Thursday, October 30, 2014

Positively British: San Francisco interior designer Jonathan Rachman transforms a Napa Valley farmhouse into an evocative retreat with a private drinking den and tasting salon. It's a rustic escape for sybaritic pleasures.

Rachman, with his worldly collections and dash of British vim and vigor, dreamed up a Brit tribute with California wit. He circumnavigated to wildly chic Sumatra (his home island) before heading further East to the Napa Valley.

The designer’s bravado gives new meaning to country interiors and jolts the senses. There’s secretly subversive style in every inch. Yes, it’s intense.

Come with me for a private visit. Pimm’s, anyone?

I’m very happy to show you Jonathan Rachman’s newest work, exclusively here. You’ve met Jonathan before on THE STYLE SALONISTE, and his ‘cabinet of curiosities’ salon three years ago in the San Francisco Decorator Showcase, is one of my most popular blog posts.

For the current Traditional Home Napa Showhouse at Caldwell Vineyard (through November 16), Jonathan completed a dramatic and highly original mise-en-scene, ‘Strait Up English Colonial Tasting Room’ and ‘The Master's" Bath’.

Strait, by the way, refers to the Straits of Malacca, a legendary region where the cultures of China, Singapore, India, Malaya, interact with Dutch, British and Portuguese trade. Jonathan grew up in the region and knows the lore, traditions, style clashes and textiles and antiques very well. You’ll see them here.

Interior Designer Jonathan Rachman at the Traditional Home Napa Valley Showhouse

"Strait Up English Colonial" Tasting Room

When designer Jonathan Rachman was asked to create the kitchen of the Caldwell Winery Cheesebarn, he immediately imagined more than a re-designed room. He envisioned the story of the proprietor.

Rachman saw the barn as the new residence of an English family that had sojourned from Great Britain to the Straits of Malacca. They sailed east at the invitation of Governor Stamford Raffles and they lived for generations in Southeast Asia. They explored and conducted business with the East Indies Company in Singapore, Batavia, and Sumatra. It was there that the family learned they had inherited a winery thousands of miles away in Napa.

And there begins the mythical “Caldwell” family’s second adventure: a move to California, where they brought their English and Asian treasures along with purchases from their Eastern travels.

Their new home would become this winery, where they intended to show their love of East and West. Here they would blend heirlooms from Europe and Asia as well as the American treasures they discovered in the valley, here in the Cheesebarn. Effortlessly juxtaposing old and new, the Caldwell’s intention was to preserve the most nostalgic and rustic elements of the barn, while keeping it current.

In the corner, surrounding the Hudson lounge chair by Ralph Lauren, are antique portraits from England and America, to create not only the layers, but also an ambiance of generational story for the Caldwell's.

However, one portrait is a true, real and present picture of Mr. and Mrs. Caldwell embellished with 22-karat gold patterned after a pair of carved mirrors found in Java. 

A friend of Jonathan’s, Massimo Tevarrotto, from Padua, Italy, created a leathergoods collection that is inspired by this 'old-school' story. He created a messenger bag, a tote bag embellished with a horsehair tassel, coaster, as well as the framing for the signage on each drawer which store various cheese: Hard, Creamy, Drunken, Nutty, Something New, Something Blue — a play on words.

The Cheesebarn kitchen is a modern version of a communal tasting room. Anchored by an antique church pew, the room is meant to be a gathering spot for the Caldwell family and their friends. Inspired by both English and Dutch Colonial styles, the room pays homage to the family’s history with a wall of English paintings and family portraits.

Vintage Lucite chairs cozy up to industrial spindles-turned-bistro tables whose tiered, beveled glass “trays” are perfect for tastings. The “Master” of the house has his own special seat on the pew, marked with an antique library sign, and his own special table: a Dutch Javanese Colonial antique cocktail table where his drinks are always waiting.

The kitchen’s island wears wooden countertops, on top of which Ranchman places a massive piece of marble, butcher-block style.

Jonathan explains:

“I wanted to convert the breakfast/kitchen into a tasting room: The Strait Up English Colonial Tasting Room, for practical use, inspired by my imagined story. The existing counter is patinated with natural color and I added a very thick Carrara marble slab with a reversed profile, which mimics the details of the apron of the counter with a scalloped revealed edge, so visitors may enjoy the glorious counter.

