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Clarity with Glass in the Home

On a recent visit to Sonoma Country Antiques, I was struck by the beauty of these glass themed displays for the home.  They were clear & bright, offering not only illumination but also a fresh feeling of clarity to the room.

During this time of extended days and increased light in our lives, these paintings and glass pieces in the home seem especially welcome and noteworthy.

Glass in the Home

A display as seen in the showroom of this wonderful resource for vintage and new home goods.  This store regularly receives shipping containers from across the Atlantic to keep wine country homes decorated in a most unique and authentic style.  They are conveniently located just as you enter Sonoma Valley on Arnold Drive, which is also the gateway to Napa Valley.

glass home

Note the pale blue glass lamp in this picture of the skylight illuminated atrium.

Glass home decor

Original old bottles from the English countryside can easily be repurposed as flower vases or used for most any number of other ways in a home.

These three beautiful glass bottle works were painted by artist Gregory Haynes and can be seen in his show here and up close (until sold out!) at Maybaum Gallery in San Francisco.

Glass in the home

These original oil paintings are so well done that they almost appear to be photographs.  They truly evoke the image of these old bottles.  It is about clarity as well as the memory of a time when these glass vessels were more commonly seen or used.  For many of us, the imagery harkens back to our younger days.

Paintings of glass

The balanced color and implied texture of these pieces of fine art would make a fresh addition to quite a number of rooms in a home.

Both of these wonderful businesses are open online and in person; I hope that you may find a moment to visit them.  Give me a call with any thoughts or comments on this observation of glass & light!  Wishing you a lovely day filled with much beauty in your home + life.

The Beauty Of Books And A Home Library

Books, my constant companions.  Here I share with you the beauty of books as known to me and seen in this well designed library found in a Sonoma Valley home.

During this time of digital prevalence, with an increased amount of our day spent on the computer, I would like to highlight the spirit of the written word as presented on paper and displayed in a home library.  Most of us have a collection of books somewhere to which we refer when the moment calls.  Whether it is a timeworn and tested cookbook with notes on the pages, or a collection of Michelangelo, da Vinci, and Rembrandt books that may reside on my own shelves, books have always been a large part of my life.  It seems that I continually receive a stream of books purchased from Sonoma bookstore Readers Books, or elsewhere.  This gives me something to look forward to, but also presents somewhat of a challenge in finding space for my new volumes once they arrive.

On occasion, I discover an excellent resource library that is both well designed and lends itself to the leisure lifestyle.  The following is such a place, a jewel in a lovely home in the hills of Sonoma that is currently available for purchase.

As you enter this home, you are greeted by this slightly whimsical orchid casually placed on a gorgeous pedestal.  It is a quiet reminder of the beauty that can be found in life.  In this case, the beauty of Sonoma Valley lies just beyond the patio.

Home Library

Here is an inviting corner of a home library with a comfortable chair and well placed lighting.  Notice the unique blue color of the shelves.  As with many things, the details make all the difference and are very much in evidence in this collection of printed thoughts.

Homes with libraries

As someone who both paints and collects books on art, art history, design, photography, gardening, and cooking, I very much appreciate the quality of this home library and the artful presentation of these two paintings in the midst of these written pages.

Sonoma Home Library

A quote by Homer, Iliad, VI, 146, which greets you as you both enter and depart the home at 4550 Grove Street, Sonoma.  The Iliad is thought to have been written by Homer in the 8th century BC, and is among the oldest works of Western literature.  This display is a thoughtful reminder.

As someone who sees many homes and works with many people, I always enjoy hearing from you and showing you homes with lovely libraries anytime.  This home library is especially noteworthy with its remarkable presentation and many fine details.

As I mentioned, the most important part of a library is that the books are meaningful to the person who has acquired them.  A library is just as valuable if it is well built and more formal, as seen here, or simply a stack of books in a warmly lit location.  What is most important is that the books are enjoyed, shared, and sought after time and again.

Feel free to contact me anytime.  I would be happy to discuss this property further with you if you would like more information.

