Sometimes, the kids know best. Such was the case for a Wisconsin family who decided to establish a Napa Valley vacation home in St. Helena after their daughters led them west. “We have two young adult children who attended universities in the Bay Area and decided to stay after graduation,” the wife says. “We’ve always enjoyed the wine country vibe with its great climate, restaurants, vineyards and easy access to San Francisco. We knew it would be an appealing destination for family and friends.”
During the pandemic, creating an abode halfway across the country was no easy task. But when the couple connected with residential designer Fabien Lannoye, general contractor John Schrader and interior designer Shelley Cahan, things started to fall into place. All three have ties to Napa Valley, a bonus for the out-of-town owners, but also key was a near-instant rapport. Cahan only met with the couple in person twice during construction, but “we just clicked,” she says. “They trusted us to deliver their dream home.”
“We wanted it to feel casual, bright and modern,” the wife says. “Our house on Lake Michigan is a traditional English Tudor, and we were ready for a change in architecture and design.” Lannoye set a contemporary note with an open floor plan large enough for a kitchen, living room and dining area set under a soaring ceiling with exposed trusses. Cahan emphasized the airiness of the space with a 20-foot, floor-to- ceiling plaster fireplace surround, which acts as a stunning centerpiece.
To bring additional natural light into the front of the residence, Cahan commissioned a custom pivot door for the front entry and added two skylights to the kitchen. “The glass in the door allows the morning eastern light to pour in,” Cahan says of the impressive portal built by artisan Joe Bates. “It’s a game changer.”
The dwelling is designed around the landscape that drew the couple to wine country. “The house is U-shaped, so when you are inside looking out, it frames views of the vineyards,” says Schrader, who collaborated on the design with Lannoye. “The exterior is largely glass, stone, cedar and Cor-Ten steel,” the general contractor adds. While their low-maintenance qualities are a plus, these natural materials also play an important role in establishing curb appeal; the structure looks right at home set amongst the rolling hills and distant mountains. The elements are also fire resistant and energy efficient, an important consideration in this region.
Taking advantage of the setting and views, a large sliding glass door connects the pool area and great room. Drought-resistant plantings chosen by landscape designer Katherine Novick provide a natural backdrop. “The family wants to be outside when they come here,” Cahan notes. “This house has a full outdoor kitchen with an island, custom lap pool, two fire pits and outdoor furnishings that let the party move with ease from inside to out.”
To make sure the abode would fit the family’s lifestyle, Cahan interviewed the couple and their three children about their needs for the common spaces and private bedrooms. The youngest child, a son still in high school, got a bedroom with a desk for homework, while the older daughters emphasized that they would feel most comfortable in a residence with eco-conscious furnishings and materials. “I’m learning from them and trying to be more mindful of sustainability,” the wife says. “When and where we could, we made that choice.”
Cahan points to the vegan leather chairs in the media room as an example of how they honored the daughters’ requests. The designer also relied heavily on locally made pieces partially for sustainability, but also because with pandemic- related shipping delays, they wanted to be sure that the house could be furnished as soon as construction finished.
Now that the dwelling is complete, the wife hopes the family can use it more often once their teenaged son graduates from high school. “Although there’s no pressure on him to go to college in Northern California, it would be nice if he followed his sisters’ lead and headed west,” she says jokingly. On a more serious note, she adds that the home has evolved as a touchstone that brings the tribe together. “This is a relaxing place for all of us,” the wife says. “We love this house.”