By Meghan Hall
A beloved Healdsburg landmark with decades of history has been restored to its former glory, solidifying its continued presence well into the future. Several years ago, the former VML Winery had greatly deteriorated and outdated. At the same time, Flowers Vineyard & Winery was looking for its own venue in which to showcase its wines. Recognizing the former VML property’s potential, Flowers embarked on a mission to reinvigorate the 13.5-acre property through intentional design expressive of Flowers’ nature-based ethos.
“The region’s strong, simple vernacular forms served as a guide and reference point to help root the architecture to its setting,” explained Mike McCabe, Principal for Walker Warner Architects. “By visually refining the structures, simplifying the palette and abstracting the traditional vernacular detailing, we attempted to create an architectural expression that honors the local context while making the visitor feel at home and at ease. Ultimately, the intent was to take forms and elements that are comfortable and familiar and use them to make extraordinary spaces for visitors.”
The property was originally developed in the 1970s and the existing buildings were set within a redwood grove. While the old winery was known for its rustic charm, it was disconnected from the rest of the surrounding landscape. Ultimately, the project team—which in addition to Walker Warner Architects included Maca Huneeus Design and Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, among others—sought to connect the project to the surrounding natural landscape.
“Our biggest challenge was to convert an already existing building that lacked in character into something appealing that people would want to go visit,” said Maca Huneeus. “There are so many new developments that we thought recycling what was already there and keeping it simple was the way to go. We didn’t want to do a massive intimidating building as Healdsburg has always had a down to earth character.”
An old warehouse was transformed into a 15,700 square foot hospitality house. The hospitality house, as well as the property’s other buildings, were painted a shadow black inspired by the redwood grove, which helped the buildings recede into the site and allow for the landscape to pop. Passive energy strategies were employed, and skylights and large windows were added to let in light. Additional exterior wood slats were constructed to serve as a veil and offering additional shade. Large monumental wood installations made of salvaged logs were created by artist Evan Shively to add additional dimension to the property.
At the end of the revamped hospitality house, a pop-up element was constructed and designed to blend in with the fabric of the topography. The end result is a multi-level facility that provides access to views and gardens from the hilltop. The interior of the second floor is clad in bleached cypress siding, to provide a contrast with the dark exterior of the building. There, guests are able to sample Flowers’ Sonoma Coast wines and are able to visit a sun room, dining room and living areas. More private spaces for VIP guests are also available.
“Because of the volume of the red wood building and the unappealing stain of the wood I thought a Scandinavian vibe of black exterior and a lighter interior would translate really well in Healdsburg and address our challenges,” said Huneeus. “…The idea was always to make people feel comfortable as if they were visiting a friend’s home in the countryside. Hence, we made a library, a fireplace area, a terrace, a living room, etc. We kept the materials elemental to give it an authentic country vibe (wood, linens, wool, ceramics).”
Sheltered seating and amenity spaces, including a wood-fired oven connect to the pop up, and add to the atmosphere created by gardens framed by existing rammed-earth walls. The project team endeavored to design a project that would celebrate the surrounding nature, blending the existing buildings and infrastructure with its surroundings to create a comfortable, engaging retreat.
“The landscape design at the House of Flowers amplifies distinct California landscape ecologies creating a deeply rooted sense of place and a narrative consistent with Flowers’ authentic winemaking,” said Thomas Woltz of Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects.
The project site is situated between vineyards and agricultural fields, as well as the Russian River. Additional terraced gardens feature local plant communities and board-formed concrete walls were added as needed.
Woltz continued, adding, ““Embodying distinct and iconic California ecologies, the House of Flowers landscape design bridges the distance between its Russian River Valley location and the vineyards along the bluffs of the Sonoma Coast. The terraces and gardens evoke the terrain where the featured Pinot Noir and Chardonnay varieties and the story of Flowers Winery itself originate.”
The project was met with acclaim, and at the end of 2020 the project won the Architecture and Commercial category in the San Francisco Design Week Awards program. The project team hopes that now the project has come to fruition, it will provide an engaging atmosphere for Flowers’ guests and clients to enjoy both wine and a piece of local Healdsburg history.
“Over the past 30 years our work at Walker Warner has been primarily focused on the design of homes, spaces that are intimate, comfortable and enduring,” stated McCabe. “We approached the House of Flowers with this point of view as our starting point. The visitor should feel as though they have arrived at the home of a good friend. Rather than put the focus on the architecture, it is our hope that guests are at ease and their attention is focused on sharing experiences over delicious food and amazing wine in an unmatched context.”