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October 3, 2013 / Linda Hartong


It is a lovely morning and I have the car, so I decide to drive up to the NE area of Carmel. This area is extremely hilly ( as in I cannot see over the steering wheel as I climb the hills).

I have been in the library again learning about more homes on the Carmel Register of Historic Places and am heading to a spot where there is a cluster of six homes.

I park in the middle of my treasures, step out and lock the car. Hmm. The home across the street is the cutest cottage- but not on the register.


The owner is out sweeping leaves and pine straw off her driveway.

I meander over to admire her succulent plantings at the base of a huge pine.


“You are in the middle of lots of homes that are Historically Designated.”, I say.

“How did you get excluded?”

And this is when Sibyl Johnson replies, “ I call it “Hysterical”Preservation and I petitioned to have my house removed from the list.” And so she did.

In 1938. Mrs Fleisher obtains a building permit to build a one story guest house and garage using day laborers.


“Its style suggests old New England in its use of a saltbox roof form designed in log cabin mode. It is consistent with the ongoing  penchant of Carmel’s owners and builders to employ whimsically combined features associated with a variety of styles in to a single home to create a unique and eclectic whole.” Kent Seavey

A saltbox is a building with a long, pitched roof that slopes down to the back. I can see this on the front part of the house. This “whimsical” design lands it on the Historic Register in 2001.


It sits at the rear of a deep lot, surrounded by mature redwood trees, oak and pine in a natural landscape setting. 

The owners inherit this 640 sq ft. house from their mother. In May 2003, they wish to remodel this 640 sq. ft. cottage and need permission since the home is on Carmel’s Historic Register of Home.

They appeal . “Our house was not built by a recognized master builder, designed by any architect, representative of any specific architectural design, lived in or owned by any famous person nor does it meet any other definable Historical criteria, other than “whimsical”.” Rodney R. Johnson

Apparently “whimsical” is not enough to merit its inclusion on the list and it is removed.

But I love whimsy and ask if I might photograph her garden as we chat. 


Sibyl gardens by “benign neglect”. It works wonderfully. She plants and if it survives – good for it. 

By this time , I am moving up the path through spires of acanthus so thick I can hardly see the cottage.


Lavender and Agapanthus are happy campers. 


There are several artichokes


Potted parsley


And short paths.


Closer to the house, it becomes more orderly. There is a raised open porch fronting the house where touches of red are repeated.


The umbrella, 


Cafe chair


And table 


The deck reveals Sibyl’s artistry in window box plantings, 


Pots and accents. It is here that the whimsical construction becomes clear in the horizontal logs and vertical board and batten.


I like the bird statues. One is obviously more of an early bird that the other who looks grumpy about being awakened.


I walk back down the front path and Sibyl invites me to step into her studio ,once the garage. 



Sibyl holds a BA in Education and Fine Art as well as a Master’s degree in Education. After a long career in the classroom she can finally paint full-time and live in her family’s Carmel cottage.

She works in oil, watercolor, pastel and shows me some of her work.  

download johnsoj




She loves to work en plein air.

sibyl Johnson

Sibyl Johnson Fine Art

Carmel seems to be full of creative, talented and educated citizens. 


Leave a Comment
  1. Carolyn / Oct 3 2013 7:27 pm

    Wonderful paintings, enticing garden, and adorable cottage.

  2. House Crazy Sarah / Oct 3 2013 9:16 pm

    Another wonderful post Linda! You’re putting all these together for a book, right? 🙂

  3. Michael Smith / Oct 4 2013 12:28 pm

    Linda, many thanks for another very good excerpt about Carmel and Sybil Johnson art works! My favorite painting is the one that has the lone seagull hovering over the cliff riding the wind. Very peaceful. Enjoyed article very much, thank you very much! Michael

  4. Karen Lee / Oct 4 2013 4:15 pm

    Beautiful gardens so artfully natural. I love her art. It shows “movement”. Lovely.

  5. Jo-Ann Fantino Ruffolo / Oct 5 2013 12:53 am

    Dear Linda,

    Once again your wonderful eye captures Carmel gardens and cottages perfectly. I look forward to getting together for our Bicyclette breakfast next time you are in town.


  6. Mary Anne Rudolph / Oct 5 2013 12:23 pm

    Lovely cottage, gardens, and especially lovely are Sybil’s paintings. They depict the landscape as appreciated by someone who fills themselves with the beauty of nature around them. Serenity, vastness, color of the seasons, passion for the area. Ain’t retirement grand, Sybil!!

  7. Kim / Oct 5 2013 4:04 pm

    Once again, thank you! I always enjoy every one of your posts but I’m especially loving this one today.

  8. Tanya Fleenor / Oct 7 2013 5:05 pm

    I love the red umbrella, table and chair. They add just the right touch of color.

  9. Inspired and pretty / Oct 10 2013 11:38 pm

    She is a great artist, her paintings are very beautiful.
    I love her garden and what I liked most in this post is the saltbox roof !
    A great post Linda 🙂

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