Photos courtesy of Willow Creek Estancia – Pacific Sotheby’s International Realty
This article is supposed to be a “Barn Envy,” but for Willow Creek Estancia, this story should really be renamed “Estate Envy.” Willow Creek Estancia is so much more than a barn – though its two barns are exceptional. It is an incredible property with a rich history that offers an unparalleled way of life.
Inspired by Argentina
The story of Willow Creek Estancia began when the owners traveled to Argentina and were completely taken by the architectural details and spacious style of the local ranches. They also fell in love with the ranching lifestyle, and felt drawn to spend more time at home, with family, and on their own land. They returned to the United States dedicated to creating a homestead that would give them the feel of those Argentinian ranches.
For the location, they decided on Rancho Santa Fe, a community in San Diego County, California. The proximity to excellent schools, the beach, great golf courses, Del Mar Racetrack, and several metropolitan southern California cities made it an easy choice. Fortunately, the family was able to purchase the Willow Creek Ranch property, a large property that already had an equestrian facility, several desirable amenities, and the acreage that would allow them to take the estate to the next level.
To help them realize their dream, the family enlisted the help of prominent Santa Monica and Santa Barbara architect Marc Appleton of Appleton Partners. Appleton jumped at the chance to develop Willow Creek Ranch with the family, as he shared with them the nostalgia of growing up on ranches in the Midwest. Drawing upon that life experience, as well as his professional experience creating modern architecture with features that pay homage to the past, Appleton worked to transform the wonderful property into an incredible family estate.
Home Is Where the Heart Is
The transformation began with the construction of the main residence. The stately 15,000-square-foot home makes perfect use of the southern California weather by incorporating indoor and outdoor living at nearly every turn. The four spacious bedrooms open out onto private balconies and patios surrounded by lush gardens, and overlooking the estate’s pool and grassy acreage. Each veranda is fully furnished with hardwired lighting, and is connected to the home’s sound system. A nap out on one of the veranda couches is as comfortable as one taken inside on a bed.
Though the outside of the home is serenely and simply attractive, the architecture and attention to detail on the inside of the main residence is just as stunning. Beautiful wooden ceiling beams, ornate detailing, and decorative wrought iron features celebrate the timeless Santa Barbara style that is characteristic of southern California estates. Inside or out, the family could not have been happier with the resulting aesthetic of Appleton’s design.
The design of the main residence is charming, but it also has a wonderful “flow” with main living areas seamlessly transitioning to guest and family spaces that include an office, sitting rooms, and dining rooms. The good vibes continue as the home flows through to the wine cellar with an adjacent tasting room – a sommelier’s dream setup. The nearby cowboy-styled billiards room is perfect for exciting evenings of play. The multi-use craft and project room provides ample workspace for those with a creative side.
The upper level, which is completely devoted to the master retreat, is a sanctuary dedicated to the heads of the household. The spacious bedroom is a restful and peaceful space with a full fireplace, chandelier lighting, and balcony that overlooks the estate’s expansive lawns. The opulence continues upstairs with the master bathroom, including added luxuries such as double vanities, a shower room, his and her walk-in closets, and a soaking tub with garden views. The bathroom is as beautiful as it is functional, with painted tiles, time period lighting, and vaulted ceilings making it as striking as any other room in the home. Willow Creek Estancia’s master retreat makes home right where the heart wants to be.
Show Me the Ponies!
When the family purchased Willow Creek Ranch, a 27-stall barn already stood on the property. Fortunately, the previous owners had it expertly designed for the serious equestrian, so it is the perfect stable for a competitive riding program. It serves as Willow Creek Estancia’s Main Barn and guest lodging for visiting horses and riders, as well as any training programs hosted by the facility. The beautiful wood and iron barn is complete with multiple grooming spaces, several tack rooms, and a farrier workspace. With that level of extravagance, the family admits, it is never hard to get a farrier out to tack a shoe back on!
