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A large painted white house sits along a path surrounded by trees and a yard.

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Growing a California wine country dream home

A pair of interior designers remake a house in Sonoma County

Jeff and Tray Schlarb had a dream of making a retreat for their family in the rolling, poetic landscape of California’s Wine Country.

The house they eventually found in Healdsburg (a small Sonoma County town located a little more than an hour north of San Francisco) has a lot to recommend it: picture-perfect views, a landscape studded with dramatic boulders and trees, and a lot embraced by acres of grapevines. What it didn’t have is a home that lived up to its surroundings. As Jeff says, “It wasn’t particularly special.”

The dwelling was brown and shabby, both inside and out. The plank siding was the color of dark chocolate, and Jeff describes it as washed-out and buckling. Inside, wood paneling, heavy beams, and dark carpeting did nothing to lift the mood.

On the left is a yard with four chairs overlooking a vineyard, trees, and mountains in the distance.
A semi-circle of black Adirondack chairs are positioned to enjoy views of vines and mountains. Lush landscaping helps the swimming pool fit into the landscape. The house is freshly painted a crisp white.
Clockwise from top left: Adirondack chairs are arranged to take in the view; landscaping gives an old swimming pool new life; a coat of white paint refreshes the home’s exterior. The girls play on (and in) Jeff Schlarb’s 1964 Corvair.

But for these designers, principals of Jeff Schlarb Design Studio and Green Couch interior design, pulling a project together quickly and beautifully is a way of life. Although they are responsible for numerous high-end residences, they also swiftly stage a number for-sale properties. They set out to transform their own home as quickly as possible. The process took just 12 months, which isn’t long considering the scope of the work.

The farmhouse vernacular is pervasive across the United States, and Sonoma County is no exception. The Schlarbs are not designers who gravitate to the expected, so they chose to work with an aesthetic Jeff describes as more exaggerated cottage than the familiar modern-day agrarian.

Two blue armchairs flank a small round table with a chess set on top of it.
Chairs from Vanguard Furniture make for a comfortable and stylish place to play chess. The game table is by Ironies.

“We went for a contemporary classic look,” he says. “We made things light and clean, while adding new textures and colors.”

The new look starts on the outside, where earth-colored siding is now a crisp white. The attitude carries into the interior, where most walls are the same snowy color. But the new light, airy nature is balanced by some of the more rustic elements that were in place pre-remodel.

In the living room and dining room, rough wooden beams still span the ceiling. “I love the craftsmanship of them,” says Jeff. “You can see they were hewn with an axe.” Also in the living room, a fieldstone fireplace with a mantel crafted from a heavy beam dominates.

A room with a table and three chairs in the foreground. Against the opposite wall is a painted blue table. The wall is covered in patterns and there are multiple artworks hanging on the wall. There is a large orange light fixture hanging from the ceiling.
Two bold patterned wallpapers (a plaid an a toile showing a hunting print) decorate the dining room. In the kitchen, a softer textured wallpaper energizes the kitchen.
Above: Two bold wallpapers (Timorous Beasties above, Philip Jeffries below) live together in the dining room. Artwork is by Aleksandra Zee. Below: An Osborne & Little wallcovering with a subtle pattern decorates the kitchen.

But these elements are balanced with the modern for an eclectic look that’s hard to classify. Wallpapers in the dining room depict a fresh twist on a classic hunting scene and a minimalist black, gray, and white plaid. The living room is home to a sofa that’s a mod take on the Chesterfield (think tufting that runs over the back, seat, and sides) and a coffee table with brawny legs that are as sculptural as they are functional.

“We like things that are sharper and more modern—interiors that make you think,” says Jeff. “We are going for a style that look great today and in five years. To me, it’s the customized, one-off items that have longevity.”

A powder room has a vanity wrapped in marble and a neutral, tribal-print wall covering; a large fireplace is composed of heavy fieldstone; a kitchen has high ceilings.
From left: The powder room pairs a tribal-print wall covering with a marble-clad vanity; a large fieldstone fireplace is untouched; the kitchen has soaring ceilings.

Textures in the kitchen, the family room, and the downstairs powder room take a quieter turn, with wall coverings and natural stones that have neutral hues and rich, but subtle, patterns. “Here, your eye goes out the windows,” says Jeff.

Upstairs, the decor has a similar volume. “Downstairs, in the living room and dining room, there’s a vibe that’s a bit lodge and a bit of gentleman’s retreat,” says Jeff. “Upstairs, there is a Zen quality that’s all Tray.”

On the left is a room with a white brick wall and a fireplace with logs inside. Artwork hangs on the wall and there are framed photographs on a wooden display shelf. On the right is a bedroom with a large white four poster bed, a chair, and an end-table.
A bathroom with black and white zigzag patterned wallpaper on the walls. There are two mirrors, a white vanity and sink, and a grey wicker storage basket. There is a doorway without a door looking out into a living area with armchairs.
Clockwise from top: The bedroom fireplace brick is painted white for a lighter look; the bed from Noir features elaborate turned posters; a wallpaper from Elitis is showcased in the master bathroom.

“One of my primary roles in our firm is color consulting,” says Tray. “I like to come home to a calm space.” To that end, the master bedroom and bath are done in mostly pale shades, with the occasional surprising accent. In the bedroom, the large bed features exaggerated turned posters. Wooden chairs from Indonesia are contemporary, but inspired by the traditional wingback shape. “It’s kind of a mash-up of materials and forms,” says Jeff. “Although most of the colors are light, when you investigate there are lots of materials and little touches—for example, leather piping on the pillows—that add excitement to the space.”

The large master bath allows for a claw-foot tub to be placed directly in front of a window, the better to take in the view while enjoying a long soak. The wallpaper here is more dramatic, with an almost seismograph-like, zig-zag pattern. That’s offset by long linen curtains that spill from near the ceiling and puddle dramatically on the floor. “It’s the perfect mix of of graphics, light, and dark—there’s almost a tribal feel,” Jef says. “And the puddled drapes are sexy touch.”

An outdoor area features a long table, a large bocce ball court, and lots of comfy outdoor chairs and sofas.
A long table, comfortable patio furniture, and a bocce ball court makes for great gatherings.

But in a house like this, with a location like this, the interiors are just part of the story. Outside, a long, stone-topped table is the scene for casual meals that begin and end with a turn on the nearby bocce court. Before the remodel, the family described the pool as being the epitome of the 1980s. Today, it is redone and re-landscaped, with a remodeled pool house that provides a shaded spot for refreshments and lounging.

“Raising our girls in the hustle and bustle of city life, Jeff and I have always dreamed of having land for our girls to play and explore on the weekends. Perhaps my African childhood drew me to the land; and Jeff (who grew up in rural Missouri) was after space, hot weather, and an escape from the San Francisco fog,” Tray says. “We fell in love with the creative community in Healdsburg, the farm-to-table cuisine, and the accessibility to Lake Sonoma and Russian River (we love canoeing down it in the summer).

The new home (now more romantic than uninspiring), has been given a new name that references the family and nature. “I have two little girls, and this place is designed as a place of respite for us and a play space for them,” Jeff notes. “Given the large oak trees on the site, we call it Oaks & Daughters.”