For interior designer Jay Jeffers and creative director Michael Purdy, the road to making their California Wine Country dream home a reality started with a rogue suggestion from their real estate agent. "We were looking in Sonoma County for the property we thought we wanted, something with acreage, a guest house, and a pool.
But nothing resonated and we didn’t fall in love with anything," says Jeffers. "We decided to look in Napa County, and our agent brought us to this little house."
The simple structure, a modest ranch house, was in a neighborhood just blocks from the bustling main thoroughfare in St. Helena. It was so far from their vision, Jeffers didn’t want to get out of the car. But, with some urging, he did; and when he peeked over the home’s back fence and saw the acres of grapevines belonging to a neighboring winery, he began to see a diamond in the rough—and weekends dedicated more to fun than home maintenance.
"Our agent was smart and asked us the right questions about what we wanted to do at this place. We realized that we enjoyed going out to eat, walking the dogs, and exercising," he says. "He suggested we wanted to spend weekends relaxing, not working on a piece of property. It was the best advice anyone could give us."
And, in that new light, the ranch house started appearing like a promising possibility. It had a yard big enough for the pool that was high on the wish list for both men; its vineyard-adjacent location meant pretty views of grapes that didn’t require maintenance (from them, anyway); and the clean lines of the ranch style were a blank palette waiting for the designer’s touch. "Suddenly, it seemed simple and perfect," Jeffers says.
The couple began occupying the house while they made plans, and on a walk with one of their Cavalier King Charles Spaniels they spied a nearby house that clarified their direction. "It was really close to what we were envisioning for our house," says Jeffers. "We casually sidled up to it and started snapping photos of everything we could."
Back in the city, Jeffers had a meeting with Shay Zak (of Zak Architecture), an architect whose work he admires. When Zak started describing a St. Helena home he had just completed, Jeffers realized it was the same home he had been surreptitiously photographing. The power of coincidence and synergy was undeniable, and Zak was hired to help the men transform their house.
The program they developed for the 1,200-square-foot dwelling was simple: It should be an easy-living space that was as open as possible. Given that San Francisco can be shrouded in the cool mists of fog, this retreat should be dedicated to indoor-outdoor living. And, of course, it should have the aforementioned pool.
"From the very first day, we started calling the place the Pool House, and the name stuck around," says Purdy. "We wanted to make a beautiful house that opened up to the pool."
That goal was accomplished with two sets of large sliding doors on each side of the living room. The oversize, almost industrial-style portals replace mere human scale front and back doors. When they are open, they make the combined living room, dining room, and kitchen a sheltered, open-air space that’s steps to the water.
With landscape architect Katharine Webster (Katharine Webster Landscape Design) the couple developed a garden that keeps the focus on the pool party, not the neighbors. Tall hedges front the lot, and act as a green screen. In the back, the plantings are low and the fence separating the house from the vineyard is a see-through metal grid, the better to look at the grapes growing while floating in the pool. It’s true the neighbors are within shouting distance, but the illusion is of that secluded estate the men initially pictured. "It feels very far away, and private," says Purdy. "Yet, we can walk to town for dinner in the evening."
Inside, the floor plan was tweaked and expanded to enhance the feeling of solitude and embrace the outside. "Both bedrooms were on one side of the house, and they shared a thin wall. We wanted to give our guests more privacy, so we created master suites on both ends of the house, making the guest bedroom feel more like a separate dwelling," says Purdy. Both bedrooms now open up to the backyard and pool.
Between the two bedroom suites lies the open-plan living, cooking, and entertaining space. "In the end it was kind of easy. There wasn’t a great amount of history to save, so we simply started over again, shifting things a bit to suit us," says Jeffers.
One of the signature touches that suits the couple is an accent wall of reclaimed wood set in a chevron pattern. It’s a jolt of texture in a home of almost all white walls. "I am a designer who likes color. I hadn’t lived with white walls for at least 10 years, and I wanted to challenge myself to do a house done in white and neutrals on the interior," says Jeffers. "The wood wall is a juxtaposition to the white, and it adds texture and depth."
Also adding texture on that wall is a remarkable fireplace-surround composed of blackened oyster shells on a steel frame. "In Jay Jeffers – The Store, we sell beautiful mirrors with oyster shell frames by a Texas artist ," says Jeffers. "I looked at them and thought the technique would make a beautiful fireplace mantel, and I asked him to make one."
It’s just one example of professional mingling with personal in this home. You could surmise it’s because the couple was opening the retail arm of the Jay Jeffers brand during the remodel, but it also could be because design is simply the way of life for this family.
"Remodeling this house was an opportunity for us to play a bit. The store was relatively new while all of this was going on, and it and the house were front of mind. There’s some great moments of crossover," Purdy says.
That said, this isn’t a showcase house where style flourishes are meant to be admired but not touched. Everything is designed (in Jeffers’ words) to take a beating. "The whole place has to be able to stand wet swimsuits on the furniture," he says.
And, since it’s clear poolside is the heart of this house, that’s a good thing. "I grew up with pools, and I love swimming—and that’s something you don’t get much of during a San Francisco summer," says Jeffers. "From Friday night until Monday morning, we get to have a small vacation relaxing by the water."
And, as it turns out, they don’t miss the ranch that wasn’t. "One great thing about this house is how many full-time residents we’ve met," says Purdy. "If we had a remote house on a hill, that likely would have never happened. As it is, we feel like we are part of the community."