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Climb Aboard a Healdsburg Tree House

Erin Feher | December 27, 2017 | Home & Real Estate Story Home Life

Designer Susan Collins Weir is used to clients bringing her a stack of inspiration images when she starts a project. Typically they’re dragged from Pinterest or ripped from shelter magazines. But when a couple recently hired her to execute the interiors of their newly built weekend escape in Sonoma County, they presented her with half a dozen photographs they’d taken of peeling tree bark. The trees were madrones, whose bark sloughs off in elegant red rolls—reminiscent of aged wallpaper—to reveal a fresh layer of vibrant green, yellow, or orange beneath. The madrones were at the entrance of the clients’ wine country property and were symbols of what they wanted their new home to be: a stunning yet seamless addition to the natural landscape.

That house was a thoroughly modern two-story glass box designed for the couple by Feldman Architecture. With just one bedroom and clocking in at only 3,200 square feet, it was a stark departure in style from their primary residence in Marin, where they had raised their four children.

“It is very serene and calm,” Collins Weir says. “It’s very minimal, and that’s the opposite of the way they lived their lives. When you have kids, you can’t help but accumulate lots of things.”

To that end, Collins Weir brought in just a few select furniture pieces and, at the clients’ request, no art at all. “That was their intention. They have all these big windows, and it’s all about the view out,” she says. The furniture they selected was steeped in meaning and rooted in nature. They wanted a live-edge dining table, so Collins Weir took the couple to Arborica, the West Marin mecca for woodworkers and designers in the know. Owned by Evan Shively, a chef turned wood whisperer—he’s typically the one who gets the call if a majestic redwood has been felled by lightning or an ancient walnut tree has to make way for something less organic—the lumberyard-mill-showroom is the first place to go for anyone dreaming of a 10-foot-long dining table with sculpturally jagged edges.

“Of course Evan had this beautiful walnut slab that was 15 feet long and 5 feet wide. It was the walnut tree that was in the center of Vacaville—he told us the whole story,” recalls Collins Weir, who worked with her husband, Chris Weir, to design custom pieces using nearly the entire tree. “My client, she stood in front of it, and she thought it was so beautiful and so poetic. The trunk of the tree we made into a dining table that seats 10. And the branches—the top of the tree—we made that into a coffee table. We used the whole tree on the main floor of the house.”

But the couple’s affinity for nature goes beyond dining on it or simply admiring it through floor-to-ceiling glass. They are both avid gardeners, and part of the property’s draw was the existing orchards. “He calls himself a weekend farmer,” Collins Weir says of her client, who with his wife has also created an impressive garden with flowers, fruits, and vegetables all sprouting up alongside one another. “It’s so beautiful, with dahlias and tomatoes and zucchini and even pumpkins all mixed together. And it actually inspired me—I went home to my garden, which was on a traditional grid, and totally mixed it up.”

And the madrones? To the trained arborist’s eye, the interior palette does indeed seem like a deconstructed tree. The bleached wood floors provide an organic neutral backdrop for the greens (an Eames lounge chair in pine-green leather), oranges (a russet colored Paulistano chair), and grays (a Michael Anastassiades mobile pendant above the slab dining table). “The idea was that by taking these colors and patterns, the interiors recede,” Collins Weir says, “and allow nature and the view to become the foreground of the experience.”

Originally published in the January issue of San Francisco

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