Ann Colgin isn’t shy about sharing instances of uncanny activity at the Victorian-style St. Helena cottage the vintner shares with her husband, Joe Wender. “Sometimes I’ll come home from the winery and the powder room faucet is running, or a candle will suddenly fall off a sconce during a dinner party,” she shares. When asked who (or what) could be behind the seemingly spectral activities, Ann offers up the name of Josephine Tychson, one of the first women to operate a Napa Valley winery in the 1880s. It was located on the property Ann and Joe now call home.
Ann says she purchased the estate in 1996 “for the history and soil type,” and named it Tychson Hill after planting new grapevines—and today the winery is known for its elegant, handcrafted wines. However, her hopes for restoring what was left of the original residence were dashed after several contractors shook their heads no at the prospect. “We decided to build a new home, but chose to recreate and improve what Josephine constructed,” she says, noting that she worked with architect Daniel Summers and designer Thomas Allardyce to create the dwelling. “From the entry it still looks like a cottage, but we added a primary bedroom wing and two more bedrooms off the north side.”
Two decades later, after a leak in the main bedroom precipitated a whole house makeover, designer Christine Markatos Lowe was tasked with updating everything along with repurposing and rearranging the antique furnishings and collectibles amassed over the years by Ann, who studied decorative arts at Sotheby’s in London before becoming a vintner. “My job was to freshen, edit and curate,” Lowe says.
Noting that “everything was green and dark gold,” the designer’s immediate changes included lighter paint colors, modernized versions of traditional fixtures and swapping dark limestone in the main bathroom for lighter mosaic marbles. “There’s not a single thing that wasn’t reupholstered,” adds Lowe, pointing to the living room where the seat of a caned chair now sports a French linen textile and a vintage footstool cushion touts a woven-leather covering.
In that same room, Lowe designed the sofa, upholstered in a purple velvet with a hushed tone, and swathed a chair in a soft dove print. The pieces, and others throughout the house, take their color cues from an 18th-century stone-topped Swedish tea table turned coffee table that’s defined by shades of gray and lavender. A fire screen replete with steel medallions and bronze accents provides a contemporary complement to the 19th-century limestone fireplace surround from Burgundy.
Following the established palette, existing chairs in the dining room were refreshed with practical pale purple leather (the better to mask wine spills) and a gray patterned fabric. Above, a chandelier features hand-blown green, gold and purple glass beads selected to match the drapes.
Rearranging was the catchword for the kitchen, where the sink and dishwasher moved from the island to the perimeter of the room, and the island itself was reorganized to provide more functional prep space and accommodate a tea set from the Duchess of Windsor collection. General contractor Mark Davis installed new counters and a pale celadon metallic backsplash tile that runs up to the dormers. When concerns arose about fitting a new range hood in between two cabinets topped with crown molding, Davis came up with the elegant answer of a crisp, fluted appliance. “The space and aesthetics had to be factored in,” he recalls. “We presented several mock-ups until the final solution was developed and the new range hood could be constructed.”
Weather permitting, dinner parties begin outside, where guests can sip wine in the vineyard. Landscape architect Stephen Billings reshaped the property to better suit the owners’ entertaining lifestyle. “There were some stone walls, but they weren’t beautiful, and there were overgrown trees that were badly placed, so we did a lot of editing,” says Billings, who introduced profusions of color in the form of coral bells, penstemon and pink coneflowers. “Now there’s a circumambulatory path the owners take to show guests the property,” he adds. “It’s this dreamy experience where you feel immersed in the garden.”
For Ann everything leads back to that mischievous, but apparently friendly, spirit. “I think Josephine likes what we’ve done with the place,” she remarks good-naturedly, adding, “I’m just honored to have such an important property and be inspired by a great woman in history.