The Main Barn is also a luxurious space for equestrians. A private lounge acts as a place to wind down after a ride. A full kitchen allows for healthy eating during long days at the barn, and a conference room and four office suites allow trainers and owners to conduct business in a professional space. The Main Barn also provides staff with wonderful accommodations including a trainer’s apartment with ample space, as well as four additional apartments for other employees. The Main Barn is set up to house an elite equestrian training program and all the people that come with it.
In addition to the wonderful Main Barn, the family also built a private seven-stall barn for their own horses after purchasing additional parcels of land throughout the years. Located just a few steps from their home, the Family Barn features clerestory windows that allow the California sunlight to stream in, high wood ceilings with open beams that create excellent airflow, and large stalls with sizeable paddocks that encourage in-and-out living. The family also had a one-bedroom apartment built adjacent to the barn for the groom’s living quarters to ensure that their horses are always well cared for and carefully monitored. This living area has a kitchen, bathroom, living room, and secluded outdoor terrace. Both the Family Barn and the groom’s apartment match the Santa Barbara style of the Main Home, perfectly fitting the aesthetic of the estate.
The best part of the estate is that at Willow Creek Estancia, the riding opportunities are endless! The property sits on 77 flat acres that make trail rides, exploring, and leisurely rides a pleasure, whether you stay on the estate or venture off to hit the coast to crest trail. It is located within the Rancho Santa Fe Covenant, which allows access to 68 acres of designated open space and 50 miles of groomed equestrian and hiking trails. For the competition minded, the property has three large sand arenas that are appropriate for any equestrian discipline. For the jumpers, it also has a grass grand prix field surrounded by mature trees and a hacking trail – it would be impossible to visit Willow Creek Estancia for a ride and not break out your studs.
The family delights in having designed Willow Creek Estancia to be a facility for the competitive equestrian, as well as for the horse lover who just enjoys a quiet hack. They have thoroughly enjoyed the best of both those equestrian worlds while living at the estate. It just doesn’t get more “Barn Envy”ish than that.
Be Their Guest
It’s not always about the horses…right? Anyone? Anyone? Okay – though it is almost always about the horses, Willow Creek Estancia has some incredible amenities for the few times that it’s not.
The family explains that when creating the Willow Creek Estancia activity areas, it was important that there be something to please each of their guests. For the athletically inclined, the property is home to three sports facilities and a tennis court with adjacent lounge. There is a sparkling pool and spa, which – thanks to the California weather – gets used almost year-round. For those wanting to clear their mind a bit, the property has a meditation loggia dedicated to quiet and solitude. The property is also home to a rose garden, conservatory, and raised herb beds, which please even the most discerning green thumb.
One of the fun additions to the property is the construction of a Recreation Pavilion, where entertaining is the name of the game. Guests of all ages enjoy the special lounge where an arcade, gaming tables, and a two-lane bowling alley provide hours of fun. Great additions to the Recreation Pavilion are the adjacent private lawn and covered patio with fireplace that are large enough for a considerable gathering, as well as a catering kitchen and full-service bar which make hosting convenient.
Through the years, the family has enjoyed hosting many celebrations and events at Willow Creek Estancia, allowing their guests to partake in the wonder of the estate. The family has hosted countless events that support charitable causes close to their heart. They are quick to reminisce about the countless birthday parties and family holidays that took place at the property, and they really cherish the memory of their daughter’s wedding that was held there. Willow Creek Estancia has played a large role in creating the type of life they have always dreamed of – one full of love, laughter, and good memories.
The Next Chapter
While the family will always cherish their time spent at Willow Creek Estancia, ranching life is pulling them in a new direction: Wyoming. In order to ensure the property receives the care and attention it deserves, they have decided to offer it for sale. They hope that the new owners will cherish the property as they did, continue its story, and use Willow Creek Estancia to partake in life’s greatest joys: family, friends, and horses.
Pacific Sotheby’s International Real Estate
Cathy Gilchrist-Colmar, 858-775-6511
Patricia Kramer, 858-945-4595,
The Rancho Santa Fe Covenant: The Rancho Santa Fe Covenant includes 6,730 acres with 1,720 homes patrolled by full-time private security. The town center is home to several high-end shops and restaurants. Covenant homeowners enjoy a social membership to the Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club with access to the clubhouse for events and dining.