A House in the Hills Above Sonoma

In the hills above Sonoma, many beautiful homes are nestled amid the trees.  With the weather warming, it is an especially wonderful time to be here in the Valley.  I wanted to share with you two hillside homes with expansive views, each quite unique.  One is on the western side of the valley, in the gated community of George Ranch, and the other in the eastern hills above the city of Sonoma.  With space becoming a much higher priority over the past year, each homes offers that in its own special way.

Hills above Sonoma

Located in the western hills, this is an example of the view from the George Ranch at which the home at 3900 White Alder is located at 1,056 ft elevation.  The scenic panorama from this property offers a feeling of freedom.

What I really love about this home is not only the structure itself and the views, but the sense of quality of craftsmanship which went into building the home.  With over 4,000 square foot of living space, it is nicely designed and all on one level.  Just outside the kitchen is a cutting garden and vegetable beds.  Ancient olive trees are only a few steps from the front door.

The front of 3900 White Alder has a wonderful sense of place. with an entrance graced by very large, old, oak trees.

George Ranch Home

This small meadow is part of the land just off the deck, offering many opportunities for a walk or special moments outside.

The dining room & hall have particularly exquisite details.

Here we see the steam and shower rooms, a valued addition to this home.

Although this small olive grove does not regularly bear fruit, it is the twisted character and evergreen silver-grey leaves of these ancient trees that are valued.

Speaking of land, a view just north of the home reveals neighbors nearby but not too close.  Privacy is an important element to this home.

Here we see the Sonoma Valley as experienced from the George Ranch property of 3900 White Alder.  The home can be seen amid the trees.

In case you are not familiar with the George Ranch, this is a small lake which is a favorite spot of residents.

A simple path around the lake that is perfect for an afternoon stroll.

The common tennis court is a quite popular.

On the eastern side of Sonoma Valley is a new and quite contemporary home with dramatic views.

Sonoma Hillside

The drive to this home is through a lovely area of vineyards.

High ceilings throughout the home offer that desired feeling of space and openness so valued today.

An inviting, light and bright kitchen.

Hills above Sonoma Valley

A closer look at the vista from a nearby window in which to delight whilst cooking or entertaining friends.

The living room also has a refreshing openness and lovely hardwood floors  A portion of the wall has almost floor to ceiling windows, and doors that open onto the pool and deck.

With views from most ever room, even this guest bath has a lovely door to the Sonoma Valley beyond.

A well appointed bedroom with great light.

Just outside the bedroom is an inviting place to read or relax.

This home has an infinity edge pool just a few steps from this deck.  See additional pictures and full details for 17317 Gehricke Road on the property website.


These two unique homes in the hills above Sonoma Valley are currently available for sale.  Both offer their own distinctive ways of delivering a glorious sense of space.  Please feel free to contact me for further information or if you would like to visit them in person.

A Taste of Italy in Sonoma & Treasured Picnic Spots

Recently, I visited a beautiful home in Sonoma at which the host shared a wonderful, freshly baked holiday bread from local Italian deli Ovello,” offering a taste of Italy in Sonoma. I think you’ll appreciate knowing about this amazing shop with its many fresh Italian offerings.

Also, a place to sit at a simple table or a spot of soft grass for a picnic.  Here are a few places that are lovely most any time of the year.

Salumeria Ovello makes this wonderful, seasonal bread fresh every few days during this time of the year. Traditionally served in springtime, the bread is called Colomba di Pasqua, or Dove of Easter.  Lovingly wrapped to be offered as a gift, it is presented in the shape of a bird in flight, the symbol of peace.

Small bags of biscotti and meringue puffs–Brutti e Buoni–cheerfully greet you as you enter the shop.  These are traditional Italian everyday cookies that are often enjoyed for dessert or as a wonderful accompaniment to afternoon coffee.

Italy in Sonoma

As seen from Napa Street in Sonoma, just a short walk from the Historic Plaza (and my office at 34 West Spain Street).

An assorted selection of specialty cheeses and meats for a picnic or lunch nearby on Sonoma Plaza.  As locals, we often pick up these treats for a picnic or a quick dinner in the garden at our home.

Lunch salads and handmade pasta with fresh bolognese sauce.  The perfect simple dinner or afternoon culinary offering.

