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Meet Me on the Mountain–Sophie Zeiler
Sophie Zeiler greets us at the entrance to her kitchen and patio overlooking the canyon. Zeiler calls her tiny home ChateauPanga. This storybook tower, wrapped round with wisteria vines, has just 267 square feet of living space, but it is located in the heart of a lush garden that is an extension of the house. The house and many of the garden features were built by Sophie’s father, who used recycled and repurposed materials to create this one-of-a-kind retreat. Photos by Saori Wall

Meet Me on the Mountain–Sophie Zeiler 

Topanga New Times contributor Saori Wall socially- distanced visited with local Sophie Zeiler for a tour of her abode. There are DIY projects throughout, and the photographs speak for themselves — this labor of love is a truly magical space.

Tell us a little bit about the history of ChateauPanga?

ChateauPanga is my tiny home built for me by my dad out of almost all recycled materials that he had collected over the last few decades as a contractor. He is a craftsman and a true artist. It’s a bit ironic that I’ve called it a chateau, since it’s only 267 square feet. The home is broken up into two structures, and every room leads to the outside. My garden is my happy place, an overgrown entanglement of succulents, blooming vines, native plants and trees. It’s pretty wild. I’m so content here, and very grateful for this space. Tiny home, big garden—that’s my ideal setup.

What are some ways you’ve been spending time at home during the pandemic? 

I’m constantly working on small projects around my home, it’s always a work in progress here. The gardening never stops. I’ve done a lot of cooking, reading and writing lately. I can’t stay at home too long, though, so I found myself on the trails or beach almost everyday this summer. When the park and beaches closed, I ran on the blvd and walked through the creek.

A quiet place for contemplation just outside Sophie’s bedroom. Photo by Saori Wall

What are some of the things you love about living in Topanga?

Oh, I could go on and on about my love for Topanga. There is so much to love. My family moved here in ’95 when I was 5, so it is most definitely home. I love living amongst nature and wildlife. It’s just incredibly beautiful here. I love running and hiking in the park. I love that my whole family is still in the canyon. But my absolute favorite thing about Topanga is being a part of this tight knit community. I love going to the cafes and knowing everyone there, or bumping into friends on trails or at Adriana’s taco stand. I love having deep connections with people that I have grown up with over the last 25 years. People that really know and care for me, and vice versa. My Topanga family extends way beyond my blood relatives. I think it’s so important to feel connected to a community, and I am really grateful for having that here, as I know it’s not something everyone is lucky enough to have. 

Real estate is doing well in Topanga, yes? When your clients purchase their first home in Topanga, what are some local words of wisdom to ease the transition and not step on anyone’s toes?

Real estate in Topanga is pretty crazy right now. This past month has been the busiest of my career thus far. People want to escape the city, and Topanga is the place everyone is flocking to. I’m not surprised, this pandemic has made people realize that cities aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Words of wisdom I tell my newcomer clients: Support local businesses. Don’t use rat poison. Get out in the state park. Drive slow. And, don’t piss off your neighbor! I’ve been really fortunate to work with so many awesome people that I feel add so much to our canyon, and fit right into this eclectic community. 

A terrace of stone masonry and plants. Surfboards that belonged to Sophie’s father provide a sculptural element in the garden. Photo by Saori Wall

Do you see Topanga changing in positive or negative ways, what are some of the remedies to this change?

I see both the positive and negative changes. I am a resident and local before I am a Realtor, so although home prices are rising, I don’t necessarily celebrate that, as I know it changes the shape of our community. A lot of my friends that I grew up with are having to leave the canyon, since housing has become so unaffordable. 

Airbnb has done a number to our rental market. I hear a lot of complaints from locals that Topanga is turning “bougie” and getting taken over by westsiders. The old, charming restaurants and shops are getting replaced with high end boutiques and expensive cafes. Yes, it’s sad to watch, especially being so nostalgic for the Topanga of my childhood, but it seems like that’s the natural progression of so many towns everywhere. And I do love those shops and many of my closest friends are new residents.

Change is inevitable. I love the fact that development is near impossible in Topanga due to the building restrictions, because that will always keep this place small and local. No chain stores, no sidewalks, no big markets. Keep it local, treat everyone with respect, and embrace the funkiness. As the old bumper sticker says, ‘Don’t change Topanga, let Topanga change you’. Cheesy, but true! 

What advice do you have to keep spirits up for young entrepreneurs in our community during covid? 

Honestly if anyone has advice, please send my way! (@sophiezeiler)

Sophie is passionate about her garden and doesn’t mind getting her hands in the dirt. Succulents, tropical flowers and native plants thrive together in the space that is filled with fascinating art objects, mosaics, and stonework.
Photograph Courtesy of Sophie Zeiler
Sophie’s pond is one of ChateauPanga’s hidden delights—a cool green oasis that invites contemplation. Sophie’s pond pals are always happy (and hungry) when they meet. Photo by Saori Wall

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