Rancho Miniero’s Sacred Spaces
A couple’s labor of love
Rancho Mineiro is a 60-acre property with a 6,000-square-foot house, built six years ago, that you enter through 600-year-old hand-carved doors that once hung in a Burmese Buddhist monastery. Peacocks peek down from the rooftop, and a Porsche Panamera sits juxtaposed to a Prius in the driveway. Standing out front it’s already interesting, and upon meeting the owners, Scott Smith and Marcelo Defreitas, it instantly becomes enchanting. The couple’s home complements them, and to visit is to be hugged by their hospitality and joie de vivre.
Once warmly welcomed you step into a 60-by-30-foot great room with 15-foot-high ceilings and a wall of huge windowed doors that drizzle the room with natural light. A massive limestone fireplace centers the opposite wall, and furnishings divide the open room into three distinct settings: a cozy sitting area with a grand piano, a living area with three ample sofas and a buffet and dining table that seats 14, with plenty of room to squeeze in a few latecomers.
The floor is stained concrete, so traipsing inside wet from the pool is no problem. Five eye-catching gold and glass chandeliers warm the room. Marcelo and Scott went to Buenos Aires in search of wrought-iron fixtures for this space, meeting a dealer who was restoring these salvaged glass gems. He only had one in the shop, but he promised there were four more. He said it would take six months for him to complete the restoration and insisted he needed all the cash in advance. They paid and then prayed, hoping they hadn’t been taken for an expensive ride. In due time, all five arrived and they were rewarded for their trust.
The room’s walls are covered with an impressive collection of early California paintings, including the artists Edgar Paine, Charles Dickman and William Wendt. There are also two large canvases of contemporary art—one painted by Marcelo and the other by Scott.
The great room is where Scott and Marcelo entertain, inviting friends to lunch almost every Saturday. Scott does the cooking and they set a beautiful table, using heirloom pieces from their vast silver collection, much of which once belonged to their parents. They have oodles of friends and relatives, 400 of whom attended their wedding here during the window of legality in 2008. Together for 23 years, Scott, a native San Franciscan, and Marcelo, who grew up on a cattle ranch in Brazil, were introduced by mutual friends.
“I wanted to live the city life,” Marcelo says. “I can remember sitting in traffic on Folsom Street, smoking a cigarette and drinking coffee and thinking, ‘Yes, this is the life.’” Today the only part of that scenario that still holds appeal is the coffee. As the couple became less enamored of urban living, they started looking for a weekend place in the country, beginning their search in Healdsburg. They were thinking about maybe two or three acres, and eventually broadened their search to Sonoma, falling in love with the Plaza. They couldn’t believe it when they were shown this land, which at the time had only a big barn with living quarters. They purchased it in 1996, and Marcelo left his career as an art director with Primo
Angeli and moved in full time, while attorney Scott continued his work as a high-tech venture capitalist and investment banker in the city, spending long weekends on the ranch.
Along with a two-man crew, Marcelo went to work on the landscaping. Now the property has a 35-tree citrus grove, a 120-tree mixed-fruit orchard, a rhododendron garden, a Zen garden, two miles of gravel-paved walking trails, a terraced rose garden with 120 roses, (each row a different color with grapevines at the end of the rows, just the opposite of the Valley’s ubiquitous vineyards.) The theory. “You can get good wine, but it’s hard to get a good apricot or peach,” Marcelo says. The couple make 1,000 jars of privately labeled jams and jellies to give as gifts every year, along with honey culled from their bees’ hives.
Once the landscaping had taken hold they started planning their house, leaving the barn to their horses, which Marcelo rides every morning. With much input from Scott and Marcelo, the home was designed by Richard Beard of BAR Architects in San Francisco. But there was no landscape architect and or interior designer.
“Everything you see was done by us. This is who we are,” Scott says. A perfect example is the large collection of Murano glass. Most of the pieces are rare and highly collectible, by the likes of Seguso and Flavio Poli. But displayed among them is a square red plate Scott found at the Church Mouse for 50 cents. In a similar show of ease, their five Jack Russell terriers have the run of the house and sit on whatever piece of furniture suits them.
Their home was completed in 2006, but long before that, they added a small stone chapel to the site, completely handmade by a Latino artisan. It has old doors they found in Mexico, and stained glass windows that once graced a Boston church. It truly is a sacred place for the couple, and they gather there with friends and family at Christmas and Easter, and many times throughout the year. Though these days they identify strongly with Buddhism, Marcelo was raised Catholic and Scott Episcopalian, and they haven’t completely abandoned those traditions.
“I don’t know if you have to recognize a higher authority, but you do have to have a certain humility. I think giving thanks to God is very important,” Scott says as he climbs the stone steps to the chapel.
In keeping with those beliefs, Scott and Marcelo have in recent years become philanthropically involved in Sonoma. They used to contribute to large organizations like the World Wildlife Fund, but now choose to give closer to home. Scott is on the board of the Sonoma Valley Fund, and Marcelo has joined the board of La Luz. “For years I didn’t know anyone. Now I know everybody,” Marcelo says. “It’s a big change,” and one he is enjoying.
While their home’s heart is the great room, there is also a grand kitchen. Conveniently located just beyond the dining table it has two walls of high, glass-fronted cabinets with a long island in the center. Miles of cool stainless steel—a Subzero refrigerator, two dishwashers, a six-burner Viking cooktop and two Viking wall ovens—are warmed by the Brazilian gold marble countertops. Off the kitchen is an indoor-outdoor den/TV room, and beyond that a large terrace where a 50 by 20 foot pool glitters, an azure stripe reflecting the late afternoon sun.
Marcelo’s office is a freestanding, light-filled building just outside the main house, and Scott likes it so much Marcelo is adding a second desk so they can work at home together. Near this office is a large aviary where they have exotic birds and parrots, mostly rescued. There’s also a pond and a pergola-covered bocce ball court, which they say is one of the only places at Rancho Mineiro that isn’t used often.
The bocce court notwithstanding, the rest of the space is utilized all the time. On the second level is their comfortable master suite, which includes Scott’s primary office and library. Their bedroom and bath have awesome views out over Sonoma Valley and across, reaching to Mount Diablo. Also upstairs, accessible via a wide, reclaimed hickory-wood stairway, are guest quarters known as the Red Room and the Blue Room, and a marble guest bath.
While the landscaping is primarily Marcelo’s domain, Scott, a lover of horticulture, has a special walled garden, too. It began when he saw an antique fountain at Artefact Designs. It was very, very, very expensive, and much as he wanted it, he couldn’t bring himself to spend that kind of money. So, he waited. For two years. Finally, it was marked down to roughly 20 percent of the original asking price and he swooped. Once it was his he needed a garden to go with it, complete with koi pond and wrought-iron furniture, naturally. Dalias, foxgloves, hydrangeas, delphiniums, snapdragons, hyssop—every bloom brings him joy.
Rancho Maneiro is a place for joy and a place to bloom. For Marcelo and Scott it is filled with love, for each other and for the many hearts they invite to share in the beauty that is their home.
From the 2012 Winter issue of SONOMA