Gaye and Neil Vancans Trade Oceanfront Living for the Rural Romance of Paso Robles

New pastures.

  • Category
    Homes, People
  • Written by
    Darren Elms
  • Photographed by
    Monica Orozco

Recent empty nesters approaching retirement, Gaye and Neil Vancans asked themselves that inevitable question: What’s next? The pair always dreamed of owning a bed and breakfast—a place their children and grandchildren would want to come home to, not to mention friends and other family members. Early this year, all the pieces started to fall into place after their Palos Verdes home sold in a week. It was time. But where?

“We have been going to Paso Robles for a few years for short breaks, and it always spoke to us as a destination that perfectly mixed the things we love: a beautiful environment, good people, good food, good wine and a strong sense of community and personality,” shares Gaye, who served as community director at Terranea Resort since before its opening in 2009. “Now that we are here, we have found it to be all those things and more. We are surrounded by like-minded people and constantly surprised at how everyone is so friendly, laid-back and willing to share their town and their community.”

Neil fell in love with their chosen property first, admiring the dry riverbed and expansive views. Gaye was hesitant initially but knew the location was perfect—just minutes from the center of Paso Robles but in a hidden little valley. Best of all, they could see that the house could become what they needed.

“The area of England where we met as teenagers was very rural, so for us it was a return to where we started,” says Gaye. “There was so little on the market at the time; we knew if we wanted it, we had to act quickly. So we jumped in with both feet and made an offer.”

Their agent sold the same property to the previous owners 25 years ago and offered unique insight and a welcomed inside track. “He understood what we were looking for and showed us the house before it went on the open market,” says Gaye. “We had the inevitable ups and downs, and problems with our buyers and timing in Palos Verdes, but it was obviously meant to be because it all worked out.”

With 40 years of hospitality under her belt, Gaye had definite ideas about what the finished product would look like. “We knew that our origins set us apart, so we set out to create an English-style cottage,” she says. “We have incorporated English antiques brought over from the U.K. blended with modern accents, colorful fabrics and lots of wood to create a warm, inviting and informal space full of personality for people to enjoy.” 

Where possible, the couple and their small local team renovated and gave new life to old pieces rather than buying new—creating a “lived-in” feel that’s both sustainable and brings a sense of history and depth to the space. Adapting along the way, Gaye and Neil learned what they could and could not change in terms of construction and budget. With time of the essence, they didn’t want to change the basic footprint of the house, keeping the back half with a separate entrance for their guests and the front for themselves.

“We have managed to complete the project in record time, and as always, we had amazing help from our construction team and talented friends,” she says. Newly christened Lilac Farm, this unique and charming getaway, offered on Airbnb, promises a bucolic retreat to relax, escape, celebrate and enjoy everything that farm life and Paso Robles have to offer. This includes local produce, farm-fresh eggs and, of course, local wine.

Lilac Farm is also home to two English cocker spaniels, Tumble and Tilly, an indoor cat named Grayson, three barn cats Gaye and Neil inherited with the property, four goats (Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme), eight chickens and, soon, two miniature ponies.

The two miss Palos Verdes but are glad they made the move for a new adventure. “After 26 years in PV we had established a wonderful community, and it was hard to walk away,” says Gaye. “We always knew we were very lucky to bring up our children in that idyllic environment, but we also knew that it was not where we would stay.”

Now settled into a rural life some three hours up the coast, they are setting their sights on their future at Lilac Farm. “We love the land, the beauty of our surroundings and the very strong sense that it is home—it felt right from day one.”

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