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Ojai’s Crown Jewel

Calvin Zara left L.A., headed North in search of greener pastures and never looked back

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Five years ago, master carpenter Calvin Zara left Los Angeles with his children in search of a better way of life, closer to nature. He stumbled upon the Hughes Estate during an online search and, after years as a woodworker, he began his hands-on renovation of the property, which became Thacher House. “I found it in a pretty tired state,” says Zara, “and have been working on it for the last five-and-a-half years. “Beyond Gary Gardens, it was scary.”

After a massive, labor-of-love gut renovation, Zara coated the walls in natural colors, lined the shelves with early editions of classic books and one-of-a-kind objects, covered the floors with antique rugs and the walls with contemporary art. “I wanted the marrow of the house’s original bones to help me establish a new life, a fresh voice,” says Zara, who still lives and works on-site. “There is a particular charm about the historic character viewed through a contemporary lens.” 

The original structure was built in 1898 by architect Edward Thacher for Sarah Forbes Hughes and W. Hastings Hughes at the behest of Sarah’s father, John Murray Forbes. The five cottages that comprise the updated compound include the Main House (with four bedrooms, 3.5 baths) Caretaker’s (three bedrooms, two baths), Eucalyptus (two bedrooms, two baths) and Pepper Tree (one bedroom, one bathroom). The fifth, Carriage House (and adjoining Chaldean Courtyard) features a cozy library (with fireplace) and is used as public areas for events, meals and hanging out. 

The houses boast vintage silverware, bone china and crystal vessels in the dining room. The breathtaking scenery and scent of lavender abounds and is best enjoyed at one of many outdoor sitting areas (the best spot to enjoy Ojai’s famous “pink moment” sunsets). The Thacher House also features a working farm and garden that produces olives, fresh herbs and produce and citrus fruits and guests are welcome to experience activities like goat and sheep milking, cheese making, olive oil pressing and jam making. “I truly believe that when we experience the beautiful, there is a sense of homecoming,” says Zara. 

The property can now be rented in its entirety for 20 people or as separate cottages to those visiting Ojai (just 82 miles from L.A.) and farm-to-table meals can be enjoyed therein. “Thacher House is for someone looking for a total relaxing break, detoxing from everyday noise and having an organic lifestyle experience,” says Zara. “It’s definitely not a big box property, but a more intimate experience with nature.”