Haywood house of stone
What happens when you hold a dream for 30 years?
Stone House, soaring, solid, massively anchored at the top of a vineyard as if birthed by the very earth, is finally finished.
There's wood in the fireplace, soap in the dish, candles in the holders, and the sound of completion in the silence of the hand-chiseled walls.
The only things missing are Peter Haywood and his wife, Maggie Salenger, the people who dreamed, built, furnished and finished this extraordinary structure they can't quite bring themselves to live in.
So where do they live? In a snug, one-bedroom cabin with a wood-burning stove down by the edge of the pond.
That might be because Sonoma winemaker Peter Haywood has arrived at one of those self-defining discoveries: that building a dream house is sometimes about the journey and not so much about the destination. Build a sweeping stone mansion strong enough to stand centuries and you might just find that when it's complete, the little cabin that's tucked you in for 30 years suddenly seems too cozy to leave.
At least that's how it seems for Haywood, who decades ago saw in his mind's eye a great sturdy and natural villa hewn of the rock and stone from his own vineyards. He would call it Stone House and now, more than 20 years later than he ever imagined, it's an imposing reality, floating among vineyards with bucolic, lost-in-time views of the tree-scattered hillsides from every window. The house is a beautiful success, inside and out- a magnificent idea seen to completion. Peter and Maggie can now cross the dream house off their life's to-do list. They just aren't quite ready to move in.
Don't get them wrong; they love their gorgeous home. It is truly of the land, their land. It is profoundly a part of them. They spent six years overseeing construction, pouring their souls into the Carrara marble that lines the four and a half bathrooms, searching for reclaimed wood for the ceilings, pondering the perfect appliances. Maggie chose every piece of furniture, every bedspread, every work of art, and is now hunting for intriguing hardbacks to fill in bookshelves built into the long, wide hallway.
But when the 4,500-square-foot home was finished they realized, as Maggie says, "We're really comfortable living in the little house where we've lived so long."
Stone House has been finished for months. They have entertained in it-even held a family reunion there in the fall, with every bed and window seat comfortably occupied. As the festivities would wind down at day's end, the couple would leave their guests and meander down the gravel drive, past the Haywood Winery building to the little cabin overlooking the tranquil pond. There they'd bed down and cuddle up in the place on their property they still call home.
Peter bought the 284 acres in 1973 and started removing the volcanic rock that would one day become Stone House. In 1975, he left his construction business in Marin County and started planting 90 acres of wine grapes on the property, which he named Los Chamizal Vineyards. The following year he hired a Portuguese stonemason, Fernando Vieira, to construct a large house made of the stone from his land. Vieira had built stone churches in Portugal, but since coming to the United States he had been milking dairy cows for a living. Delighted to return to his craft he set to work building the stone edifice by hand. A brusque man who settled for nothing short of perfection, he and his son spent four years painstakingly cutting and placing tufaceous stone. By 1980, when the footprint of the building and walls still stood only a few feet high, life took an unsuspected turn. Peter's first marriage ended. Construction on the stone building halted indefinitely. The nascent structure remained untouched for 26 years, while Peter took up residency in the rustic cabin he built on the property.
In 1987, he married Maggie. When they met, she fell for Peter instantly, seeing within him the same deep connection to nature that guides her own life. Maggie, who grew up on a farm in Iowa and believes in living simply, also fell head over heels for Peter's cabin. Now, within steps of their snug home, she tends to her 12 chickens, cultivates vegetables and nurtures the small orchard she planted. Maggie is the resourceful type, having recently made their dogs, Ivan and Oso, new beds entirely from old curtains. She is also mindful of protecting resources and serves on the board of Sonoma Land Trust.
When it came to fruition, the sublime zinfandel from Los Chamizal Vineyards fueled Haywood Winery's esteem, and in 1991 Peter sold the successful brand to a corporate wine producer, all the while retaining his land and continuing to oversee production. The winery changed hands several more times until 2008, just as work on Stone House was finishing. In a remarkable turn, Peter was able to buy the Haywood brand back, and in a way, life had come full circle.
