Labor of love

The idyllic vineyards and vistas of Northern California's wine country inspire a dream house built against the odds

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  • The couple's 6,400 vines are planted closely together, "stressing" the grapes to produce better wine.

    Healdsburg vineyard

    Thomas J. Story

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TRIAL BY FIRE

Selecting an architect was the first order of business. The couple chose James Trewitt and E.J. Meade of Boulder, Colorado-based Arch 11, who are known for their strongly contemporary urban homes. "I had always been drawn to modern homes in magazines," says Riendeau, "so I saw this as an opportunity."

They took the original house down to the foundation and started over with a 2,700-square-foot, three-level loftlike structure to maximize the experience of the surrounding countryside. "When we bought it, the only room with a view had a TV in the window," Riendeau says. "We just wanted as much light and as many windows as possible." In the new design, every room ― even the master closet ― opens onto a memorable vista, and spaces flow into one another with minimal interruption.

Given Riendeau's love for cooking and the couple's circle of chef friends, the kitchen is the center of the home. Their pride and joy is the Mugnaini wood-burning oven, which was craned in before the kitchen was framed. "We didn't even have a roof ― for a while it was just four walls, two steel beams, and a pizza oven," Riendeau says, laughing.

A well-developed sense of humor was the essential factor in getting through the three-year construction process, which was fraught with stress and unforeseen calamities. Pipes burst in the basement a week after the floors were installed; the septic system was irreversibly damaged by a backhoe; a worker ran over an electrical line and set off a small fire. "We had just plain bad luck," Riendeau says. Some mistakes were also a product of sheer inexperience, like the time they painted the interior in the dead of winter, leaving an empty house with closed windows and no ventilation. "When we returned, the paint had fallen off the walls," she recalls. The home's final price tag was three times their initial budget, and the couple often found their finances stretched to the limit.

Their design education was costly and hard-won, but the couple rose to the occasion. Katz fulfilled his longtime goal of growing grapes by planting 3 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon vines on-site; their second harvest is just behind them, a fact that fills them with wonder. The life they envisioned has come to pass. As Riendeau says with a bit of awe in her voice, "We pinch ourselves every day."

 

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