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It wasn’t that long ago that the wine country of Northern California loved to play architectural masquerade.

Houses and vineyards were dressed to mimic France, Tuscany or a dreamy Mediterranean destination in the undetermined location. Vast vineyards, dry mountains and lavender fields could easily be reimagined as distant places. Wineries have become attractions to transport visitors to another time and place, from a 19th-century German mansion on the Rhine (Beringer) to ancient Persepolis in the Persian Empire (Dariyoush) in style Cape Dutch from South Africa (Chimney Rock).

But something interesting has happened over the past decade. California has begun to assert its architectural and design identity, one that represents the unique “terroir” of the Golden State.

“There have been so many great designs over the last 10 years in particular, and they’ve really evolved into an approach that springs from the earth,” said Chase Reynolds Ewald, co-author of a new book, “At Home in the Wine Country ”(Gibbs Smith).

The book is a visual tour of the house and garden through some of the best examples of contemporary architecture and design in the region. Each of the 17 homes and four accessory structures on display reflects an authentic sense of belonging, not only to California, but to the wine country as well. Plus, said Ewald and co-author Heather Sandy Hebert, they’re designed to fit the unique characteristics of the site they’re built on.

The couple, experienced writers on architecture and design, focused primarily on Napa and Sonoma, with a few homes in the Carmel Valley. Seven of the houses are on this side of the Mayacamas Mountains.

As keen observers of changing tastes and trends over the years, they note that design among the vines has evolved to reflect a “defined sense of place, and not having to be elsewhere,” as ‘said Hebert.

It is this flowering of a local design philosophy that the pair sought to highlight.

“A mission-style house refers to Californian architecture, unlike Tuscan or French castles,” Hebert said. “That doesn’t mean we don’t think they are pretty, but that’s not the story we’re telling.”

Feeling of restraint

The story Hebert and Ewald tell is one of homes that reflect Wine Country’s “unique blend of agriculture and sophistication”, a look that ranges from “farmhouse modern to rustic refined to agrarian updated to decidedly modern”.

One characteristic these homes share, said Ewald, is a sense of restraint.

“It’s not about over-building or building a McMansion, but about being thoughtful and intentional about how to interact with these pristine sites in such beautiful places that are irreplaceable,” she said. .

This means not going overboard in design, not wasting materials, using drought tolerant plants, providing on-site water collection and storage, building passive solar features and using other means of ” live more lightly on the land, ”said the late Bay Area landscaper and Sea Ranch visionary Lawrence Halprin.

“Location is another important thing, obviously for the views,” Hebert said. “But also by taking advantage of the slopes for passive heating and cooling and to be less visible from the valley floor. If you’re on the side of a hill, you want to keep everyone’s view out.

Natural light

What does it look like, from a design standpoint? Bigger windows, for example. Windows that become doors and doors that double as windows. It’s about letting the natural beauty of the landscape take center stage, rather than the architecture.

Interior designers, said Ewald, take inspiration, selecting natural, understated materials, tones and accents.

“When you have great landscapes, interior designers tend not to have too many interiors that rival the view,” Ewald said. “A lot of these houses have great art, but there is also a restraint about it. There are no garish colors or furniture. They have these calm, fairly neutral. Nothing is too precious. Things are beautiful and often handmade and special, but people want to live in their own homes and not feel that their children cannot come in and their dog cannot come in and that they cannot be free to put their feet on the coffee table. “

It is, they said, a “tailor-made” style, with respect for local artisans, manufacturers and materials.

“It’s definitely a common theme,” Hebert said. “These homes are designed for comfort, ease and place in the community, not to impress. They can impress, but that’s not their reason for being, which makes them even more wonderful.

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