At Home on the Range
On a storied California cattle ranch-turned-resort, designer Nathan Turner redefines the decorating code of the West.
Drawing on his California lineage, Nathan Turner redesigns a cottage on a Santa Barbara cattle ranch.
YOU CAN MAP OUT OUR ENTIRE family history based on what’s inside the house,” says Los Angeles designer Nathan Turner. He’s reflecting on the California cattle ranch that has belonged to his family for several generations, where he spent weekends and summers helping his grandfather with farm chores and riding horses every spare minute he had. “There are English antiques brought over by my ancestors, some of my grandparents’ things, and pieces from the 1950s that my parents added. It’s a real mix, and it works.”
But, perhaps without realizing it, he’s also describing his approach to redesigning the accommodations at The Alisal Guest Ranch, a family resort on a nearly 200-year-old cattle ranch tucked in at the base of the Santa Ynez mountains in Santa Barbara wine country. The newly minted “Turner House,” a three-bedroom, three-bath guest cottage along the resort’s sycamore-lined main drive, is the designer’s first project at The Alisal. Since first opening to guests after World War II by converting some of its cattlemen’s quarters to resort accommodations, The Alisal has undergone few substantial updates. The cottage along “The Lane” was no exception.
Especially as social media mania has fueled a perpetual search for the next best thing, The Alisal’s sense of permanence is extraordinary. As acting head wrangler Meghan Taylor points out—during a horseback ride along a portion of the resort’s 50 miles of trails that wind through its 10,000 acres of yellow-green hills—the landscape has remained unaltered for centuries. “But for the fences and the occasional paved road, nothing out here has changed in the last 200 years,” says Meghan, a particularly remarkable observation given the ranch is only 130 miles from Los Angeles. “What we see today—the sheer vastness of building-free vistas in every direction—is exactly what the Spanish settlers saw,” she adds.
It’s a place proudly steeped in tradition with a spoonful of nostalgia swirled in. Multigenerational families who return year after year tend to book the same cottage for the same week. Guests still “dress up for dinner” in the Ranch Room—men must wear jackets—an uncommon, charming ritual for a dude ranch. At the Saturday night hoedowns, a four-piece band croons 1950s country-western tunes by Hank Williams, Sr., and his contemporaries. And while the resort recently brought in a new chef, Anthony Endy, his mission is to double down on sourcing local ingredients for traditional California cuisine, with open-fire prepared fare on heavy rotation.
Designer Nathan Turner with Cortez, a quarter horse. RIGHT: Classic wrangler gear—an embossed leather Western saddle, fringed suede chaps, and beaded reins passed down through generations
“It’s as old as California gets,” says Turner, of The Alisal’s painterly landscape filled with wild yellow mustard grasses and lichen-strewn white oak trees. The Alisal has more than 100 horses for trail rides. A separate herd is used for roundups of its 1,600 cattle.
VICTORIAN ANTIQUES A collection of pressedback chairs from nearby antiques stores outfits the narrow table. “These chairs feel very Western to me, but technically they’re Victorian,” says Turner. “All the gold rush towns are filled with Victorian furniture. Because they’re generally the same size, you can mix and match them.”
Acting head wrangler Meghan Taylor with Percy, Cortez, and Ajax