Truly Italian fresh pasta made every few days

The cold case contains so many interesting offerings for a picnic.  I stop by and pick up something to fondly remind me of a past trip to Europe or elsewhere abroad.

A taste of Italy in Sonoma

I hope that you may find a moment to visit Ovello and bring something wonderful to meadow, home, lake shore or picnic table, where you can experience the Art of Leisure, Sonoma style.

A few picnic spots or roadside treasures to consider:

On our many country roads, you can stop by a large field and enjoy the view.

A simple side road with a lovely view.  Wishing you a wonderful time and a taste of Italy in Sonoma.  Contact me for a few more picnic ideas.

Kitchens in Wine Country

With the bounty of produce in the markets, late summer is a wonderful time to spend leisure hours in the kitchen.  The morning air is crisp in the Sonoma and Napa Valley.  What month of the year could be more perfect than September to put up a few jars of pickles or jam, just for the sheer pleasure of it?

Here are a few lovely kitchens

a most inviting kitchen and family room in the country

the perfect place to begin an afternoon of cooking for friends

gas stoves are preferred by most chefs in the wine country, a spot for laundry nearby

Shed, in Healdsburg offers a sophisticated, yet very authentic wine country style of provisions for the kitchen and home

quite an old stove lovingly used in a home with an inviting entrance

inside, a quiet kitchen window with a simple view of the garden and neighborhood

when it all gets to be a bit much, wander over to the French Laundry store, “FINESSE THE STORE,”  in Yountville, for freshly preserved staples

then a little down the road in Saint Helena, is Dean & DeLuca for only the best kitchen supplies and something sweet

In the midst of summer, a kitchen with very clean lines and a fresh feel is always welcome

this beautiful tile complemented the home perfectly

well made appliances on display and easily accessible

a very well traveled kitchen and home

with such artistic dishes for all the creations from the stove

outside a nook to wash a few vegetables from the garden before a late summer afternoon swim in the pool.  On my website www.brendamcneill.com, you will find a list of all the local Farmers Markets in the Sonoma and Napa Valley.  They are the ultimate source of fresh fruits and vegetables for all you leisurely pursuits in the kitchen.

 

Wildfire Recovery, Words of Wisdom: Step Three

Sonoma Valley Winter

With the embers now extinguished in the historic Northern California and Southern California fires of 2017, I hope that what I share here from my personal experiences with wildfire recovery can streamline or simplify the process for anyone affected by these fires.  As mentioned previously, a few years ago, the Cavedale Fire blew through the hills of Sonoma & Napa County, burned my home to the ground, and affected or burned six of my other structures and approximately 140 acres of my land.  This required efforts for rebuilding, renovation, erosion control and logging to bring back the property and natural environment.  Full recovery from that wildfire did happen.  This came about only after a few challenging years of constant attention to detail by myself, my family and a team of professionals.

Previously, I have written Steps One and Two of what I call the “Three Steps” to fire recovery.  Whether you are rebuilding a home from the foundation up, renovating a partially damaged property or repairing a structure or land, the stepping stones to recovery are very similar.  Based upon my experience, the most important components to recovery are grouped into these three steps.

Wildfire Recovery

STEP THREE

  • Gather your team together and create a plan:  It is important to have a strategy of which all the people and companies involved in your project are aware and can follow with you.  Last month, I mentioned the variety of categories and professionals who made up my team.  This blueprint or plan of your ideas can be as simple as having your current intentions for the home written on a piece of paper of which everyone receives a copy, or, it can be more detailed version created on the computer.  In my case, I did both.  I had a written document which I kept organized in a large binder.  On my computer, I had a detailed translation of that vision in an Excel spreadsheet.  All responsibilities and timelines were as clearly outlined as possible.  Being organized in the midst of the inevitable chaos that a fire brings is quite important.  This plan helps to inform and guide the overall path for almost everything that is done on your property.  Of course, it is key that all involved sign off on the plan and timeline.

The ability to proceed forward each day toward a goal, track your success, and keep individual accountability is the value of sticking with a plan.  The following are a few key points which, when I look back, were instrumental in my ability to ultimately craft a successful fire recovery.