Across from it, I used an American late 19th/early 20th century church pew, I found from estate sales in Atherton, which I suspect was the choir and its leader pew. It has a separated seat. I continue to imagine that the "Master" or Mr. Caldwell has a reserved seat, marked by my collection, an antique brass sign that reads " Reserved for the Master". This pew is embellished by a custom back cushion suspended with leather strap polished nickel horse-bits, as I want to accentuate the equestrian feel to the room. 


The entire fabric line is from Bolt Textiles, which recently asked him to design a collection, his first licensing. He created "The Sisters" Collection.

Seat cushions—held in place by horse bits and leather straps—and Roman shades are all Rachman designs fashioned out of his custom fabric line with Bolt Textiles—from a bold linen stripe to a grosgrain ribbon ticking and Javanese block print.

“I wanted this room to function as a kitchen as well as a communal tasting room where the Winery can hold private parties and gatherings,” said Jonathan. “But I wanted it to also reflect the romantic history of the family."


• The wall stencil treatment is based on a pattern we found on a wall, marking from an antique matches holder, but it compliments the Dutch colonial side table for the Master.

• The two glass cocktail tables are made out of a found object: giant industrial spools and we added 2 tiered beveled glass and painted with gilded Greek fret pattern and they turn (like lazy Susan)

• Some pocket squares and cufflinks in the Master's bath are from Rachman’s new accessory line

• The Bolt Fabric collection is my new line for them

• All Jonathan Rachman products are from the new product line (leather goods, glassware, linen and canvas).

• Massimo Tevarotto who is the Jonathan Rachman head of creative design for the leather good and accessory groups (cufflink, bracelet etc.) worked for Versace, Bottega Venetta, Cartier, and Tiffany. He is from Padua, Italy.

• The patinated copper tub in the Master's Bath is original to the space.

• Last touch: we compiled music from the soundtrack of "Out of Africa" combined with music of Glenn Miller, Jackie Gleason, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, as well as Frank Sinatra to compliment the ambiance to make a full experience of the senses.

• No room is complete without flowers: Lily of the valley, English garden roses, hydrangea...all in white or green.

• English honey, crumpets and petit fours, lemon curds and tea as well as gin and tonic are ready for the visitors to savor. The Master, of course, has his own cigar and pipe corner while he sips his whiskey after a long day supervising his property and operations.

Jonathan’s Notes:

"The Master's" Bath

The Bath below the Tasting room is where the Master of the house retreats after a busy day in the winery...supervising his crew, riding his horse followed by his loyal dog, before hosting his guests in the Tasting Room.

Styled in the same ‘Strait Up English Colonial’ manner, this bath continues the design: preserving as much as possible what was left behind by the Master's ancestors. Historic California is splashed with English tradition and Colonial culture of the Straits of Malacca.

Color schemes are the natural stone and existing tub patina, framed by a tailored new fabric line of Jonathan Rachman for Bolt Textiles. This bath unmistakably represents an old-school gentleman, and the room is embellished with modern comfort.


Interior designer Jonathan Rachman

Thayer Allyson Gowdy

Thayer is based in Brooklyn and Bernal Heights, San Francisco.

Portrait at the Napa Valley Showhouse by

Traditional Home magazine Napa Valley Showhouse at Caldwell Vineyard:

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Dream Trip: My Recent Travels in Northern Rajasthan

THE SERAI JAISALMER in the Remote Indian Desert. A Beautiful and Magical Discovery. The Perfect Escape.

The world is too much with us today. The news is unbearable. The Internet makes our lives magical—and it also makes the world too present.

It’s time to take an inspiring break with me today to The Serai Jaisalmer, an ultra-private luxury desert camp near the dusty old fort town of Jaisalmer.

I rather chanced upon it—and stayed for a few days of midnight reverie, daydreaming, writing, wandering, bird-watching, slowing down, watching the wind drift across desert grass. It’s a rare retreat—amid a monochromatic landscape that is the opposite of India’s wonderful cavalcade and clamor of noise, color, and the loud symphony of music and excitement. The Serai is silent.

