Sonoma couple's hous shows Mexican influence
Source of Article: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/01/06/HOTT14IRA1.DTL
San Francisco Chronicle
It took two Easterners to see past the Tuscan and medieval revival houses starting to go up in the hills of Napa and Sonoma in the late 1990s and go for something that was once so essentially Californian, a hacienda home like those built by the Spanish Mexicans who were the state's first European settlers.
"We were inspired a lot by the mission in Sonoma, but we have that California twist of open rooms and organic living," said Edna Hayes, who, with husband Bruce Needleman, built a one-story rammed-earth house in the hills west of town that echoes the colonial style in design and content.
Early in their relationship - they were married in 1988 - they felt the tug of Mexico. Needleman worked on the West Coast for Goldman and Co. and began to court Hayes, who worked for Esprit in New York.
"On our second or third date, I brought her out from the East Coast and we went to Puerto Vallarta," Needleman said.
Shortly before they married, they discovered a small store called Salsa Trading selling Mexican goods across from the Larkspur ferry landing and became so enamored that, when the owner wanted to retire, they snapped it up and moved it to San Rafael.
Hayes gladly gave up her corporate career, and Needleman followed as they began to expand the business to include furniture and accessories, made in Mexico by artisans they met on their trips.
With their aesthetic tastes well developed, they moved Salsa Trading to Sonoma in 1996, and bought a property 4 miles away to begin building the dream house that would articulate and solidify their approach.
"We designed it around the property and (the idea) of the openness and grandioseness of the hacienda in Mexico," said Needleman, who, despite or perhaps because of his Brooklyn upbringing, was drawn to the serenity of the hillside and wanted the house to rest naturally in the landscape. "It's very simple and quiet here."
Hacienda hotel look
The result was a wide, U-shaped 3,600-square-foot house with 2-foot-thick walls, a long veranda at the front, French doors leading from each room to the outdoors in pure early California style, interior walls of Venetian plaster, floors of dark brown Mexican tile, terra-cotta barrel tiles on the roof, a handmade low-walled stone driveway and landscape of nothing but cactus and lavender - and a patio, swimming pool and game room in the back, of course. Estimated construction cost: $300 to $350 a square foot.
After 10 years, the house has fulfilled the dream of the couple, who now have a 6-year-old son, Kelly, offering them the ease of living and aesthetic pleasure they sought as well as being a showcase for the lifestyle they sell.
Hayes will say repeatedly that despite its selective and well-crafted leather furniture, Navajo rugs, unique antiques - the front door is from the home of a Spanish cardinal - and contemporary Mexican and American Indian art, the house is meant to be simple, casual and timeless.
There's no garage, only a carport, "because we don't want to accumulate things," she said.
"It's very low maintenance, and that's what we like."
In fact, the rammed-earth walls (see sidebar), which are just now showing small cracks from settling that add to the character, afford the same insulating effect of the old adobe: cool rooms in the summer, retained heat in the winter.
"We did not put in air conditioning," Needleman said. "We have to work the house. You have to close the shutters in the morning. It keeps the sun from beating in, and then you open them at night."
Radiant heat was installed in the floors, which "keeps it a consistent temperature throughout the house," Hayes added.
The French doors were all made by Sonoma Doors to mimic the tall, thin iron doors of many 19th century buildings, and Hayes insisted on beveled glass in the windows. "It's that Old World element that makes people look twice," she said.
The uphill driveway was built of the rock excavated from under the house to build its 15-foot-deep foundation.
"A Mexican man from Sonoma took two years to do it. He took the existing rocks and chipped them and fit them without mortar," Hayes said. "It was like a puzzle."
The facade of the house includes the veranda with its overhanging roof to keep rain from hitting the doors. It is punctuated by rough pews from old Mexican churches and ancient Turkish urns. Working lamps in iron lanterns made in Mexico hang along the outside wall between each doorway.
The front door gives into a long passageway leading off to either wing and, a few steps down, to a great room with large fireplace, dining area and side lounge.
A large oil painting of Huichol Indians by Mexico City artist David Villaseñor hangs over the fireplace, with its wood-plank mantel of semi-burned candles and moose antlers. The coffee table, between two leather sofas, was made from a corral door. A carved Sabino wood panel depicting the Last Supper by an unknown artist, probably from the Yucatan, hangs over an old 9-foot-long credenza of pine beside a new trestle table.
Hayes and Needleman are partial to the unique and handcrafted, but even they can't always find it.
"We could not find old stained beams for the ceiling, so we had to make them new and stain them, mission style," Needleman said.
While the great room and passageway follow the contemporary preference for open rooms, the bedrooms and office are off in the two wings, and the kitchen is completely separate, Hayes being someone who hates having people bothering her while she cooks.
There are no heavy mosaics or shelves of ceramic crockery in her kitchen. An old Mexican rancho galvanized refrigerator for storing food stands along one wall; another has a pantry hidden behind old barn doors.
A bit of Mexican style neither one embraced was color. Their walls are decidedly neutral, which Needleman prefers: "I don't like vibrant color. I like it to be calm."
Like the mission buildings that so inspired her, Hayes wanted to keep her interior details to a minimum. She decided that a Venetian plaster treatment would keep the inside of the house from being too cavelike, and had a few wall niches built in as accents. The interior doors all come from Mexico and were found over a period of five to eight years.
"It's all in the finishes," she says.
Ironically, the adobe buildings in Sonoma's plaza, the mission and the Army barracks were not copied in the mid-19th century by the first American settlers, who built wood-framed farmhouses instead. Even Mariano Vallejo, the Mexican general who founded Sonoma, followed their lead, building a Victorian home, Lachryma Montis, in 1852 a few blocks north of the plaza and abandoning his adobe rancho near Petaluma.
Hayes isn't sure why the early Mexican style has had little resonance in Sonoma, except to say: "I think the floor plan of those houses is overlooked because of its simplicity. When people are building custom homes, they think they have to add so much instead of looking at the materials themselves."
Her guests "expect more, and they are surprised by how simple it is. But after they are here for a while, they begin to see it, and they are totally turned around when they leave."
-- Apparatus Architecture, 357 Grove St., San Francisco. (415) 703-0904, www.apparatus.com.
-- "Hacienda Style," by Karen Witynsky and Joe P. Carr (Gibbs Smith; 2007; 221 pages; $40).
To create a masonry wall using rammed-earth techniques, a builder pounds layers of moist, sifted soil, mixed with a small amount of portland cement, into removable forms. This soil is tamped down until its volume has been compacted by approximately 25 percent. The best mixture for rammed earth contains approximately 30 percent clay and 70 percent sand, with a small amount of cement added.
Rammed-earth buildings are extremely hardy. Experts say they cure during the first year after construction and can be stuccoed, plastered, painted or left natural and sealed to better waterproof them. It is a laborious and somewhat expensive process.
The Hayes-Needleman house (not the house shown here) was constructed using PISÉ techniques, a form of rammed-earth construction.
Pneumatically Impacted Stabilized Earth - builder David Easton created the acronym PISÉ in reference to the French term for "rammed" - features quick-lock forms that speed up the building process.
A mixture of earth, cement and water is sprayed through the hoses of a gunite machine, equipment normally used in the construction of swimming pools. The mixture is just moist enough to stack up against the form without slumping. The nozzle operator can move rapidly and add a 2- to 3-foot-high layer to the wall each hour or so.
It's a relatively new method that is still being improved.