  • Divide and conquer:  In order to most efficiently work the plan, the first thing that I did was to assign general responsibility.  Having a main contact point for each of the different priority areas allows the work to be divided up, and gives a feeling of control. For example, someone was in charge of the insurance contract and communication with the insurance company, and another person was working daily on contents which included recording lost items and researching current values.  At the end of the day, we would check in and celebrate our accomplishments or re-work the plan as needed.

Sonoma Home

Looking out the open doors of one of my houses in Sonoma….

Important Groups

  1. Insurance:  Read and re-read the insurance policy.  Talk with the adjustor regularly; if needed, connect with his supervisor and/or headquarters.  This is such an important component to being able to do what you aspire to do.  In many ways, it is the constant which allows you to move your ideas forward.
  2. Money Management:  The payments come from different areas in the insurance and recovery process.  Managing and keeping track of this with an outside professional or on a spreadsheet brings clarity to a sometimes confusing situation.
  3. Legal Advice:  In my case, I hired a very experienced corporate litigator, the best that I could find.  This was important to my success and my piece of mind.  I paid for the legal advice by the hour.  Today, in Northern California, many tort lawyers are trying to bring together groups of people for a larger, group case.  I was advised that paying by the hour would cost me much less money than if I paid the lawyer/firm a percentage of any claim.  This proved to be true.  The multiple layers of value that a truly capable attorney offers are invaluable.  Things which I did not understand, my lawyer understood completely.  His confidence and complete grasp of the process helped my confidence and ability to keep proceeding along.
  4. Contractors:  It was important for me to meet with my main contractors once a week, preferably over coffee.  We were able to stay in sync with what we were accomplishing and to make changes as needed. When an adjustment happened, everyone was updated and kept on track.  I also often used the telephone to communicate.  The importance of stepping away from the computer and hopping on the phone to speak directly with those who you are working with can not be underestimated.  When important issues were on the table, we scheduled a meeting immediately, usually on the property.
  5. Real Estate Support I would add this area today because many people have decided that it will take quite a bit of time to rebuild, so they are purchasing a new property.  This fresh home is a place to settle and to find happiness and calm while the older property is being renovated or sold.  As you may know, I am a real estate professional, and am very grateful for the opportunity to help individuals and families with what they most need at this time. My advice would be to find someone who has experience, and truly understands the fire recovery process.     

Believe

  • It is a belief of Wabi-Sabi that we are always in the process of expanding or contracting.  This is an important idea, because so much has been contracted by fire that the belief in the process of expanding now is essential.  The idea that what is ahead could possibly be as wonderful as what lies behind us is worth pondering.   All that I have outlined so far helped me to stay in the frame of mind of looking forward.  This can be challenging, as it is necessary to look backward for contents and structural reconfiguration reasons daily.

Wine Country Painting
An oil painting of a home that barely escaped the flames

A Few Ideas 

  1. Sanctuary and Inspiration:  Find a sacred place to which you can retreat and recharge.  Have a general idea of what your optimal recovery looks like.  Write it down; maybe keep a binder with clippings and pictures of the idea or image.  This is different than “The Plan,” which is much more formal.  I would carry around my personal inspiration board, adding and subtracting to create what was beautiful to me.  Not only does this lift your spirits, but it allows for a constant visual reminder of what you truly want and are working every day for.
  2. Add Education: Do a science project on your property.  In my case, I enlisted the help of a world renowned forester from the University of California, Berkeley, who helped me to identify a small area to document the natural recovery of the plants, animals and land.  We visited this spot often, and it was encouraging to see what would take place when I did absolutely nothing.  Additionally, my children learned many important lessons from being involved in this educational project.
  3. Focus: The organization tools and rituals which I have outlined in previous posts helped me to stay focused.
  4. Time:  The unspoken value of time is key.  As you may imagine, things can get a little messy and confusing as you go through the steps in your plan.  In my case, it was important for me to believe that my most important asset was my time.  If something was not working, I let it go, and replaced it as quickly as possible with what would work better.  Everything can be replaced except time.

