Monday, October 8, 2012

Sculpting a new Country Architecture: Modern Country, Maximal Invention

Come with me for a visit to Daniel and Christine Hale’s wonderfully original and light-hearted new house in the Napa Valley. Light-filled and relaxed, it also features Daniel’s witty and anthropomorphic furniture designs. 

In St Helena in the Napa Valley: Artist/Designer Daniel Hale creates a house with Laid-Back Luxe 
At home in the Napa Valley with Daniel and Christine Hale. Daniel designed the house to look as if it ‘grew’ out of the land. Situated on a knoll, it has views over the Napa Valley and toward the Mayacamas range. 

With hands and heart, St. Helena artist and residential designer Daniel Hale created a new house for his family enlivened with his own brilliant and witty improvised sculptures. Fun house, indeed. 

As Napa Valley artist/designer Daniel Hale describes it, he spent most of his golden-days childhood on the banks of Chesapeake Bay ‘making cool stuff from bits of old wood’.

He’s still improvising, inventing, and creating—but now he’s gone beyond small-scale ready-mades and is in demand to design houses. 

Hale and his wife, Christine and their three children love their new residence on an oak-shaded hill southwest of the town of St. Helena.

They sleep on sculptural beds Dan crafted from old redwood planks that now gleam with gold leaf, and relax on a handsome sofa improvised from the large packing crates in which his marble floor tiles were shipped from Turkey.

The house is furnished with quirky impromptu chairs and a poetry-inscribed table and the family is surrounded by Hale’s happy inventions.

“When I see a pile of rusted vine supports being discarded, I imagine a sculpture,” said Hale. “A dismantled house in the neighborhood offers rustic wood for a door or wall. I see beauty in old things.” 

Five years ago, Dan and Christine, the manager of a winery in St. Helena, found their dramatic half-acre of land overlooking carefully tended historic vineyards.

“There was an eighty-year-old house crafted from an old barn, on one side of the land,” said Hale. The family, lived in the old house for four years as their new adjacent 2,200 square foot house took shape.

The multi-talented Hale dreamed up the house that perfectly reflects his sunny demeanor.

Hale’s idyllic days in the seventies building tree houses and forts and sculptures turned out to be the perfect prelude for his adult life. Today he designs elegant houses for clients in the Napa Valley, and handcrafts inventive and beautiful gallery-worthy sculptures and chandeliers using salvaged wood and rusted metal.

“I studied architecture and design and always wanted to design a house,” said Hale, whose highly evolved style leans toward a kind of earthy modernism. He loves exposed wood and hand-plastered walls, the perfect materials for the Napa Valley.

“My go-to aesthetic is quiet and monochromatic,” said Hale. “For our house, my biggest idea was to create lots of outdoor space, to be able to sit on a porch and watch the light changing across the valley, living in harmony with nature.”

As a result, exposed mill-cut Douglas fir beams and planks were used indoors and outside, and almost every room opens to a broad verandah. Plain wood floors offers a calm and tranquil background for Hale’s Brancusi-esque sculptures. 

The open kitchen is positioned adjacent to the dining area, with easy access from the verandahs and the side entrance.

Painted pine cabinets (perhaps the only non-salvage wood in the house) are topped with practical wide counters of bluestone and waxed steel.

Along the north wall of the kitchen is one of the most charming and inspired pieces in the house, a shimmering two-part stacked cabinet made out of antique windows rescued from a Victorian cottage adjacent to the family’s house near Annapolis.

“We heard the crash of impending demolition of the house and ran out to save the windows,” explained Hale. “The old wavy glass is still in the mullions. We didn’t paint the frames.” 

In St. Helena, Daniel and Christine Hale’s new house, with interior and exterior walls of earth-colored stucco, are all light and air and relaxed living. Designer Hale’s quirky way with handmade furniture, coupled with a love of expansive outdoor spaces like the veranda above imbues the place with a modern lilt. Materials like raw rolled steel (sofa) and sheets of zinc (coffee table), and Donald Judd-inspired furniture give the verandah its art-gallery elegance. Sets of sliding walls of windows and screens open the house to cross-ventilation and the Napa Valley’s ethereal light. The house, with stripped down, unfussy architecture, is rooted in the land's agricultural past—it overlooks the oldest working vineyards in the Napa Valley. 

Dan and Christine say that the house has two sides of its character.

“It’s calm and peaceful when we’re at home alone, and we also love it when its raucus, with everyone gathered around the table, tasting new wines, and music is playing, kids are dancing.”

Guests spill out onto the porch, and the stars are bright over the sleeping porch on the turret.

“The house envelops us, it breathes, it’s almost as if we are living in the trees,” said Hale. “The house makes everyone very happy and relaxed. Surrounded by our family and friends, it’s the best of times.” 