The original plans for Stone House were drawn by Peter's friend, Marin architect Philip Buskirk. Peter had worked closely with him to create a structure reminiscent of an eighteenth-century French country house. When Peter and Maggie returned to the project years later, they learned the blueprints for their house hadn't kept pace with rigorously upgraded earthquake codes. They brought in architect Ivan Poutiatine, and two years later they finally received permits for much the same house, but with huge buttresses at two corners to keep the stone walls from crumbling during an earthquake. At Maggie's suggestion, they also eliminated a formal dining room and moved the kitchen to the front of the house to enjoy an optimal view of the vineyards.
In 2002 work began again, and Peter looked up Vieira to see if he would return after all those years. Sadly, Vieira had died at age 48, and his son was no longer interested. So Peter found Juan Ramirez, an experienced Mexican stonemason who took the job along with his brother, Jesus. They immediately set to work building a forge on the property and making all their own tools. Using a water hammer to crack the stones, they then cut them by hand. It took three years to complete the stone exterior and ground floor interior walls. All the stones, which vary in color from gray to oatmeal to black to reddish sand, are smooth cut. In the early days, Peter considered a more natural, rough-hewn look, but the obdurate Vieira insisted it be smooth, saying it needed to be "elegant."
While the Ramirez brothers and several other craftsmen were toiling away on-site, they claim they sometimes saw a ghostly apparition of Vieira watching them work. Peter never saw the ghost himself but doesn't doubt he hovered around. "He came back to be sure his work was completed in an appropriate fashion. I'm sure he's happy," Peter says. No one has seen the ghost since the house has been finished-a good sign he's pleased and has gone on his way.
When the Ramirez team finished, the woodwork began and took two more years, before the hand-plastering of the non-stone walls and other finish work commenced.
The wait has been worth it. The second floor boasts gabled ceilings with multiple dormers, a highly complex undertaking for craftsman Mike Bacon. Not one of the four bedrooms is a simple box shape. The huge master has a window seat, a balcony, and a dozen complex angles.
Commanding the home's main living space is a majestic, 22-foot-high stone fireplace featuring two hand-carved owls and a custom-forged screen made by Steve and Anastatia Chiurco of Steel Geisha Designs in Sonoma. (They also crafted the massive cast- iron chandelier.) The wooden front door was built on-site, and the metal latches came from Salsa Trading Company in town. Anything Peter and Maggie couldn't find on their own land they tried to obtain locally. The landscaping was done by Mike Kanevich, who used gravel and flagstone from Sonoma Materials.
The home's kitchen may be the best example of the couple's belief in green-friendly building. Using hardy recycled wood that was once the floor of a bowling alley, Sonoman Joe Hagerman built a long storage sideboard, an ample kitchen table and a mid-room island. All are wax-finished, as is all the wood in the house, to achieve the couple's goal of avoiding petroleum products. And if the kitchen is ever remodeled, all these freestanding pieces can easily be removed and used as furniture, rather than being tossed into a landfill. Also taking residence in the kitchen are two dishwashers, a professional-grade Thermador stove and a charming, counter-height fireplace replete with wood storage below. One of their favorite details, the fireplace warms the kitchen nicely, and Maggie and Peter have used it often when they entertain. The cabinets, floors and most of the woodwork throughout the house are made of knotty alder.
Todd Summers Construction did the finish work, including a wraparound wooden railing on the second floor that overlooks the great room below. The intricate design of the rails required more than 8,000 individual cuts.
All the furnishings in Stone House were chosen specifically for the property. For more than a year, Maggie worked with interior designer Beatriz Posada, scouring design stores, antique shops, even flea markets to create a seamless look. One of the few things not specifically acquired for Stone House is a long trestle dining table inherited from Peter's childhood home. "I grew up with that table," he says, explaining that the current owner of his old Michigan home tracked Peter down a few years ago to ask if he wanted it. Now it provides a nostalgic personal anchor in the house.
Although one legacy of dream-home construction is a trail of broken marriages, for Peter and Maggie it proved a bonding experience. "We agreed on absolutely everything," Peter says. And they still harbor a few more plans for Stone House, including a swimming pool. "Someday," Peter smiles.
Since they've never moved in, they decided to list the house as a rental through Beautiful Places, and now complete strangers can enjoy its exquisite merits. The monthly rental rate equals about a year's worth of mortgage payments for the average person. But Stone House, of course, is not an average place.
Peter and Maggie have yet to spend a single night in Stone House. They plan to, they say, they do plan to. Just not tomorrow, or the day after that, or the month after that. Someday, though.
From the spring 2009 issue of SONOMA