outdoor landscape is an entertaining dream that spreads out with a bocce ball court, outdoor stone fireplace, table long enough to seat 30 or more, lap pool and more. Native and drought-tolerant Australian plants add color and texture to the garden. In the architect’s work studio/guesthouse, more talent is revealed: handsome bronze sculptures cast at an Oxnard foundry are based on Chinese scholar stones that invite quiet contemplation. Perhaps the piece de resistance is the cozy bathhouse, a self-contained structure and sanctuary with a claw foot tub, wood-burning fireplace, Eames chair and wall of books where I immediately spot a tome on the aforementioned Luis Barragán.

Ross admires the work of Barragán, along with early Frank Gehry projects, Finnish architect Alvar Aalto and lesser-known Bay area architect William Wurster. He also has a penchant for contemporary art, with many pieces by New York artist friends such as Carroll Dunham, Mel Kendrick, Terry Winters, Gregory Rukavina and Laurie Simmons, among others, on display. His self-professed “furniture fetish” is shown through midcentury pieces, such as a dining table and chairs by Alvar Aalto, a George Nelson bookshelf system and wood coffee table by George Nakashima (considered the father of the America Craft movement). Nicely worn 1930s leather club chairs and a sofa you can sink into add to the comfort factor in an interior that is not in the least bit stuffy, but well considered. The color palette is heavy on gray, taupe, black and white with an occasional splash of color. Ross says the outdoors provides color to his tableaux.

The highly insulated, solar-panel-powered 1,150 square foot house (electricity bills are $3 a month) is technically a “remodel” but basically brand new. The ceiling shapes the interior spaces with varying heights and angles; an interior fiberglass roof acts as a glowing skylight to the open kitchen/dining area/living room functioning like a Japanese paper lantern. It all suits the Andersons’ passion for cooking and entertaining.

Ross’s favorite part of the compound is the wide front porch — a perfect transitional space between the cozy indoors and the compelling landscape where Sunbrella shades are adjusted with nautical hardware to keep summer heat out or maintain warmth for winter dinner parties utilizing heat lamps.

“I would call this an earnest structure, trying to appear to be a big house with a vast porch,” the architect explains. “It’s as if I took a bicycle pump to the original house and said, ‘Let’s try to let it be the big house it really wants to be without making it the big house.’ ”

Patricia, a longtime private therapist in Ojai who recently launched the nonprofit group practice Acorn Counseling, provided her own lovely take on their nest:

“This is such a livable house, it’s so well designed and intimate, but still has privacy. There’s a loft in my office that doubles as a guest bed. The porch becomes its own separate room or can turn into a tent that glows with candles at night for an outdoor dinner.”

Incorporating a rich material palette, Ross notes, means it doesn’t have to all be about size.

“Building is expensive,” Ross admits, “I believe in architecture with a small ‘a,’ not a big ‘A.’ I’ve always liked the power of a confident but humble building.”

“The house looks low and simple from the front, but when you walk in, it opens up immediately into this spacious high-ceilinged interior. You can’t see any of this until you get inside,” Patricia concluded. “I still am delighted, and a bit puzzled by it, each time I come home.”

Ross Anderson, FAIA, FAAR, Principal, MBH Architects
467 Greenwich St., New York
212.620.0996; cell: 917.597.4688

General Contractor
Jake Stone Construction, Ojai

Green Goddess Gardens, Ojai

Pool Contractor
Anderson and Sons Pool,Thousand Oaks

Solar installation
California Solar Electric, Ojai

Irrigation and site lighting
Paul Woodman, 206.786.3053

The bathhouse is an intellectual’s sanctuary, where a clawfoot tub, an Eames chair and a wood-burning fireplace provide comfort while the wall of books holds plenty of diversion for curious minds.

Modest in size but enormous in design, the Andersons’ chic “shack” has a ceiling with varying shapes and angles to define its spaces, while the fiberglass panels of a skylight create something akin to a Japanese lantern. A “furniture fetish” is satisfied by Alvar Aalto dining table and chairs, a 1920s leather club chair, a George Nakashima coffee table and other stylish yet functional elements.

The Andersons love to entertain, and a large stone fireplace with comfortable seating is one of many features designed to make the outside as hospitable as the inside.


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