The Rivera Stone House represents not the culmination of a dream, but the midpoint. Marking the second phase of a private master plan on 65 acres of wine country property, it's a temporary hold-over for the owners until their primary residence is built. Eventually it will serve as a guesthouse.

But there's no rush on that main villa. Living in the guesthouse isn't exactly roughing it—not with twin sets of 9-foot, retractable French doors opening onto a 300-square-foot loggia with an outdoor fireplace and breathtaking views. Add materials to die for, including mahogany window mullions, Redland clay barrel roof tiles, limestone and Carrara marble countertops, and smooth plaster walls inlaid with timber beams that were sandblasted and stained on site. The interior doors are panels from antique Chinese screens supplied by the owner.

Although the stone house is a mere 1,200 square feet, it lives larger than its footprint. A road hugging the vineyards wends its way to a gym outbuilding. Across the field, a garden path leads to The Barn, a converted farmhouse the owners first inhabited and are now using as a detached home theater. Corridors in the landscape connect these indoor and outdoor realms rather seamlessly.

“The concept is to build small, unique little residential units and then enjoy the property between them,” says Mario Aiello, senior architect with Dahlin Group Architecture Planning. “We like to refer to it as a 10-acre house.”

This nature connection didn't come about by chance; the owners' priority was always landscaping first, buildings second. In fact, their first move was to mine 10 acres for indigenous field stones (which were later used in construction) and to hire the Napa offices of SDA Planning Design to plant vineyards, gardens, and olive groves, thus ensuring that mature vegetation would be in place by the time there were windows to frame the view.

HIDE AND SEEK: A big challenge was incorporating modern conveniences into an otherwise rustic space. A flat-screen TV on a folding arm tucks into the closet to the left of the fireplace (left) when it is not in use.
HIDE AND SEEK: A big challenge was incorporating modern conveniences into an otherwise rustic space. A flat-screen TV on a folding arm tucks into the closet to the left of the fireplace (left) when it is not in use.

The guest cottage has the sensibility of a Tuscan farmhouse not only in its vineyard aesthetic, but also insofar as it was pieced together as a series of sheds. “We designed it as if it were a remodel, starting with the living room, then adding on the kitchen, then bathroom, then sleeping area,” says Aiello. “It's like a generational home in Italy. Historically, when they added rooms on, they weren't necessarily dainty about it.”

Except that in this case, the execution was more sophisticated than slapdash. The asymmetrical architecture meant very few right angles, notes builder Mark Grassi, president of Napa-based Grassi Construction. “That made it more complicated to rough frame, and it made the flashing and counterflashing of the roof systems pretty complex. Also, there are three fireplaces [two indoor and one outdoor]. The roof system is very cut up.”

Perhaps the most masterful strokes of all are in the stone masonry. Walls, columns, and chimneys were laid up so that the stones are largest toward the bottom and get progressively smaller toward the top, creating a sense of movement. Magnifico.

SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL: Code dictates that a guesthouse can't exceed 1,200 square feet, thus the diminutive footprint of the Rivera Stone House (opposite page).
SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL: Code dictates that a guesthouse can't exceed 1,200 square feet, thus the diminutive footprint of the Rivera Stone House (opposite page).

Project: Rivera Stone House, Napa, Calif.; Size: 1,200 square feet; Builder: Grassi Construction, Napa; Architect: Dahlin Group Architecture Planning, San Ramon, Calif.; Landscape design: SDA Planning Design, Napa