Come with me.

Earlier this year, I had the great good fortune to travel to Northern Rajasthan, into the Indian desert. Yes, there is a vast desert way up in the far north of India. It’s a desert of centuries of legends and myths—and a place of mystery and fascination. The unknown. Look on the map…north of Jodhpur, far to the west of Delhi.

Come with me to escape to a remote hidden corner of India—into the silence and tranquility and peace of the open desert.

The Serai (designed and owned by Sujan, the brilliant private family-owned luxury hotel company) is a place of quiet elegance with just the sound of the wind, birds chirping, palm leaves rustling, or distant muted voices.

The Serai Jaisalmer is a desert camp where guests sleep in traditional Anglo-Indian luxury tents. I was enticed by camel safaris, sunbathing around the pool, visits to historic Jaisalmer, a wander in the organic vegetable garden, a Jeep ride to watch the sunset, or reading in the library. Or doing nothing but watch native birds. I even found a bird-watching book in the library--and started making lists of cheerful bulbuls, looming crows, and chatty finches. I tossed (naughty) breadcrumbs so that they would swoop onto my terrace. It's amazing how time flies on golden wings when you are engrossed in birdwatching. Come and visit this dream camp with me.

An elegant tented camp in the fabled Thar Desert of Northern India is the newest destination for design-lovers and travel style connoisseurs.

Fiery rays of sunset illuminated The Serai Jaisalmer luxury desert camp in remote northern Rajasthan. One evening I listened spellbound to a group of turbaned manyanigars, traditional nomadic musicians, singing tributes to their centuries-old desert culture. The sounds were intensely emotional. (Look up ASMR...and you will find traditional Rajasthan desert music as a definition. Well, not quite but I can tell you that the voices of the turbaned young men, the thrumming of the tabla, the jangle of percussion, and the soothing harmonic accordion-like instruments had the effect of autonomous sensory meridian response in the cool, clear midnight air and desert stillness. A thrill.

The Serai Jaisalmer, twenty-one elegant tents on a hundred-acre private estate in the regal Rajasthan region, offers the newest way to experience traditional Indian camp style. Guests can follow mediaeval royal caravan routes through magical dunes.

The style: think Hemingway or Anglo-Indian raj camp style, with mahogany furniture, camp seating, canvas walls and seagrass floors. Each tent is on a permanent base, and each tent is outfitted with a terrace, an indoor sitting room, a very large bedroom furnished with grand beds, wardrobes, club chairs and roll-up screened windows (no glass) with views out to the desert. The bathroom is luxurious, with showers and beautiful washbasins. Most tents also have an outdoor plunge pool and terrace, all very private, including the sunbathing terrace.

The Serai’s superbly-equipped classic canvas tents are arrayed in an elegant symmetrical formation adjacent to a dramatic swimming pool. From the raised pool terrace, styled like a desert fortress, guests gaze out over miles of pale taupe trees and desert scrub. The monochromatic landscape is breathtakingly beautiful, and the camp blends in.

The natural canvas tents, expansive enough to feel like a residence, offer Indian desert life that’s relaxed and tranquil. All camp facilities including the tented restaurant, the library (with wi-fi available), the spa and the reception tent are furnished in Anglo-Indian safari camp décor. The feeling is Hemingway-esque, authentic, ultra-discreet and low-key, and full of discovery. 

Each of the twenty-one luxury tents has a terrace for enjoying the desert landscape.

Anjali and Jaisal Singh, the worldly young New Delhi couple who direct The Serai, designed and created the chic camp that has attracted travelers from around the world. Their company, Sujan, focuses on protecting and conserving the wilderness as well as introducing guests to the setting and local cultures.

“We created The Serai for the travel connoisseur who is looking for a very private and rare exploration deep in the Rajasthan desert,” said Anjali, who studied art in London. “We’ve created soft luxury here—Egyptian cotton sheets, comfortable leather club chairs, fresh organic cuisine, private pools, as well as bird-watching excursions, and safaris to study indigenous flora and fauna.”

Each tent, with a terrace in front, can accommodate two guests. Tents are crafted of heavyweight natural cotton canvas, an attractive pale ivory color. Windows, with screens, can be adjusted for air circulation, or closed against cool desert air in the evening.

