Some decisions take time and considerable debate before eventually coming to a conclusion. This wasn’t the case, however, when an Illinois couple first saw the site of their future home—a hilltop property with a pool house—in Calistoga. “You’re surrounded by a forest of oak trees and madrones,” says the husband. “The vistas are jaw-dropping, with views of Mount Saint Helena and all the way down Napa Valley.” Enchanted by the property, the couple purchased it that same day. After enjoying the site and its pool house for some time, they called on their trusted architect, Kathryn Quinn, to design a main house that would honor the bucolic setting.
Quinn, who is based in Chicago, began the project by researching the area’s mining history. “The vernacular of this locale consists of industrial and agrarian buildings,” she says. “Those styles would easily allow for a design that seemed as if it were added to over time, with distinctly different roof and room shapes, depending on their function. We were looking for that kind of relaxed approach.” Following that lead, the architect devised an L-shaped floor plan arranged around a courtyard, and turned to utilitarian materials such as concrete and galvanized steel to give the house an industrial feel. “The metal reinforces the idea that this is the type of building one would have historically found on this site,” says Quinn. The thoughtful selection of building products also underscored the home’s additive design. “If a building was constructed at the turn of the century and then added onto 30 years later, the products would be different,” says builder Ryan Eames, who worked with partner and general superintendent Jack Wagoner on the project. “So we used different windows—some are black aluminum and some are clear anodized aluminum.”
When it came to logistics, the couple wanted the home to be big enough to comfortably accommodate visits from both their children and grandchildren. “By the same token, we didn’t want to be in a big knock-around place where we’re walking by a bunch of empty bedrooms when we’re there alone,” the husband says. Quinn addressed that concern by putting the main living spaces on the second floor, with guest suites and a large sitting room on the ground floor. “The children have the freedom to run in and out and play in the courtyard,” she says. “And it’s a nice segregation, creating privacy for the guests and the owners.” The master suite was also placed on the second floor “to grab the light and the spectacular views,” adds Quinn.
On that main second level, the architect kept the plan open, creating one large space for the living and dining areas, which are anchored on either end by French doors. A roof monitor—also seen on agrarian and factory buildings— allows shards of light to dance through the space and helps to visually define the living areas. “It’s like the mother ship, and then you have all of these smaller pieces coming off of it,” explains Quinn, who also employed wood-and-steel trusses, adding to the industrial feel. Because the couple entertain often, they wanted the kitchen to be in the midst of the activity, between the living and dining areas, which dictated having low walls. “With the kitchen in the center, people can help with cooking or the children can watch grandma make cookies,” says Quinn. Additionally, a burnished-steel surround sheathes the unit, while the cabinetry and adjacent pantry are marked by stainless steel.
When it came to appointing the spaces of the home, the couple turned to longtime friend and designer Chicago- based Arlene Semel. “It was a given that she’d come on board,” says the wife, who many years ago began her business of selling artisan-made items through an antiques shop Semel owned at the time and has since opened her own shop, Adesso, in Highland Park, Illinois. “We’re very attached,” says Semel. “It’s hard to know when my thoughts end and hers begin and vice versa.” In approaching the design, Semel, working with principal Brian Snow and senior designer Mary Ennis-Smith, took inspiration from the “clients’ desire for a comfortable, unique and interesting environment,” she says.
That starting point and their shared history come through in the seamless way new furnishings mingle with custom and repurposed items alongside the couple’s beloved antiques. In the open living area, “we made the sofas a little higher and more sheltered, so that they create their own living space,” says Semel. A Stark rug further defines the living area, and a custom coffee table was created by combining a large grape picker’s basket the wife had owned for years with a custom base and an artisan-made glass top. “It was important to all of us that we include some ‘old friends’ in this new house,” says Semel about incorporating the couple’s existing treasures.
To play off the antique pieces, the designers also infused the spaces with striking contemporary items such as the steel chandelier hovering above the sleek steel-and-concrete dining table. “They help create some modernity in the furniture that relates to the house,” says Semel. “We thought the chandelier had an interesting relationship to the metal ties between the beams.” A linen wall hanging by artist Gino Levi-Montalcini adorns the space, which keeps to a soft white palette and opens through French doors to a screened porch. The porch— with its exposed corrugated-steel walls—offers the owners a cozy respite. “It’s comfortable for reading, it’s where we eat breakfast, and it’s great for entertaining,” the wife says.
Outside, landscape architect Ron Lutsko, Jr. bordered the home with landscaping that seems, in some areas, to meld into the natural surroundings. “The homeowners wanted to exemplify the beauty that was already there, so our approach was to place plantings that highlighted the architecture and connected it with the site,” says Lutsko, who worked with project manager Laura Jerrard to add manzanita, native iris, phlomis, euphorbia, native grasses and other plantings. “We also created outdoor living spaces between the house and more natural areas on the property.” Additional spaces were designed to accommodate the owners’ sculptures, and raised planter boxes were installed for growing vegetables.
With the couple’s home now complete, it stands as a collaborative work of art, tucked gently into nature’s beauty. “The light is incredible as it moves through the rooms,” Semel says. “The house has a sense of romanticism and discovery.”