Design Destination: It’s a Family Affair at Brown Downtown Napa


Many tasting rooms and wineries in Napa Valley are designed to provide a faux farm experience, and there’s no shortage of spaces done with barns and agrarian motifs. But one of Napa’s newest tasting rooms has a trio of inspirations that are more original—high fashion, trendy hotels, and sophisticated restaurants. It’s called Brown Downtown Napa.


It’s the brainchild of the Brown family, a trio of siblings that wanted a different kind of experience for their clients. To make it happen they tapped interior designer Catherine Kwong, giving her her first tasting room project.


“The Browns are the second generation of winemakers in their family. For their new tasting room in downtown Napa, the purposely chose a second-floor space in a brick building that used to house the Napa Valley Register. It’s not your typical tasting room location, but it was perfect for them because they wanted an element of surprise,” says Kwong. “They told me they wanted to do something new, stylish and appealing to their younger clients.”


With that in mind, Kwong took her clients to favorite places in San Francisco that have nothing to do with wine—including the hip shopping emporium/watchmaker Shinola, the chic clothing boutique Isabel Marant, and the popular bar Trick Dog. “From the very beginning, we were on the same page, and we agreed that design can come from a bigger, less obvious context,” says Kwong.


The result is a space Kwong admits is “different” for Napa Valley. The walls are composed of old, deep-red brick interrupted by tall, arched windows. Dark-hued accents abound, including black floors and tables, oversize steel light fixtures and plush, dark-gray upholstered sofas. The look is far more sexy than down on the farm. “They were going for is a space where interesting things could happen,” says Kwong. “The vibe is young and fun.”


The space is divided into sections: Two, long marble-topped tasting bars lined with sleek barstools from Fyrn; a lengthy modern table surrounded by benches and the aforementioned plush sofas. One of the tasting bars is topped by showstopping light fixtures from Jean de Merry; the other has a triptych showing a duppy, a character from Caribbean folklore (a ghost or spirit). “The image in the art was drawn for the Browns by their uncle, and it was something they saved for years,” says Kwong. “We had it enlarged for the tasting room. It’s something that’s important to their family and heritage, and this is a family business.”


A piece of Bay Area heritage is found in the bathroom, where a wallpaper called Bay Area Toile from Flavor Paper decorates the space. Legendary faces in the pattern include everyone from rapper Humpty Hump to restaurateur Alice Waters to newscaster Dennis Richmond. “I feel like the litmus test for a true Bay Area native is if you recognize Dennis Richmond,” says Kwong.


Another fun element is the large word wall, where giant, Scrabble-like letter tiles can be arranged to spell out words and sentences. “It’s an old school concept, but it’s quickly become the place where everyone takes selfies,” says Kwong. “It’s so popular we had to go back and create more letters for them. Currently, there are five boxes full under the shelves.” It’s that spirit of fun combined with sophistication that makes the space. “We all agreed that the tasting room should be a special place, but not intimidating in any way. Instead, it should be welcoming and warm, just like their family and brand.”