Taste of Europe house modeled on French barn
Rustic charm prevails in house by Jon Reiter
Looks can be deceiving, and that's often exactly as it should be. For example, this house looks as though it has been lived in for generations, but it is near new.
Creating the aged patina that makes this possible comes down to good old-fashioned craftsmanship and choosing the right materials, says Jon Reiter of Reiter Fine Homes. Reiter's company built the house, which was designed by architect Victor L Conforti.
"The house is nestled amid vineyards in the wine country, on a private, secluded road," Reiter says. "It's a very European landscape, and right from the outset, I envisaged a large yet simple house modeled on a converted old French barn. The materials were chosen to reinforce this connection."
The main volume of the U-shaped house is clad in Montana stone, while the siding on the two bedroom wings features cedar that has been milled the way it would have been 100 years ago, and secured with hand-pounded square nails.
"When the original barns were built in Europe all those years ago, labor was cheap and people took great pride in their work," says Reiter. "The craftsmanship really shows, and that is what we have re-created for this project."
In keeping with the desire for authenticity, the porch posts and beams, wood-lined eaves and heavy mantels on the interior were built from large fir trees that grew on the property. The timber was milled on site. The wood, including the cedar, was also aged by a complicated process of staining and paint stripping that took more than four months to complete.
Similarly, the concrete flooring in the house was slow cured over many months, with wet hay used to keep the concrete moist and to provide mineral traces.
The center of living is the great room, which resembles the inside of a barn. Heavy exposed trusses with mortise and tenon joins, beams and a wood-lined ceiling retain the traditional character of the house. So, too, does a fireplace and a chimney made from stacked Sonoma fieldstone.
"We also colored our own plaster for the walls, so it would look like it had been bleached out over the years," says Reiter. "It has a rougher consistency than the more common Venetian plaster."
The construction team also made the wood light fixture above the dining table, from oak beams that came from an old barn in France.
Antique solid wood doors imported from San Miguel de Allende in Mexico feature in the entry to an underground wine cellar and a media room in the children's wing.
The sense of living in a restored barn is further enhanced by the openings between the great room and the hallways leading to the bedroom wings. These have been hewn so that the rough edges of the stone are exposed on the inside.
At one end of the great room, the kitchen reinforces the European connection. Much like a traditional Italian or French farmhouse, there are concrete tops and sides to the cabinets, and panel doors and drawers. A limestone bar top features fossilized remains.
The pendant lights above the island were made from old plough discs welded to metal pipes. Reiter, who worked on the interior with his wife Susan, says it was this attention to detail that helped create an inviting interior.
"We wanted this to be a house that didn't just look right, but felt right as well a house that would feel warm, old and comfortable."
With French doors opening to the landscaped garden from most rooms, including bedrooms, it is also a house with a strong indoor-outdoor connection, and a feeling of tranquility.
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