A large-scale wood-frame sofa in the living room was crafted from a Turkish packing crate that was used to ship travertine marble tiles to the Hales’ house. “I saw the crate on the truck and it was so beautifully made I had to make something out of it,” said Hale. Pillows, bolsters and cushions on the three-part sectional sofa are made from Belgian linen and antique ticking from Tricia Rose’s Rough Linen company in San Rafael. 

Dan Hale crafted the dining table top, six feet in diameter, from salvaged plywood. He banded the top in 2-inch strips of lead, and stamped the bands with the words from a favorite Edna St. Vincent Millay poem. Guests seated around the table can ponder, “All I could see from where I stood were three long mountains and a wood. I turned and looked the other way and I saw three islands in a bay.” Hale also made the painted wooden dining chairs, with rotund carved backs made from wine barrels that envelope the sitter and make a comfortable perch for a long wine-filled dinner. 

The four-poster bed is a charming Daniel Hale construction, from scraps of scratch wood. He carved the ziggurat posts from slender old 2 x 12 inch redwood planks and colored his assemblage with gold leaf and layers of white and ivory paints scrumbled with rags and scraped to achieve an antique patina.

Hale made the rusted metal cabinet (used for book shelves) with rusted galvanized sheets formerly used as the lining for a client’s discarded planter boxes. Standing front and center in the living room, it looks like a precious object, with the noble air of an antique.

It’s a simple frame house with interior and exterior walls of integral color stucco, and the drama (and practicality) are created by the wide overhanging verandahs where the family live in the summer. The stucco color, a soft earthy grey/ocher/green tone, was mixed with clay and dirt from their land.

Daniel Hale took the inspiration for the simple agricultural vernacular architecture from an old barn on the property. Stripped down and unfussy, the house is all about form and space, light and air. 

On hot summer nights, Daniel and Christine Hale sleep in their turret retreat, lit with candles in pinewood niches. The bed, which hangs on an artful rope pulley, is dressed with washed white linens by Rough Linen, and Belgian hemp and French ticking pillows. This perch, which catches the last flickers of western sun, overlooks the historic Beckstoffer Las Piedras vineyard. The pedigreed acres, with grapes that sell for a premium, trace their history back to the 1840’s when they were planted to Mission grapes, and became the first in what is now the St. Helena appellation. The Hales enjoy their borrowed landscape—without the expensive upkeep. 

Daniel Hale crafted almost everything in the house, including the sliding shutters in the bathroom, which he carved out of old wood fragments. Like the window coverings in traditional Moroccan desert houses, these shutters keep out sunlight and summer heat—and create decorative shadows across the floor in the late afternoon. 

On hot summer nights, Hale and his wife Christine sleep in the top of the turret. Enclosed on three sides, this romantic retreat overlooks the historic Beckstoffer heritage vineyard, Las Piedras, that traces its history back through Mexican land grants in the 1840s, and was the first vineyard planted in St. Helena.

Taupe integral plaster walls and Turkish stone tile floors (whence the packing crates) offer a tranquil and uncluttered background for Hale’s Duchampian readymades—turning found objects into a hall table, painted kitchen stools, a window frame cabinet, and a round dining table banded with a lead rim of Edna St-Vincent Millay poetry.


Daniel Hale 

All photography by Joe Fletcher. 
Phone 415-216-7948


Tricia Rose Rough Linen said...

Daniel Hale's winning combination of careful craft and happy serendipity is perfectly expressed here - he is a pleasure to work with.

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


Thank you.

Your ROUGH LINENS are of course a key element of style in the house...just wonderful.

I love your linens-which the Hales have featured in the living room and the bedroom and the 'turret'...

Your beautiful iinens--so distinctive and crunchy and authentic and handsome and distinctive and traditional and beautiful to the touch (you know I love them...) are perfect in this house, or any house (including anywhere in the world).
Bravo to you, Tricia--your work is inspiring and important.
FRIENDS--please check in at
and also Tricia's website,

very best DIANE

Greet Lefèvre said...

Dear Diane,
What a gorgeous home Daniel and his wife have!! Congratulations to Daniel with his beautiful and exceptional work! Stunning!! I love it!!!
I am so glad I discovered Daniel's blog!!

Philip Bewley said...

Dear Diane,
a perfect country house, all light and air, full of wit. I love the sense of contemporary deconstruction, and as simple and casual as it is, it is all very informed, considered. Love it.

Desiree Grieves said...

This doesn't even look like it's a house in the States. If you haven't said in the lead that this was the Napa valley, I'd be thinking that this was somewhere Mediterranean. I'm loving how his whimsical-looking furniture come together to give the house a different feel.

Roofing Sarasota said...

I studied architecture and design and always wanted to design a house

jol said...

super post