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Inside an Idyllic Julian Farmhouse

A Pacific Beach couple builds an vacation home and rental in San Diego's mountain getaway


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The open layout of the main room offers easy access to the living, dining, and kitchen areas

Jim and Mary Brinson

Aline snakes out the door of Mom’s Pie House. Tourists compare tasting notes around the corner at Blue Door Winery, and farther down the bend, people sift through vintage goods at The Old Well.

This is Julian, famed for its apples, pies, and oldtimey charm. Making an annual weekend trip up here when the snow starts to fall is a San Diegan tradition. The town tends to shut down shortly after nightfall, and most visitors take an hour-plus mountain drive back to the city. But Jim and Mary Brinson simply walk a few blocks to their dream getaway home.

The Brinsons settled in San Diego eight years ago, buying a three-bedroom with a guest house in Pacific Beach because of its proximity to the ocean and to their offices—Jim is a CPA, Mary a professor of media studies at the University of San Diego. Five years later, they decided it was time to create an easy getaway from the city bustle. Given the relatively short drive to a total change of scenery, Julian was the ideal destination. They purchased a lot two years ago to build from the ground up.

An antique bike cozies into a corner where the house and picket fence meet

They visit the property a few times a month, and otherwise open it up to the public as a vacation rental, called “The Crooked Pine” after the lopsided tree in their backyard.

Slick paint job and a freshly poured steep drive aside, you might think their two-story farmhouse was built in the 1800s. A white picket fence even nods to the gold rush era. But Jacob Dewitt Construction, Patrick Engineering and Surveying, Levig Design Group, and Scotty’s Plantscapes completed construction only last October, after the Julian Historic District Architectural/ Design Review Board gave them the okay on elements like window size and front door color.

A bookshelf fills the main room entryway, complete with a reading chair and side table

“It took us several weeks to get our fence post approved,” Jim says, noting they had to trim the gothic tops off their original order.

The style is similar to their house in Pacific Beach, with rustic, refurbished furniture.

A wood-burning stove, fed with lumber chopped by Jim, heats the house

Mary collected and refinished most of the furnishings and her mother, who continues to teach her the art of antiquing, painted most of the artwork, including a piece depicting Julian’s Main Street above the master bed.

The second floor is reserved for the master suite, where vaulted ceilings, barn doors, and barn wood floors continue the farmhouse theme

“I love buying old things and repainting and refinishing them,” says Mary, who sources from flea markets in PB, OB, and San Diego’s annual Junk in the Trunk Vintage Market. For the Julian project, she found many of her farmstead gems—a ladder turned nightstand, a cooler disguised as a green side table, antique bikes aplenty— from Second Chances Barn in Fallbrook and The Barn Vintage Market Place near Julian.

“Modern is not our style,” Jim says of both residences.

Natural lighting pours over a clawfoot tub in the master bath

The heart of the home is an open layout first-floor space that combines a living, dining, and kitchen area into one. It’s outfitted with an L-shaped couch—usually occupied by their three rescue dogs, Lucy, George, and Roxy—and a custom-built dining table from Fallbrook’s Bucket of Nails. Through the kitchen is an island accented with miniature barn doors and a corridor that leads to a bathroom and two guest bedrooms, one with access to the porch.

The master bedroom occupies the second story, with a reading nook and more amenities in the works, like a cedar hot tub that Jim is making for the patio. Building a home inspired him to pick up woodworking as a hobby, Mary explains. His first achievement is a modest toolbox serving as the dining room table’s centerpiece.

Jim practices his hand at cornhole—one of several games scattered about the wraparound porch

Mary also picked up a new skill during construction. A landscape she painted of Napa Valley hangs in the main room downstairs; this spring she plans to turn a den attached to the master suite into her personal art studio.

“I want to start painting more, like my mom,” she says, with a gesture toward the den. “That will end up being like my garage.”

While their garage in Pacific Beach stores surf and paddleboards, in Julian it’s dedicated to more rustic pursuits. There’s an antique woodworking bench and heaps of lumber to feed the woodburning stove inside. That old-fashioned heat source, plus the vaulted ceilings, shiplap, and reclaimed barn wood floors all drive home the farmhouse feel. The floors are Jim’s favorite part of the house, inspired by nearby Rams Hill Golf Club, “the best golf course around.”

A custom-built dining table from Fallbrook’s Bucket of Nails is a focal point of the main room, with a toolbox-turned-vase built by Jim serving as its centerpiece

Jim and Mary each have their own personal favorite space in the house, but they both know the wraparound porch is the selling point. Pointing from east to west, Jim says, “We’ve got desert views, we’ve got ocean views.” He’s even spotted San Clemente Island a few times during sunset. “Coffee on the porch at sunrise is pretty nice,” he continues.

“The sunrise is phenomenal,” Mary agrees. “Every time we stay here, we wake up at 5:30 so we don’t miss it.”

The tree that inspired the name of their vacation home, “The Crooked Pine,” is visible from the backyard
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