Sonoma Valley Nature

Morning in Sonoma

Success is defined by each individual.  I found that after the wildfire recovery was all done, what I had created from the ashes, through diligent repairing, renovating and rebuilding, was indeed more lovely than what had made up my property before the fire.  Granted, it is a process, but ultimately, its a process worth pursuing.

After doing all of the above, I went back to running a successful business on my property.   Many people from around the world came to visit and enjoy the rest and rejuvenation that this property in the hills of Sonoma offered.  Ultimately, I did sell the real estate.  It was beautiful, and the land, trees, and animals on it were healthy, so in my mind, it was a success.

Daffodils

Rebirth

Again, I hope that something here can be of help to you.

Anyone for a dip in the pool?

It is Labor Day weekend and the temperatures are getting a bit high (that would be over 100 degrees)!  Just could not let this time pass without showing you a few lovely Napa homes and their refreshing pools.  It all starts with water!  Cool, clear, fresh, clean, and directly from the earth.  Our dip in the pool could be only a  few steps from our living room or it may be at our weekend house in the country.

Sonoma home with a pool

Napa homes with a pool

Sonoma Pool

 Villa is in the hills above Sonoma


 Home surrounded by vineyards in Napa Valley with a pool that looks out over Sonoma

Some pools are larger and others- this one is the size of a small lake nestled in the hills above Sonoma

Wishing you a cool swim and a relaxing Labor Day!

 

 

 

 

Local Purveyors of Provisions for Wine Country Home Comforts

Sometimes it is the simplest thing that you are looking for to make your home or retreat elegant and comfortable.  In that case, I have curated a few favorite places to find everyday staples and accessories in the Sonoma or Napa Valley.  Especially when the weather is chilly, it is so pleasant to visit any of these purveyors of home and garden provisions and linger while the rain falls.  From soap to seed these locally owned businesses have been providing for the finest houses in these Valleys with just the right, many times, all natural, organic or hand made version of a necessity.  These shops are part of the area we call UpValley, which means that they are in cities which are in the northern part of the Sonoma or Napa Valley.   Whether in the downtown section of St. Helena, Yountville or Healdsburg, they all have a contemporary California, open feeling when you first arrive.  With a particular specialty and style which is unique, each offers the ability to invite a fresh, leisure spirit into any home.

When in Healdsburg it is always a delight to venture into the very hip shop of SHED. This lovely store has everything you may need for your “country house retreat”.  From local flowers to amazing food and home goods, it is the finest the area has to offer.  For a special gift or kitchen supplies, SHED is always prepared!

A potted white orchid and a few fresh towels feel very airy and refreshing in winter and can be found in a variety of shops.  Bringing nature indoors has a magical feeling which pairs beautifully with most homes in the winter.

Napa Valley Vintage Home is known for its beautiful and hand selected home accessories.  From hand blown glasses to French linens, it is always an inspiring place to visit.  They truly know the basics and little luxuries of a wine country style, comfortable, well kept home.

The Gardener in Healdsburg is known for its high quality garden supplies, unique clay pots, books and much more.  They use the most amazing colors for outdoor furniture and indoor pillows.  Located in an updated barn, it has a very “of the area” feel and always a pleasure to leisurely wander around the gardens.

 Did you know that Thomas Keller has opened up a retail store?  It is only a few steps away from the Bouchon Bakery and called, “FINESSE the store”.  He actually opened it a few years ago, but it seems to be a bit of a local secret.

 When I look at a few of the cookbooks which I have that Thomas Keller has signed for me over the years, it is clear, he has been “all about finesse” for quite some time.  Thus, the name of this new store, his most recent business venture in Yountville is quite fitting.  It is a very white, beautiful shop with food and cooking items which have been carefully curated with an artistic eye.  Many of the products are from fruits and vegetable grown in the French Laundry garden just a couple of blocks away.

This picture from my French Laundry cookbook was probably signed in the year 2001.

Who could resist this cute puppy who was outside a store in the Sonoma Valley on a recent shopping trip.

