Maria Calderon

Erin Martin recently redesigned North Block Hotel’s restaurant in Yountville.

The St. Helena-based designer is pushing the envelope in hotels, wineries, and tasting rooms across Napa Valley. Step inside some of her greatest hits.

Kristin Scharkey  – August 5, 2021

Erin Martin says she likes to “take it to 11.” Yes, as in the famous line from the movie Spinal Tap.

“Why not? If you can take it to 10, why not take it one more step?” Martin says. “There’s a little bit of danger in taking it one more step; per the movie, you could spontaneously combust. It’s like Icarus flying too close to the sun.”

The St. Helena-based designer is pushing the envelope in hotels, wineries and tasting rooms across Napa Valley, creating dark and daring spaces that interrupt the norm in wine country—from the faux-painted Tuscan villas of the late ’90s to today’s “chic-casual” aesthetic.

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“We don’t live in Tuscany,” Martin recalls of her first impression in the region. ”I always considered Napa Valley being like a Nantucket with, actually, more freedom.”

Ceramic flowers by sculptor Owen Mann trail along the dark walls inside North Block Hotel’s restaurant in Yountville.

Maria Calderon

At Napa’s uber-private Poetry Inn, for example, expect Martin’s redesign—currently underway—to add “a bit of youthfulness to a classic tale.” Her rhythm of wood, glass, stone, and metal doesn’t seem like it should add up on paper and yet it grounds the rooms in wineries from Mayacamas to Clos du Val.

“I’ve done two fake things, not including my chest,” Martin says. If you do things real, it doesn’t even have to be beautiful. There’s a lot of things that can be unattractive that will make people feel at home if it’s real.”

At Brand Napa Valley, “love letters” to the “glam” family behind the St. Helena winery are hidden throughout Martin’s design. A mirror from a London dance school pays homage to the winery owners’ ballerina daughter, while chain and leather details are an ode to another’s love for fashion. An entry wood console from arborist Evan Shively rounds it out because, as Martin says simply, “I love wood.”

“Love letters” to a “glam” family are hidden throughout Erin Martin’s design at Brand Napa Valley.

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About 10 miles northwest, Martin’s design at Trinchero Napa Valley is “chockablock, it’s full, but everything’s telling a story.” Her approach also places center stage the Trinchero family’s legacy. A Catholic starburst sits above the winery door, while the signatures of each family member are etched into the glass of pendants in the entry.

And at North Block Hotel’s new restaurant, ceramic flowers by sculptor Owen Mann trail along the dark walls while oversize white herons by artist Michael Duté fly around the dining room. At the Yountville eatery, she hopes people “just have a damn good time, and stop being so damn critical.” 

Trinchero Statue

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Can’t make it to the restaurant, or the wineries? You can visit Martin’s St. Helena showroom at 1350 Main Street, which boasts rare items and work from a rotating slate of artists.

“You have all of these moments in your life that are just waiting, and you’ll miss them if you’re scared,” Martin says. “I feel I’ve been very lucky to not be scared regarding design.”

See More of Erin Martin’s Designs


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