There’s a shaded terrace for evening relaxation, and a sitting room with traditional mahogany campaign-style chaise longues and handwoven plaid wood blankets to ward off evening chill.

The camp swimming pool is surrounded by a terrace from which guests may view the open desert. Other facilities include a well-stocked boutique, a spa, and a library with excellent reference books on India. 

The classical architecture of the tents, which stand on a permanent stone foundation, feels very substantial yet at the same time their simple silhouette and slight movement of the walls gives them a delightful ethereal feeling. It’s like sleeping in a cloud.

Décor was inspired by traditional Anglo-Indian hunting camps of the Raj. Floors are covered with seagrass carpets, with handsome traditional Indian woven rugs in red and rust added a dash of color in the bedroom. Interiors include antique mahogany wardrobes, stacks of reference books on local birds and plants, and a desk for writing postcards or studying Indian culture.

Bathrooms, with showers crafted from indigenous pale ivory sandstone are spacious and well supplied with herbal-infused toiletries.

A highlight of the visit is a sunset Jeep safari to the camp’s viewing point on a desert overlook, furnished with a tent, chairs, tables, and drinks. Twilight in this hushed region is dramatic and mysterious. The secluded wilds of The Serai and guests may see migrating cranes taking refuge there before flying to northern climes. 

Cuisine is taken seriously. The Serai property includes a flourishing organic garden, where vegetables, fruit, and flowers are grown. Cows offer fresh milk, and chickens supply daily eggs.

Chefs and bartenders visit the garden several times a day to pick mint or lemons for cocktails, and to gather baskets full of lettuces, along with delicate flowers to decorate salads and fragrant rice dishes.

Cosmopolitan daily menus at The Serai may include roasted vegetable bisque, colorful salads, duck leg confit with sautéed potatoes, or a pan-seared pork loin with glazed carrots, with classic French deserts. Guests can request any dish and the hotel is very accommodating.

Tents are arrayed on the property to create maximum privacy. Camp staff uses special bicycles to deliver breakfast or afternoon tea or fresh towels.

Camp staff wears crisp white linen tunics and trousers, with a signature red turban, all characteristic of Rajasthan. 

The Serai is open from September 15 through March 31 each year. High season, when days hover around 75 deg F, is from November to February.

Jaisalmer, a twelfth-century stone-walled fortress with historic palaces and temples, is a half-hour drive. The fort, a UNESCO World Heritage site, makes a fascinating half-day excursion, but guests are happy to return to the tranquil setting of The Serai. As darkness falls, stars are as bright as Maharajahs’ diamonds. Magical, indeed.

Many guests arrive from the nearest city, Jodhpur, which is 142 miles south from The Serai.

Others make a Rajasthan circuit and visit two other Sujan tented camps, and arrive from either the tiger camp, Sher Bagh, in Ranthambore, or Jawai, a SUJAN camp north of Udaipur in a remote western Rajasthan region noted for leopards.

I propose flying to Delhi, spending a few days there (perhaps at The Lodhi hotel, my favorite) and then flying on to Jaipur and heading to Sher Bagh. Then it’s onward to Jodhpur and heading north to The Serai from there.

Note that it is not possible to fly from Delhi to Jaisalmer (for security reasons as the fort town is close to the Pakistan border).

This trip does involve some driving (it is ideal to have your own driver and car) and it’s a fascinating way of seeing India up-close. Roads in Rajasthan circle past old villages and the trip explores the countryside of India.

The Serai is a Relais & Chateaux property, and the standards of comfort are ultra-high and guests are very beautifully pampered. Menus have modern Indian and continental offerings, chic cocktails, and fresh vegetables and herbs from the garden. The pool is enticing and there is an excellent boutique with lovely block-print kaftans, jewelry, décor, and gifts for family and friends.

The luxury here is in the privacy, the tranquility. It’s so quiet, so calm and silent, I am certain you will not want to depart. Let me know.

For more information:

Note that The Serai is open from September 15-March 31 each year.

All photography here by Anjali and Jaisal Singh, Sujan. Used here with express permission.