Ranch House Retreat in Wine Country

A Ranch House Retreat in the Sonoma and Napa Valleys is a very casual affair.  It is both a sanctuary to reconnect with nature and experience the pleasure of your own solitude and a place to entertain friends or strengthen business relationships.  Whether it is in the hills with hundreds of acres or in town with an enormous backyard, the Ranch House Retreat is always a welcome sight after time away.  This winter we have been blessed with an enormous amount of rain.  When the weather is cool and wet, it is a perfect time to visit a few local ranches.

early morning, the light is on in the barn and the truck is in the field…the cows are coming in for breakfast and rain is soaking the vineyards winding entrance to a Retreat with land for horseslate morning on the porch, at a Ranch House in the hillskitchen and sun porch on a cool winter day a panoramic view of the Valley with six chairs waiting for someone…a cottage walking distance to town fresh bouquet and old pitchers meandering country road to a home with vineyards traditional ranch style bedrooma very old, wine country homeChickens and bees are always welcome in the Sonoma and Napa Valleys.  Similar to having your own private label of wine, honey is a treasured commodity and a generous gift to friends or family.

 this pool in the backyard with an old fashion tire swing offers a moment of leisure pleasure to kids of all ages!

Beginnings: A new day in the Sonoma and Napa Valley

Beginnings: the start of something yet untouched is filled with a fresh sense of hope and wonder.  This is true whether it is a new home, a new friend or a new day.  The first thing we love to do in the mornings is to put the kettle on, throw open the kitchen door and let in cool, fresh air.  Often you will hear a distant rooster crowing at the sunrise, tame geese asking for breakfast, or sheep (as I mentioned in my last post) gingerly leaving their night stall and wandering into the vineyards.  Although it is quite cold outside and the middle of winter, these country sounds are only more appreciated when you glance up and see a dramatically colored sunrise.  This seem to signal the first note of a very special day to come!

Winter sunrise

Sonoma Valley and Napa Valley

Sonoma early morning

We then brew an amazing cup of coffee or pot of loose leaf tea.  This has most likely been sourced from a local roasting company.  In Sonoma and Napa we love to support our small purveyors of specialty goods whether that is coffee, tea or wine.

locally sourced tea

Sonoma Lifestyle

Sonoma Valley

 

Napa lifestyle

Napa Valley

Next, we step outside, take a seat on the porch or in the garden, preferably a spot with a lovely view and enjoy the beauty of this fresh new day in the Sonoma and Napa Valley.

 

 

Food, Gardens and Agriculture in Sonoma and Napa

The fog has settled on the vineyards in Sonoma and the vines are now officially asleep for a few months.  Although they are resting peacefully, the gardens and new kitchen at The French Laundry in Yountville are quite lit up and full of activity and promise for future celebrations.  Food, gardens and agriculture are such an integral part of life in the Sonoma and Napa Valleys.  It seems almost everyone has some sort of a flower or vegetable garden at their home.  Many times you will see a lovely persimmon tree standing regally in a front yard.  The owner of the house may even have a small stand selling the fruit to anyone who passes by.  At the Farmers Market on Friday morning a local baker has created a special persimmon cake.

 

Farmers Market, Sonoma

The French Laundry kitchen and vegetable garden

Personal garden and Vineyard

Additionally, sheep are now in the gardens and vineyards to share in the bounty of this season.  They love the tender grass and are quite helpful as a natural, organic way to manage the planted cover crop, fertilize the soil, and eliminate the use of herbicides in both personal gardens and agriculture.  It is so interesting that they help the vineyards in a variety of ways.  Their small hoofs have much less impact on the steep, wet, environmentally sensitive ground of many properties than tractor which find it difficult to navigate between the rows of vines in winter.  Sometimes called sheep “mowing”, they also decrease the erosion and soil compaction which adds to the health of both soil and vines.  All of this helps to create the flavorful fresh fruits and vegetables which these two valleys are so known for.

Lambs in the field

In summary, winter is a mixture of the resting of gardens & vines with the renewed activity of winter foods and footed friends enjoying the season.

Timeless home, Tuscany meets Sonoma

This beautiful villa in the hills to the west of the city of Sonoma is so lovely and well done that you wish it were possible to move in this afternoon.  The lifestyle here is a blend of the old world charm of Italy and the relaxed sunshine of Sonoma.  Such a perfect combination!