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GO AHEAD, indulge

At Big Sur's Post Ranch Inn, an eco-conscious philosophy reigns supreme. What could be more luxurious?

June 01, 2008|VALLI HERMAN | Times staff writer Valli Herman may be contacted at valli.herman@latimes.com.

At he Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur, the white noise of 21st century life recedes as a Lexus hybrid SUV quietly carries visitors to their rooms, a collection of cottages that nestle along redwood-lined cliffs overlooking the Pacific. The cottages--"treehouses" clad in aged wood and set atop 9-foot poles in stands of Douglas fir; curved steel enclosures with the rusty patina of Richard Serra sculptures; and modern spaces with sod roofs and clean lines--blend into the landscape. The elements seem to be slowly reclaiming them.

Inside the rooms, the understated decor seems meant to be eclipsed by uninterrupted views of treetops and ocean expanses. A half-day's drive from Los Angeles, this is the face of high-end green luxury. Luxury, above all, that manifests itself as a profound sense of place.

"Everything about the property makes you want to appreciate nature," says second-time visitor Jeff Eisenberg of Westlake Village, who came to celebrate a wedding anniversary. "It fits into the land so well that you don't even see the buildings." Adds his wife, Janet: "You feel like you're the only people here."

Post Ranch has long been a regular presence on lists of top luxury hotels, best spas and most-romantic getaways. And with the recent addition of 10 new cottages to the original 30 spread over 100 acres, the resort has continued to refine its underlying model of green business, weaving its environmental consciousness and social responsibility into the experience it offers guests.

This isn't preachy green. Thus, in most discussions of the property's cozy spa, elegant restaurant, complimentary organic minibars, spa- cious rooms and extensive list of organic and biodynamic wines, it's nurturing guests, not protecting nature, that consumes the conversation. But every detail has a green story.

Inside the newest rooms, by Los Gatos, Calif., architect Vladimir Frank, the rich patina of the wood paneling comes from, of all things, wine--enormous redwood wine vats were disassembled and milled into boards. The rooms' whimsical lamps by artist Jim Misner are made from recycled plumbing parts. And new technologies subtly adjust comfort levels as they invisibly conserve resources. The concrete floors, stained to resemble stone, are warmed by an energy-efficient radiant heating system that circulates hot water through embedded coils. In summer, rooms stay cooler with remote-controlled, translucent sunshades that don't block the view. When the sliding glass doors are left open, a magnetic switch triggers the shutdown of the heating and cooling system.

Slip into the tall king-size beds and you notice that the sheets have heft but are soft, like a well-worn T-shirt. The organic Coyuchi towels and bed linens are also part of a self-sustaining cycle: They're laundered on-site (with natural detergents) to limit transportation, pollution and excess wear by outside laundries. The water used in the process is filtered and irrigates the landscape of native and drought-tolerant plants. The lofty mattresses are made of wool and other natural materials that require no chemical fire retardants.

What visitors notice is comfort that doesn't call attention to itself or its thread count, a departure from usual connotations of luxe. "You have to be careful with the word 'luxury,' " says the resort's co-founder Mike Freed, "because a lot of people think of luxury as big-screen TVs and more of the 'Yes sir, yes ma'am' type service.

"It's a funny word. On a lot of levels we don't think of ourselves as luxury," he says, groping for a better label. "It's that rustic elegance we try to combine with what we do."

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The inn's basic green practices--its use of sustainably harvested and renewable building materials, recycling programs and organic food--have been in place since 1992, when Freed developed the resort with Joseph William "Bill" Post III, the great-grandson of Big Sur settler William Brainard Post, whose ranch spread over 1,500 acres of ocean-view property beginning with an 1860 homestead.

Bill Post, now 87, insisted on a few things as plans for the inn went forward: the purchase of a new tractor, the chance to prepare the sites himself (only one diseased tree was felled) and the naming of the rooms for Big Sur settlers. (The newest rooms honor local women pioneers because, he says, "they did most of the work," and all the rooms feature photos and descriptions of their namesake settlers--a way of maintaining a connection.) With the homesteaders as inspiration, the inn's founders are trying to demonstrate how to live harmoniously on the land. "We're trying not to compete with nature," Freed says. "It's the back-to-nature movement done in an upscale way."

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