Not in Manhattan anymore
Two architects, one architectural gem (From the Winter 2010 issue of SONOMA)
Stanley (left) and Paul relaxing beneath a towering wall of books.
Stanley Abercrombie and Paul Vieyra usually start the day with coffee and the newspapers, sitting side by side in their purple Marcel Breuer chairs. It's quiet here, gazing out the expansive wall of sliding glass onto their peaceful five-acre property. The couple met forty-four years ago while they were each working on master's degrees in architecture at Columbia University. After lofty, glamorous careers in fast-paced Manhattan, they find themselves here: in the modern home they designed themselves, living quietly.
"The biggest change was driving a car," Stanley says about the lifestyle adjustments they made when they moved into their masterpiece in 1997. "And going out the door and not seeing 500 people." Now they definitely need their VW Passat to wind them up the rolling hills, far into The Ranch development where their dream home is nestled. All they see outside their many-windowed abode is nature and wildlife: foxes, bobcats, wild turkeys, squirrels and ubiquitous deer.
Their 2,400-square-foot home is everything they believe to be best of modern interior design and screams of their mutual experience, although their architectural degrees led them on different professional paths. Paul was the senior designer at two prestigious firms, Skidmore Owings and Merrill and then Gensler, becoming well known for his expertise in designing trading room floors for financial institutions. Stanley took the intellectual/journalist route, reigning as editor-in-chief of Interiors magazine and then editorial director of Interior Design magazine. He's written twelve books, and is most proud of "A Century of Design 1900-2000," now required reading in many design schools. He still writes book reviews for Interior Design, a fitting role given his collection of 12,000 design books, meticulously arranged and cataloged on the floor-to-ceiling shelves that dominate the home.
Stanley and Paul fell in love with the wine country in the 1980s, and spent many vacations here searching for a piece of land. They bought their property ten years before beginning construction and then spent endless hours sketching and imagining the home where they now plan to "stay forever."
The house is constructed from rastra block, a recycled petroleum product held together with rebar and filled with concrete. Next, a sprayed-on, stucco-like finish of earth and cement was applied, resulting in extremely energy efficient walls eighteen inches thick. Windows flood the home with light, achieving the ultimate indoor-outdoor flow.
The focal point of the home is a massive fireplace wall made of perforated aluminum panels with a poured concrete hearth. All of the floors are dyed concrete, a cold, hard surface offset by soft, warm ceilings made of recycled wood that soar to eleven feet. David Jenson of Sonoma Cast Stone did all the concrete work.
The smallish galley kitchen reveals their Manhattan roots, but its huge, square windows looking out on the natural landscape are total Sonoma. The highlight is a lime green laminated glass wall behind the cook top, a pop of color that wakes them up in the morning and provides a warm glow in the evening. The kitchen was designed by Paula Wolfert, who also resides in The Ranch.
The master bedroom is entered through a bright yellow pocket door, and once inside, glass walls again dominate. "Its like sleeping outside," Paul says.
The couple often entertain alfresco on the deck overlooking the narrow rectangular pool in which they frequently swim. From here, the view is engulfed by sky, hills and oak trees; it seems there mustn't be another home for miles around. "We do have close neighbors, but you can't see them," Stanley says, and Paul adds, "It's five acres that feels like 100."
They agree what they most enjoy about Sonoma living is the weather. "It's so easy living here," Stanley says. "We still visit New York and we have wonderful friends there, but we love it here."
While modern is their personal favorite, they respect other styles and appreciate much of the architecture in Sonoma. "People should build what they like. Traditional can be wonderful if it is done right. There are also old adobes here that are really beautiful," Stanley says, adding, "We recently spent three weeks in Florida and it was just one big awful house after another."
With their own home long finished, they recently got the itch to add a little something new, so last year they built a 400 square-foot studio, just down a crushed granite path from the main house. It's a square, steel cross beam and glass structure. The walls that are not windowed are covered in Homasote, a green-friendly wallboard that welcomes the pushpins where they have hung (tastefully of course!) clippings and pieces of art on paper they find inspiring. The structure was sized for coziness and does not serve as a guesthouse. Despite a large piece of land, the building envelope is small, and affords only a two-bedroom perc.
Stanley's current artistic fascination is objets placed inside small Lucite boxes. He pooh-poohs these delightful creations, saying "Putting strange things in little boxes is not to be taken seriously." Yet he clearly enjoys time spent in this inspiring studio creating them.
Stanley and Paul's home exudes quiet elegance. It's relaxing to be there, particularly when both illustrious architects are clad in gray sweat pants. It's like a comfy contemporary museum.
Leaving the modern enclave to descend back toward the distant valley, the view encompasses the Bay Area in grand splendor, from Mount Diablo to Mount Tamalpais. Stanley and Paul, you're not in Manhattan anymore. And life has never been sweeter.
(From the Winter 2010 issue of SONOMA)
Stanley & Pauls abode