The Hardcastle Home: Coastal Home with Valley Ties
When Greg and Gretchen Hardcastle moved to Morro Bay, the decision was made very suddenly. In 1999, they spent a weekend in Santa Barbara at a wine festival, after which they traveled north to Morro Bay where Greg called his friend and former coworker, Ron McIntosh, to help them look for real estate. The Hardcastles probably had anticipated leaving the coast with only a few new bottles of wine in their trunk, not a new lease. “It was on a whim,” says Greg, “and by the time we left town, we were in escrow on a house. It was crazy.” The Hardcastles’ purchase was impetuous, but it wasn’t the result of a wine-altered state of mind. The move to Morro Bay was the culmination of an idea that Greg had been mulling over for almost 50 years.
Greg grew up in Visalia, but his childhood was full of weekend getaways to the coast. His aunt and uncle owned beach homes and in 1965, his parents bought a furnished, 620-square-foot bungalow for what seems like an unreasonably cheap six thousand dollars. In fact, Greg traveled often enough between Visalia and the coast that in September of 1955, he and his family arrived at the fork where Hwy 41 and 46 meet. They arrived at the scene of an accident between a Porsche and truck that had happened only minutes earlier. James Dean was dead. “I was only seven,” says Greg, “but I remember it vividly.” Most of the drives weren’t as memorable as the weekends spent escaping the heat and participating in the kind of activities that could have been the subject of a Norman Rockwell painting: a family sailing on the ocean, children clamming on the strand, a young boy fishing on a pier, his jeans rolled to the knees and legs dangling over the edge. “Life was pretty easy,” admits Greg, for whom those summers must have been a Golden Age. “I always treasured those days, and I knew in my horizon, when I got older, I’d have my own place.”
The horizon never opened up, but instead clouded with the busyness of adulthood, work, family and responsibilities. In the early 90s, his mother sold the bungalow, and for a season, Greg must have felt the horizon would be forever out of reach.
Then Greg met Gretchen through a mutual friend at an assessor conference in San Diego in 1995. At the time, Gretchen worked for Hewlett Packard and lived in Palo Alto, but the two formed a long-distance relationship that frequently brought her to Visalia. Gretchen, a self-described General Motors brat, grew up in Michigan and felt a resonance with Visalia’s midwestern sympathies. “I always wanted to go back to a small town where you got to know the people and got involved in the community.” So, those trips between the Bay Area and Visalia were never difficult for Gretchen. Not to mention, Greg adds with a laugh, “I was worth it.”
Those frequent trips between Palo Alto and Visalia, and all the travelling throughout the first years of their relationship, likely prepared Greg and Gretchen for their move to Morro Bay – or at least, it set them up for the weekend where Greg would see his childhood dream become a reality. Their first Morro Bay home was actually built by Greg’s friend and former coworker, Ron McIntosh, a contractor active in both Visalia and the coast. “Ron was a real master builder. He doesn’t spare materials for quality,” says Greg, explaining why they purchased one of his homes. “He was good to work with.”
The friendship grew between the Hardcastles and McIntosh, and in 2005, the contractor encouraged the Hardcastles to purchase a 13,000 square-foot lot in the Heights of Morro Bay, one of the town’s oldest subdivisions, located just one block from Main Street and another block and a half from the ocean. But the time wasn’t right, and another family purchased the lot and began construction on the property.
A few years later, the unfinished home became available and McIntosh again contacted the Hardcastles. On this occasion, the timing was right. They had been happy with their previous home, but Greg and Gretchen wanted a home they could build together, a home that would reflect both their tastes, a home they could open to their friends and family. So in 2009, the Hardcastles bought the three-quarter finished house and began construction with McIntosh.
“The bones were up in the house, but we had to make changes with the interior,” says Greg, explaining the first steps of their building process. Once those bones were fleshed out, the two-story house became, with its gabled roof and columned porch, the portrait of a classic, elegant Hampton home – they just exchanged a view of the Atlantic for one of the Pacific. And the view is spectacular: of Los Osos, Morro Rock, and the sand strip where Greg used to look for clams as a child.
As for the interior of the home, says Gretchen, “that is where we were able to come in and make it our own.” Gretchen, who at one time hoped to study fashion coordinating design and interior art design during college, applied her love for textures, fabrics, wood and glass – “a little bit of everything” – to create a personalized home. She even sewed all the bedspreads, drapes and pillows throughout the home. But first, the Hardcastles began by tearing out the marble and relaying it. They purchased and installed new appliances for the kitchen, added the backsplash and replaced the wood of the cabinets with glass fronts. Gretchen insists the process of reinventing the interior wasn’t frustrating. “I loved every minute of it,” she admits. In fact, she calls the process an “artwork of love,” a means to create an inviting, open and welcoming atmosphere. “We wanted our house to be open, that’s the main thing.”
That openness is apparent from the first step through the front door. Wide doorways lead between rooms, which create a seamless flow from the dining room to the kitchen to the 18-foot ceiling family room, and provide an uninterrupted view from the front of the house to the backyard. The vaulted ceiling of the family room, which peaks at various angles and is anchored by a magnificent chandelier, is covered in the same dark paneled wood that is laid throughout the first-story floor. The dark wood ceiling and floors contrast beautifully with the white walls and cathedral-sized windows.
“We wanted the whole downstairs to open up so people could move through the house and have conversations anywhere,” says Gretchen, though guests tend to gravitate to the kitchen, which the Hardcastles call the heart of the home. Accented with yellow, red and black, the French country décor of the kitchen is welcoming enough on its own, but a large center aisle covered with food doesn’t hurt either. Ultimately, Greg feels things have come full circle, from his youth to his retirement. Now, the Hardcastles can share their home not only with friends, but also with their grandchildren. Gretchen laughs and admits that she gets more than her share of stories from Greg that begin with, “when I was a kid.” Now, Greg is able to share those stories in action with his grandchildren – kayaking, sailing, walking the beach – as though he were following in his own footsteps, imprints that were washed away so long ago. The tide can wash away the past, but then it also drew them back.
During the interview, Greg casually mentions, “We’re going home tomorrow.” No, he wasn’t referring to Morro Bay. Visalia will always be home to Greg, who has kept a house here. “I was born and raised in Visalia and I can’t ever imagine not having a home there because I love the community.” He is one of four generations who have attended Redwood High School; he even moved across town in the 80s to make sure his sons also attended his alma mater. “Yeah,” says Greg, “we’re in really deep.” And even though they’ve recently moved from Visalia, Greg makes the point, “it’s not like we’re in another country.” There’s only a two-hour drive between their two homes. Greg remains active with Rotary and he and Gretchen still attend football games at Redwood. “And I’ll tell you something else,” Greg adds, “you sure see a lot of friends and family over here, probably more so than in Visalia, ‘cause when you live around the corner, you tend to take them for granted.”
The Hardcastles have actively kept their connection with the Central Valley, and Visalia in particular. Even their Morro Bay home has a kind of tie with Visalia, since its contractor, McIntosh, built homes in both the valley and along the coast. When the Hardcastles bought and built their home with their friend, they didn’t know then that it would be the last home he ever built. Due to health complications, Ronnie was unable to build another house. The Hardcastles wanted to share their home in Lifestyle Magazine as a way to say thank you and pay tribute to their friend, who passed away earlier this month.