If you had to design a dream house on a spectacular bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, you would probably start with some gargantuan west-facing windows. Lofty rooms, pale wood, skylights. And so, at first glance, the Carmel, California, dream home of poet Robinson Jeffers—a cramped stone cottage with low ceilings, minuscule windows, and heavy, somber furnishings—seems all wrong. Why block out that view? Why so small? So dark? Yet five minutes into a tour of Tor House, you find it hard to imagine a more magical dwelling.
In 1914, Jeffers and his wife, Una, settled in Carmel, drawn to the rugged coastline that reminded them of Great Britain. "It was evident that we had come, without knowing it," Jeffers later wrote, "to our inevitable place." That year they bought a large piece of land on a cliff at Carmel Point that encompassed a dramatic outcropping of rock—a tor in Scottish Gaelic. Una wanted a house modeled on a Tudor barn, so the couple hired a stonemason; Jeffers signed on as his apprentice, working until "my fingers had the art to make stone love stone."
Even when the original cottage was complete, Jeffers continued his stonework. Mornings he wrote his acclaimed poems, many of them celebrating the Central Coast landscape. (In those days, a poet could become a celebrity: Jeffers appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1932. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1954 for Hungerfield and Other Poems.) Afternoons he hauled granite boulders up from the beach, erecting over the years a garage, a dining room, and for Una, Hawk Tower. In this extraordinary, 40-foot-tall Irish tower, two staircases—one inside, one outside—corkscrew up to a tiny, mahogany-paneled chamber where Una napped, entertained visitors, and displayed her treasures, among them an Edward Weston photograph of her husband.