Raising the Barn: An International Aesthetic Meets the Best of Wine Country’s HeartlandAuthor:Sarah Lynch
LEFT: Studio Barndiva’s eclectic offerings include local artwork and imported accessories, but the blue fireplace—adorned with a Magritte-worthy “It is not a fireplace”—makes it clear that visitors can always expect a surprise. TOP RIGHT: Jil and Geoffrey Hales built their barn (right) from scratch.
The perfect evening out brings together three elements: a delicious meal, a warm atmosphere and lively conversation. For Jil Hales, the proprietor of Healdsburg’s Barndiva restaurant, the bar is set significantly higher because the bar is where it all began.
“We came to Healdsburg eight years ago, after raising our kids in the U.K. and living in San Francisco for a few years,” says Hales, a Los Angeles native married to Geoffrey, a Brit, who brought his hardwood flooring company to the U.S. “What this town was missing was a world-class bar—a place to get a cocktail and a bite to eat late at night.”
LEFT: The kitchen island in the pied-à-terre was fitted with fluorescent lighting and colored gels as a prototype for the restaurant bar. RIGHT: A farm-worthy monitor, painted salmon pink, in the center of the ceiling will one day be accessed by a catwalk.
While the Hales were dividing their time between London and a fruit farm in Anderson Valley that Jil has owned for 30 years, they bought a property just off the town square in Healdsburg and built a two-story barn from the ground up. Downstairs, the bar and restaurant serve the best cocktails in town and an ever-evolving menu of farm-to-table dishes. Upstairs is the Hales’ pied-à-terre. Acting as general contractor and chief designer of the barn was an all-encompassing project, and Jil lived up to the nickname her friends had given her when she first moved to Anderson Valley: the Barn Diva.
Adapting the name to her new venture, Jil’s restaurant suitably hits a few high notes. From the outside, the building suggests a familiar rural vernacular—it’s a single structure with richly stained board-and-batten siding. Inside, the towering space is a sophisticated mix of travertine floors, wood tables, a colorfully lit bar and cream-colored walls adorned with modern art and antique farming tools. Out back, an enclosed garden is set with tables, big rustic sculptures and a trickling water feature; overhead mulberry trees are draped with twinkling fairy lights and a heritage black walnut offers dappled shade during the day.
FROM LEFT: The Cor-Ten steel and neon lights in Barndiva’s sign hint at the owners’ modern sensibilities; Studio Barndiva represents local artists such as painter Laura Parker and wire sculptor Ismael Sanchez; floor-to-ceiling drapes, formal flower arrangements and streamlined drum shades are just some of the sophisticated designs Jil chose for the restaurant; before coming to Barndiva
The pied-à-terre upstairs, which is accessed through the front door tucked alongside the restaurant’s entry patio and up a Dan Flavin-esque staircase with rainbow fluorescent risers, is even more of a surprise. It feels like a loft in Tribeca rather than a barn apartment in Sonoma County. The voluminous main room is centered on an oval dining table surrounded by red leather Eames Executive chairs. On one side a 16-foot-long kitchen island is topped with another fluorescent-lit bar (the prototype for the bar downstairs). The kitchen itself is an updated take on the European unfitted kitchen, with open storage, several sinks and a formidable black-enamel Lacanche range. A built-in bar adorned with Jil’s favored Tunisian ironwork, more classic midcentury furniture and artwork collected from around the world complete the scene in the main space. On one end is a guest bedroom and office mezzanine, and on the other is a master suite.
Two-and-a-half years after completing the barn, the restaurant was bustling on evenings and weekends, and Jil was ready to raise the bar even higher. The Hales’ life in Healdsburg had become increasingly focused on the community around them as they supported local vintners and farmers. But Jil’s passion for art and design needed an outlet, and the four walls of the restaurant were filled. So in 2007 she opened a gallery next door in a space that was formerly an opera house. Artists & Farmers, as it was originally called (now Studio Barndiva), was a place to celebrate and sell the art and designs she discovered locally or on her many travels. On display is an assemblage of Hales’ own lighting made from Tunisian architectural salvage along with locally crafted paintings, wire sculptures, blown glass, reclaimed wood furniture, imported gifts and accessories. “I don’t want to show things that can be easily found somewhere else,” says Hales, pointing out one exception: aselection of John Derian back-painted glass plates. “I know he’s in lots of other shops, but he’s a friend.”
LEFT TO RIGHT: The restaurant’s back patio features pendants that Jil fashioned from Tunisian window guards; fluorescent lights show up at the bar, where a circular backlit inset mimics the two round windows at the top of the building; the entrance to the private residence is marked by a dramatic glowing staircase; the weather in Healdsburg makes it ideal for outdoor wedding receptions.
Behind the gallery is yet another garden. This one is filled with raised vegetable beds, outdoor sculpture and a table large enough to seat 200 under an armature designed for a canopy of mini-globe lights. Like the garden on the other side of the fence, the setup begs for a modern country wedding and it’s been a popular spot for such events since it opened. In fact, Geoffrey and the couple’s eldest son, Lukka, run Barndiva’s event and hospitality business, and they’re now averaging 60 weddings a year. The Hales have also taken over management of the nearby Healdsburg Modern Cottages, four nightly cottages authentically furnished with pieces by Eileen Gray, George Nelson, and Ray and Charles Eames.
LEFT: The humble facade of Barndiva belies the stylish elegance of the experience inside. RIGHT: An outdoor area behind the gallery is attached to the restaurant’s garden through a gate and is a popular spot for wedding receptions.
In her mission to open a world-class bar in this sleepy town, Jil has elevated the creation of the perfect evening to an art form. “I went for the type of environment where I would want to share a meal or toast a special occasion with friends,” she says. “If something doesn’t come from the heart, it just doesn’t work. If you’re not authentic, you’re running on fumes.”
Sitting under twinkling lights, as a parade of seasonal dishes made by Thomas Keller–trained chef Ryan Fancher, original cocktails and wine selected by the in-house sommelier passes by, it would be hard to argue against that.
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