Our clients, internationally-renowned art collectors and philanthropists, asked us to relocate and transform an empty barn that sat adjacent to their Napa Valley vacation home. They were drawn to the structure’s form and history, but wanted to use it as an entertaining space and gym. The client’s vast art collection is unified by an aesthetic of minimalism and an exploration of identity. But they didn’t intend the barn to be a space to display art. Rather, consistent with their artistic vision, they challenged us to design a space that adhered to minimalist principles as it explored its location in Napa. The reuse of the barn presented opportunities to experiment with the filtration and purity of the crisp, diffuse wine country light and to reorganize the former ranch site to incorporate the historic barn and several large-scale sculptures from their collection.
From the beginning of the design process, we embraced the distinct pattern of light created by the gaps between boards in the barn walls. Permanent yet transitory, this pattern is visible inside the structure as sunlight seeps in during the day and outside as interior lighting escapes at night. Three large exterior doors of the original barn that opened to flood the interior with light and air; inspired by these openings, we re-sized them more proportionally.
We intensified exploration of light and incorporation of the surrounding environment by enclosing two juxtaposing, highly-refined, mirrored rectangular volumes inside the barn. Their reflective surfaces capture and transmit changes in light and movement both inside and outside the structure. The first volume holds a catering prep kitchen, storage area, restroom, and bar that disappears into its mirror when closed. The second, clad in two-way glass, reads as identical to the first when the personal gym it encloses is dark inside. But its walls become transparent with the gym lights on. Between these discrete volumes, a long communal table sits beneath a trio of elegant lamps, inviting guests to experience a space where the infinite possibilities of conversation, nature, art, and ideas are suggested by the mirrors that tie together all that is visible within and outside.
We also experimented with different locations for the barn’s relocation. Originally, we envisioned it nestled into a walnut grove next to the main house, but the site didn’t maximize the project’s potential for light or iconic identity. We then encouraged our clients to consider different lines of sight from the backyard and where the barn would best unify the landscape. Together we determined the most natural site was an empty field past the yard. There, the barn would become an art object in the landscape, located beyond sculptures on the lawn that visually link it to the main house. Considering the wine industry’s role in contemporary Napa Valley identity, we also concluded their entertaining hall should be surrounded by grape vines. And so the surrounding fallow field was transformed into a vineyard to hold the resurrected barn, elevated as an island above the vines.