The Sonoma Stunner

When a couple hired Jennifer Robin Interiors and Wade Design Architects to transform their historical home near Downtown Sonoma after leaving a 50 acre ranch in Bennet Valley, the final result was a contemporary marvel equipped with a new pool, lush gardens and custom furnishings housed in a stunning 3,000 square foot addition. We asked Jennifer Macdonald (founder and principal of Jennifer Robin Interiors) and Luke Wade (co-founder and principal of Wade Design Architects) to share insights on this marvelous metamorphosis. 

What was the biggest challenge with this project? 

Macdonald: The biggest challenge for me, was having clients with a more modern aesthetic and monochromatic palette request. I was definitely pushed out of my comfort zone stylistically but did my best to stay true to the clients’ vision while layering elements that stayed true with how I work as a designer.

Wade: Three design challenges represented a recurring theme that guided decision-making on the project, beginning with the schematic layout and ending with resolution of details: 
1. The lot is narrow, yet runs from the street frontage to a creek at the back, more than a football field away. We had to figure out how to make the most of this depth. 

2. The clients were relocating from a beautiful, well-landscaped vineyard estate property to a neighborhood. We wanted to recreate the garden setting and privacy to which they had grown fond. All spaces open out to courtyards with lush screening at property lines, making for a shaded oasis in the middle of an historic neighborhood. The main court focuses on the pool and fountain, while the spa sits in a private space off of the master bath. Existing mature oaks were preserved and extensive producing gardens overlook the creek.

3. Situated on the site was an historic Craftsmen cottage which warranted preservation, yet the clients favored a contemporary design for their lifestyle. We had to figure out design choices that would create a cohesive project out of two different aesthetics. Following guidance from the Secretary of the Interior regarding additions to historic buildings, we struck upon a strategy of clarity between old and new. The Craftsmen retains its dignity with a contemporary addition maintaining legibility between the past and present.

The architecture and interior design is modern for Wine Country. How did this collaboration work between designer, architect and client? 

Macdonald: We layered the interior with textures everywhere we could to prevent this modern wine country design from becoming too cold.  For example, we worked with rich textures and interesting graphic lines in all the furnishings we chose (the graphic lines in the dining hall chairs and the textured fabric headboard tiles in the master bedroom are two good examples of this direction).  This layering continues throughout the home in the use of limestone on the walls, textured wallpapers and tiles in bathrooms, and using a French limestone for the kitchen backsplash (the same one used for the flooring surface in the dining room and exterior patio).

Wade: Wade Design Architects uses the analogy of fashion design. We want to create a custom-tailored garment, and bespoke design solutions from the specifics of the client and site. Developing a distinctive aesthetic sensibility is part of that mantra. We often use past homes, including childhood memories, as touchstones for choices that will impart something special and meaningful in a personal way. For this home, a luxury apartment in Dallas, dating from an earlier time in the couple’s life together, lent some aesthetic guidance and vitality. Some architects and interior designers might find such incorporation an uncomfortable challenge. Wade Design Architects and Jennifer Robin Interiors have worked together on so many projects, we’re always looking for ways to support each other’s ideas and sculpt a shared vision for our clients.

The lighting seems to be a focal point of the design choices. Was this a client request or a design inspiration? 

Macdonald: Decorative lighting fixtures were selected as jewelry for the home that were subtle and elegant. A very important design element to keep home from feeling too modern. The Matttaliano Conique fixture over the breakfast table is a favorite of ours. At first, our clients were not sure about this piece. We mocked it up to help them feel comfortable with it’s scale and to understand it’s important role in the space. The fixture is one of the first pieces noticed as you walk in the home and brings so much intimacy to the dining experience, the subtle glow of all the fixtures in the evening add a layer of warmth. 

Wade: Lighting was very important to the project and the clients in particular. We always look for ways to bring natural light into rooms from at least two orientations and preferably more. Several light shelf skylights bounce soft diffuse sunlight down onto stone-clad walls. At night, light coves complement with the same effective wash of light. Looking to avoid the busy scattershot nature of too many fixtures in the ceilings, multi-head recessed lighting was specified. Getting the architectural lighting right takes pressure off the task performance of the decorative lighting, letting it function like jewelry in the space.

What are your favorite things about this project and why? 

Macdonald: I love the play between indoor-outdoor living in this home, both architecturally and with the finishes and furniture. The dining hall gives a magical experience because of this blurred line. I was challenged by this home, but in the end I am thrilled with how the textures and graphic lines of the interior design allows the home to be experienced as a very warm, unique experience, with textural surprises around every corner.

Wade: There’s an element of the unexpected and heightened drama. Where else do you walk up to a perfectly quaint and charming historic cottage, only to enter into a home of disappearing glass walls and rooms that blend into the landscape? The back-to-back fireplaces that anchor the pool courtyard and dining room breezeway perform a magic trick. They absorb sliding steel doors in a pocket between them and make one large entertaining space in the heart of the home. It’s theatric and spatially transformative yet invisible.