After having posted about the French master craftsmen’s work at the infamous La Samaritaine in Paris, I found myself reminiscing about the remodel of our property in the Napa Valley.
For a number of years I lived in the Napa Valley with my husband (now former) on an idyllic property with our daughter off having an idyllic college life. In fact, this 20 acre property was so precious, I remember having similar thoughts like this Katherine Hannigan quote:
“We don’t own the earth. We are the earth’s caretakers…we take care of it and all the things on it. And when we’re done with it, it should be left better than we found it.”
Humble, rustic, all in disrepair, yet screaming ‘possibility’! I remember our first acquaintance with the property…sneaking around the pathway’s twists and turns with hushed baby steps, constantly stopping and not quite believing what we were seeing…holding our breath, and wondering was it make-believe or real and then slowly coming to the realization that this enchanting ramshackled structured and maturely landscaped land could be claimed as ‘ours’.
The seemingly endless footpaths with well-placed structures, albeit all in need of work…main house, one cottage…oh wait..another cottage, pool, deck overlooking the tennis court, always showing off…including the old growth firs shooting up to the sky as if racing with some nearby pine trees to see which one could claim the prize of being the tallest. The pond, as we later discovered housed the irrigation water which kept the property looking lush through the summer, yet it had its own seasons of yellow irises surrounding it in the spring; lily pads grouping themselves together in one corner and fish making loops in the air with frogs croak-singing in the summer; and then the fall and winter rains flushing out the dead plants so the renewal could start up again with the spring greenery and give us a guarantee the water supply was replenished for the following summer’s heated dry days.
The swimming pool with its jacuzzi and sturdily planted stone diving board proved intact but the bathhouse was in a shambles waiting to wear its practical and functional hat again and be an aesthetic asset to the property.
As mentioned, there was even a sunny tennis court found down a set of steps surrounded by more of the property’s wooded area as if it was a hidden secret just waiting to be discovered. Upon discovering it, I was reminded of the feeling I had as a youth in Michigan when the neighbor kids and I, exploring our woods near the inland lake we lived on, found a rudimentary baseball field in the vast mass of trees, wild blueberries, and paths that must have been formed over time and proved to be wide enough for our bikes to trail down on any given day.
We added a vegetable garden with rustic poles from the property to keep the deer out and a Topiary Joe 6 foot tall rooster to be the master of the garden. (Take a look here: https://www.topiaryjoe.com )
As a statement to the land of the vineyards surrounding us, we spruced up the three rows of vines near the entrance to the main house ..obviously, more a landscape feature than a prolific producer of wine. And, yes, Topiary Joe installed a topiary deer, steadying himself on his hind legs as his front hoofs dug into a vineyard pole allowing him to reach and look as though he was munching on the grapes.
Eventually, the bocce ball court, with the healthy lawn beside it, and the pond further beyond became the dessert and coffee landing favorite after lunches with friends, including, of course, a round or two of game. If you haven’t played bocce, you soon find out that anyone can play. And, if you are forming teams, you can balance out the teams according to skill, making it a challenging fun sport.
Soon after moving in, we got a call from the winery owner across the country road. A young Frenchman was coming to work for him and he and his newlywed wife needed housing. With the neighbor’s prodding, we reluctantly showed the couple the caretaker’s cottage, knowing confidently they would turn it down. Instead, they rejoiced in its rusticity and claimed rental ownership on the spot! They nicknamed it Le Cabane and lived there for the duration of their few years’ stay while at their employment at the winery, including a celebration of the birth of their first child and visits from their charming family members. (Color seemed to infuse the cottages with life.)
The other cottage was taken down to its foundation and became a lucrative vacation rental.
The main house got a new roof, paint job in and out, kitchen and bathroom remodels, bringing it up to the level of modern day conveniences but still keeping its rustic character including its uninsulated walls!
We weren’t the only ones that found this property a keeper, a charmer, a rustic beauty, a hidden gem, a one-of-a-kind comfortable and casual humble abode-eventually having scouts getting wind of it too, leading photographers to contract with us so they could use it in photo shoots for various companies’ advertising catalogues .
We had one well known chef that was a guest at one of our friendly lingering-all-afternoon lunches and she wanted to claim the caretaker cottage as her nest to write her next cookbook. Yet another owner of a family-owned 5 star resort, during his training stint with the French Laundry chef, Thomas Keller, seriously considered living on the property in the cottage we were planning to tear down until his wife pointed out its pitfalls for their family.
As I was ticking off the remodeling projects one-by-one, I was in the village of Glen Ellen in the Sonoma Valley one day as I had heard about a French guy who had a small shop/studio overflowing with French wares. I immediately latched onto a rudimentary wooden farm gate he had for sale and asked if he would come by the property to see if he could install it at the top of the driveway.
He agreed and once there and with the realization he showed such promise in constructing, I asked him to walk down to the dilapidated pole barn, as it was termed, and the rest was history. The photo, above, is what we designed together and he constructed with his creative vision and trained manner. He not only had his father back in France organize containers to ship the necessary items from France, such as the limestone and posts and beams you see he used for the pole barn, but he was also contracted to build the ‘in-the-round’ pizza oven and BBQ area nearby the pole barn which we ended up calling ‘the outdoor great room’. An ancient French stone sink was also installed near the pizza oven. Pascal even shipped some pine boards for a shed and the kitchen wall and, of course, been-used-for-decades-on-a-structure-in-France roof tiles.
He sent measurements to his master craftsman father and 2 other master craftsmen friends of his dad’s so that the ancient materials arrived ready to be fitted. The posts and beams were constructed ‘old world’ style with no nails. The three French master craftsmen made the trip as well….just not in the containers with the products!
We also had a San Francisco wedding planner who was captured by our property.
An example of how the property was used for advertising.
The property was a keeper but ultimately, due to life’s happenings, the memories of our time there are what I have to remind me of those years as a life-well-lived.