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Winemaker Stephen Singer’s Singular Estate: Baker Lane Vineyards in Sonoma County, California

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Winemaker Stephen Singer’s Singular Estate: Baker Lane Vineyards in Sonoma County, California

December 1, 2017

The vision for the modern house at Baker Lane Vineyards in Sebastopol, California, the estate of winemaker Stephen Singer and his partner Michel Boynton, came about 36 years ago when Singer converted a loft building in Berkeley into his home: “I took a raw space that was open and airy, with high ceilings and rough materials, and built a small domicile and artist studio in it,” said Singer. The experience taught him “that what I ultimately wanted was to have that kind of volume and light and space on a piece of open land.” The concrete-and-stucco house that stands today on Singer and Boynton’s 15 acres at Baker Lane is his “dream house, for want of a better term.”

In the almost four decades since building his Berkeley loft, Singer has had a career as a painter, wine seller, restaurateur, and olive oil importer. Fifteen years ago, he decided to venture in winemaking, while realizing “I could combine my goal of becoming a grape grower and winemaker while also building my ideal house.”

He and Boynton sought property for some time, attracted to “a very up-and-coming cooler climate viticultural zone, which was a big priority for me,” he said. “I wanted to be in a place at the vanguard in terms of quality of winemaking and grape growing.”

He acquired the Sebastopol property in 2002 and turned to San Francisco architect Keith Anding, who had designed homes for some of Singer’s friends. Anding developed a master plan for the property (see our story on Gardenista today for more), and designed the main house and its interiors, working closely with Singer and Boynton in selecting furniture, lighting, and finishes for their home. The property was completed in the fall of 2005, and though Singer credits Anding and builder Simon Fairweather generously for their contributions, “I knew all along what kind of house I wanted,” he said. “Very much so.”

Baker Lane is open for wine and olive oil tastings by Reservation only. In the meantime, join us for a tour.

Photography by Daniel Dent for Remodelista.

Singer and Boynton are both avid cooks: The hardworking kitchen has cabinets of vertical-grain Douglas fir with countertops of butcher block and concrete. The breakfast bar in the foreground is made of solid Douglas fir. The doorway to the right of the kitchen opens onto the outdoor dining patio. &#8
Above: Singer and Boynton are both avid cooks: The hardworking kitchen has cabinets of vertical-grain Douglas fir with countertops of butcher block and concrete. The breakfast bar in the foreground is made of solid Douglas fir. The doorway to the right of the kitchen opens onto the outdoor dining patio. “I wanted a kitchen that dominated the common space,” said Singer. “I wanted the ability to cook and entertain in communion with the rest of the open room.”

Singer grows his grapes in a cooler viticultural area than where they might typically be found: “There’s an inverse relationship between temperature and the potential for flavor detail” he says. “The warmer it is, the more the heat can overwhelm the character of the grapes and make them somewhat mono-dimensional. Growing grapes in a cooler climate allows for more opportunity to explore the flavor of the wine.”

A built-in composting bin with stainless lid is installed in the kitchen island.
Above: A built-in composting bin with stainless lid is installed in the kitchen island.
Singer stores kitchen utensils in rustic stoneware containers on the kitchen island (for something similar, consider Ohio Stoneware).
Above: Singer stores kitchen utensils in rustic stoneware containers on the kitchen island (for something similar, consider Ohio Stoneware).
A Sori Yanagi tea kettle sits atop the stove.
Above: A Sori Yanagi tea kettle sits atop the stove.
There&#8
Above: There’s no wanting for libations in the Singer-Boynton household. A liquor niche with wine fridge sits to the side of the kitchen, next to the walk-in pantry.

Singer was a longtime importer of Italian olive oils, and he planted olive trees on the Baker Lane estate with the intention of creating the same flavor profiles as the Tuscan oils about which he has long been passionate.

Baker Lane produces two olive oils: Its Occidental Blend ($38 for a 750mL bottle) from olives grown on a nearby orchard owned by a longtime friend, and the Estate Tuscan (starting at $24 for a 375 mL bottle)—Baker Lane’s signature blend of Tuscan varietals grown on the estate. “We don’t make a lot of oil, but it’s really good,” says Singer.

Next to the kitchen is the open-plan dining room, perched on the edge of the upper estate overlooking the vines. The dining table was custom-designed by Anding, fabricated locally using salvaged wood.
Above: Next to the kitchen is the open-plan dining room, perched on the edge of the upper estate overlooking the vines. The dining table was custom-designed by Anding, fabricated locally using salvaged wood.

