“When you buy a beautiful piece of art, you don’t really own it,” Reese Witherspoon tells Elle Décor in its September 2012 issue. “You’re just the caretaker.”
The beautiful piece of art the Academy Award winning actor is referring to is Libbey Ranch, the historic Wallace Neff-designed estate she has owned since early 2008 and which graces the cover of Elle Décor this month.
Situated on seven picturesque acres just outside the bucolic village of Ojai, California, the home is steeped in history, tradition and celebrity. One of the earliest works by architect-to-the-stars Wallace Neff (best known for Pickfair, the 42-room mansion of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks), Libbey Ranch was originally built in 1923 as stables for Edward Libbey, the glassware magnate, who is considered the “founding father” of Ojai. Actor/director Harold Ramis (Ghostbusters) and celebrity designer Kathryn M. Ireland are among its previous owners, and the ranch has been featured in numerous publications, including House Beautiful and Vogue, in addition to its recent showcase in Elle Décor.
For Witherspoon, Libbey Ranch has served as a serene, “magical” retreat for the mother of two, who tells Elle Décor that her time on the ranch is both “meditative and restorative.” She also likens it to her experience of growing up in Tennessee, where she would spend her days outside. “I wanted my children to have that experience,” says Witherspoon, “to get muddy and hang out with the animals.”
Now, after nearly five years of escaping to the ranch whenever her busy schedule permits, Witherspoon has listed the property on the market (at $10,000,000), with The Agency’s Billy Rose as its listing agent. We asked Rose, who, in addition to being co-founder of The Agency, is an accomplished home designer, to tell us more about this one-of-a-kind property.
What was your impression of Libbey Ranch the first time you visited it?
Billy Rose: How lucky I was to have visited there and how lucky someone would be able to call it “home” for a weekend, a week or longer. The property is so beautiful. You travel down a country lane to access the property and, when you first drive on to it, you can’t believe that it is a residence and not resort. The grounds are gorgeous, yet not too fussy. The structures speak to you with age, history and story. You can’t help but be spellbound by the size and beauty of it. And each nook and cranny, you just know, has a story to tell.
Wallace Neff is often considered the pioneer of the California style home. What is it about his approach, and particularly with respect to Libbey Ranch, that is most compelling to you?
Neff’s work is, at the same time, both elegant and grand. His style is authentic in approach; not too ornate; not to simplistic. And he has this wonderful ability of being able to accommodate numerous people in a room, and, yet, when that same room is occupied by only one or a few, one does not feel overwhelmed or out of place. Libbey Ranch, as well as most of Neff’s other works, feel like important pieces of architecture which have stood the test of time and don’t at all feel dated.
The setting at Libbey Ranch is fairytale-like with its gardens, gravel drive, barn, horse paddock, goats, pigs, chickens and more. Would you say the home is particularly ideal for someone, who like Reese, has children?
Though the term “magical” is often overused, it is quite fitting here. Yes, it would be amazing to raise a family here. There is so much for kids to see, discover and experience. Shouldn’t we all have a chance to grow up on a ranch with animals and vast land?
But this property appeals to one and all. I could see an extended family living here; perhaps a primary family as well as a brother or a sister (and maybe they have a kid or two); the grandparents; etc. Because of the separate cottages, you could be together, and yet not too together. It would also be a great retreat for several families from time to time.
For those not familiar with Ojai, describe its setting and charm as a nearby get away from LA?
Ojai is the perfect small town. It’s been around since the late 1800s and yet the population is slightly more than 7,000. It’s a place with deep history, and families reaching back generations.
The weather is fantastic year round, and there a great many things to do in the outdoors — from hiking and biking to fishing and boating. The population is rather progressive, and many are in to health, spirituality, yoga, ecology, organic agriculture, music and art. The educational system is highly valued, and the education level of the residents is marked.
Owing to its proximity to Los Angeles and to Santa Barbara, though it is a small town, Ojai does not feel isolated or backwards, and it has served as a year round home or a weekend (or longer) retreat for many intellectuals and luminaries from the film, tv, music and art worlds.
Reese has described herself as a caretaker of the estate — not owner. It’s that kind of property, isn’t it? One with a life and rich history all its own, regardless of its owner.
I agree; homes with this sort of history and provenance are rare and really should be honored for how they bring the past to today. Libbey Ranch allows you to transport yourself back in time and feel the essence of another era (all without the need of a teleporter!). And this honoring of time and history does not mean that changes shouldn’t be made. To the contrary, this property, like all other properties, will undergo expansions and changes to reflect the needs and desires of the current owner. Remember, Libbey built this, originally, as a barn and stables, and not as the exquisite retreat it is today.
View more photos of Libbey Ranch below and on its listing page …