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The Call of Nature

Nature certainly calls at the Santa Lucia Preserve near the central coast of California. 

Caterpillar house by Feldman Architecture

House Ocho by Feldman Architecture

For every homeowner who longs to integrate architecture and landscape, there is a neighbor just as eager to pave over the earth to erect an eyesore. Not at Santa Lucia Preserve (, a private community just minutes from Carmel-by-the-Sea and Big Sur. The philosophy here would make Frank Lloyd Wright proud.

The 20,000-acre preserve, nestled in the Santa Lucia Mountains, looks more like a national park than a luxury housing development, encompassing redwood forests, oak savannas and native grasslands. Once parceled out as ranchos under Central California’s Mexican land grants, the vast swath was cobbled together in the 1850s by cattle baron Bradley Sargent. When Santa Lucia Preserve founder Tom Gray and his partners purchased the intact property in 1990, they were only the fourth owners.

Their vision? Respect the biodiversity of the preserve in perpetuity. Though 300 homesites dot the owner-governed community, permanent conservation deeds have been placed on 90 percent of the land. And when it comes to architecture, treading lightly isn’t an option; it’s an edict. Even the Tom Fazio-designed golf course blends in effortlessly with its stunning surroundings.

“The families who choose to live here are active partners in the protection of this land,” explains Christina Fischer, executive director of the Santa Lucia Conservancy, which has managed the nonprofit land trust since 1995. “The choices they make when designing their homes will affect—and ideally help conserve—the ecological health and beauty of the preserve for many years to come.”

“I definitely let prospective buyers know what to expect,” says realtor Kris McAulay of the Preserve Land Company, one of two on-site firms specializing in the unique properties. “I wouldn’t describe owners as tree huggers, but they really understand how they’ll impact the natural environment.”

A design review board assists owners with the stringent guidelines. The preserve has drawn A-list talent, from architecture firms such as Lake Flato and Feldman Architecture to landscape legends Bernard Trainor + Associates.

Jonathan Feldman was operating his fledgling firm out of his basement when his parents bought a parcel in the Santa Lucia Preserve for their second home. He convinced them to let him have a go.

“The site was extremely challenging,” says Feldman, who situated the modernist House Ocho he built into a hillside to avoid razing an old oak grove. “But the views are just incredible. And luckily for me, I get to visit them often.”