Napa Valley gets a taste of its own rustic beauty at the Carneros Inn, a resort by Shopworks and William Rawn Associates
Jaime Gross -- Interior Design, 2/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
Something fresh has sprouted amid the rolling vineyards and cow-dotted farms of Northern California's Napa Valley. The Carneros Inn, the wine region's first new resort in 20 years, takes its design cues from its surroundings: barns, silos, ranchers' cottages, and orderly rows of grapevines marching across the landscape. The approach is a departure from the region's existing high-end resorts, which often take their inspiration from distant lands, as is the case with Auberge du Soleil, the Provençal fantasy up the road. "I wasn't going to imitate something else," recalls Keith Rogal, the inn's founder. "No faux wiggly paths. It was to be sophisticated and genuine-something you couldn't imagine anywhere else."
Rogal turned to Shopworks to create a plan for the inn's interiors that would capture Napa's distinct charm. Principals Dan Worden and Kimberley Nunn responded with an aesthetic they describe as "agri-chic." "No one has done places that look true to Napa," Worden says. "It has an edge, but also a rural American side-the real California that most people who come to the valley want to see."
Formerly a neglected trailer park and RV storage yard, the 27-acre site first had to be transformed into a rustic-modern enclave on the outside. Architects William Rawn and Doug Johnston, principals of William Rawn Associates, built a complex of 83 tin-roof cottages grouped around nine ' central courtyards. Each cottage cluster is named after a local family who shaped the region-Cabral, Bartolucci, Larsen. The structures balance a sense of neighborliness (front porches) with intimacy (secluded outdoor showers and gardens).
Common spaces-reception, the dining room, the spa, and the roadside Boon Fly Café-are set within six barnlike structures with soaring ceilings and exposed framing. Geometric plantings and traditional farm elements such as board-and-batting siding and galvanized-steel troughs, which serve as courtyard fountains, reference the rural landscape without lampooning it. "Everywhere you turn," says Johnston, "you get the sense that you're surrounded by a real, working landscape."
Shopworks' furnishings and finishes took inspiration from the architects' structures. "We started with the look of the cottages and picked up the aesthetic of agricultural equipment," explains Worden. For example, in the great room, the designers created 10-foot-high barn-style sliding doors and hung them from wrought-iron bracing; they installed French doors and simulated board-and-batting siding in the cottages. Rogal demanded everything be infused with authenticity. "The materials had to weather and have a patina, like zinc, leather, and wood," he states. In an attempt to replicate "the natural process through which great houses evolve over time," says Rogal, the team slowly selected one item at a time, as a homeowner might. They brought in up to 50 options for every object, then narrowed down the choices. ' "I became a little obsessive," he admits.
The attention to detail paid off.
Unlike in the guest rooms of cookie-cutter hotels, the closer one looks here, the more delightful details one finds. Small, apple-green birdhouses perch atop signposts. Bathroom vanities stand on mirrored legs. And tiny red and green LEDs take the place of "do not disturb" signs.
With the exception of lounge chairs by Le Corbusier and burnished-steel bedside tables, guest-room furnishings are Shopworks' custom designs. Among the highlights are tall linen-covered headboards, sleek concrete-faced fireplaces, and playful striped lampshades that Rogal describes as "very Cat in the Hat." Elsewhere, organic shapes and textures reign, from the sensual curves of Italian leather wingback chairs by the check-in desk to the weathered slate tiles on the bathroom floors.
Perhaps the property's most customized element, though, is the art. Reproductions of photographs culled from the scrapbooks of dozens of local families adorn walls throughout the inn. The images celebrate the distinctive character of workaday life in the valley. "Why look elsewhere for beauty?" asks Rogal. "In well loved places, there's always something interesting right where you stand."