Baker Lane makes efforts at environmental sustainability in winemaking, an ethos Singer has carried through to the house. Architect Anding points to high-performance windows and insulation to minimize the need for heating and cooling, while “strategically placed” operable windows allow for natural ventilation and overhangs “limit solar intrusion in the summer.”

Baker Lane  Rosé ($), served in handblown Italian Acqua e Vino glasses from Permanent Collection, of which Stephen Singer&#8
Above: Baker Lane 2016 Rosé ($20), served in handblown Italian Acqua e Vino glasses from Permanent Collection, of which Stephen Singer’s daughter Fanny Singer is cofounder; $600 for a set of six glasses and one carafe.
Baker Lane’s signature wine is its Estate Syrah ($5o for the 2012 vintage)—the grape is “an outlier choice for where we are,” said Singer, referring to the property’s cooler climes. At Baker Lane, he says, the grapes “barely get ripe instead of tumbling into ripeness.”

A wood-burning fireplace framed in board-formed concrete at the junction of the dining room and media nook. It&#8
Above: A wood-burning fireplace framed in board-formed concrete at the junction of the dining room and media nook. It’s designed in the energy-efficient Rumford style. The painting above the fireplace is by Stephen Singer (whose artwork can be found here).

Another energy-aware choice: Concrete floors—which have a subtly brown, integrated pigment—help keep the house cool in the hot Sonoma County summers.

 At the outset of the project, Singer requested a media environment &#8
Above: At the outset of the project, Singer requested a media environment “that was off to the side, but still open to the great room.” The throw is an Oda Oversized Scarf from Permanent Collection, and the flower arrangement was assembled by Fanny.

The back wall of the media niche is a library of well-rounded titles. A wall-mounted Tolomeo Spot Light illuminates the reading area.
Above: The back wall of the media niche is a library of well-rounded titles. A wall-mounted Tolomeo Spot Light illuminates the reading area.
In the master bedroom, Anding designed the custom bed with integrated nightstands. The painting is by Stephen Singer, and lights flanking the bed are Tolomeo Classic Wall Lamps.
Above: In the master bedroom, Anding designed the custom bed with integrated nightstands. The painting is by Stephen Singer, and lights flanking the bed are Tolomeo Classic Wall Lamps.

Next to the bed: A glass-topped credenza with displays of natural objects collected by Boynton, beneath a photograph by Charles Richardson.
Above: Next to the bed: A glass-topped credenza with displays of natural objects collected by Boynton, beneath a photograph by Charles Richardson.
An outdoor shower lined in stucco and redwood off the back door from the master bath.
Above: An outdoor shower lined in stucco and redwood off the back door from the master bath.
Off the foyer is a utility room (with mudroom and closets) paneled in repurposed wine-barrel redwood that extends continuously from the exterior of the house. Coat closet doors are fully integrated into the paneling: &#8
Above: Off the foyer is a utility room (with mudroom and closets) paneled in repurposed wine-barrel redwood that extends continuously from the exterior of the house. Coat closet doors are fully integrated into the paneling: “I did not want to interrupt or distract from the seamless visual connection,” says Anding.

When the repurposed wood was first installed, it—fittingly—gave the house a “faint fragrance of wine,” said the architect.

Inside the paneled volume is a mudroom to store coats, boots, and hats. Singer&#8
Above: Inside the paneled volume is a mudroom to store coats, boots, and hats. Singer’s backpack is from Manufactum in Germany.
A dramatic painting in the foyer anchors the entrance. It&#8
Above: A dramatic painting in the foyer anchors the entrance. It’s by Naomie Kremer, an Israeli-American painter based in Oakland and an “old and good friend” of Singer’s.

Though the house is clearly modern in style, Anding is proud of its timelessness, “achieved by designing spaces that function well, delight the senses, and are straightforward,” he said. “Also, it is extremely important to use honestly beautiful materials that are durable.”

The front door is made of two glass panels, each with a block of claro walnut wood &#8
Above: The front door is made of two glass panels, each with a block of claro walnut wood “seemingly floating in space,” says Anding. “The absence of visible hardware lends a bit of intrigue and mystery to the entry.” The walnut was sourced from Bay Area purveyor Evan Shively.

Bordering the entryway is a large wall of board-formed concrete, which Singer calls Anding’s “most dramatic bit of architectural flourish.” It has a purpose, of course—it separates the outdoor kitchen and dining area from the spare entryway—but it also serves as the apex of Singer’s desire “for a porous border between indoors and out.”

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