Country house




chandelier 1

I have told you about the love I have for this house before.

The house stands at the end of the village, which overlooks an apple orchard. This is not far from the Adriatic. There are just nine houses in the village, along with a church and a creek. The house was built two centuries ago, although nobody knows when exactly.  The last date chiseled in the face of the stone portal is 1806.

The walls are a yard thick in places, meant to hold warmth in winter and cool in summer. The stone is held together by crumbling mortar. The enormous and very old oak wine barrels confirm stories of once existing “ostaria”. The front double door opens into a vast courtyard, surrounded by living quarters, a barn and a wine cellar. The back of the house is built into a hill, a drain runs under the floor. The roof tiles are terra cotta, underneath all whitened with the natural pigment of the lime stone dust, exposing the terra cotta in the geometric pattern. The timbers are worm-riddled.

The previous owners included four cousins; one of them, Nino Capone, is a cousin of Al Capone. before emigrating to New York, the Capones lived in the nearby town of Fiume. Nino’s mother, as a little girl growing up in the house, moved as a young woman to Trieste, where she met Al Capone’s uncle, married him and they had a son Nino, who become a partial owner of the property upon his mother death.

Adriana, my daughter, and I spend almost every summer there, but I think of the house much more often, dreaming about it the way you would dream of a lover. I visit it the way you would a vacation home a few hours away.  In my visions I am often in the courtyard, sitting under the wine pergola, sipping the local wine, feeling the sun.

Or, I remember the times that this or that happened, the time Adriana found a monstrous spider on the wall and carefully took it to the orchard or the time we watched a ferocious fight between a scorpion and centipede. Or, memories of our neighbor Maria, now gone, who had this beautiful tradition of leaving the basket of her garden treasures: tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, or whatever was ready to harvest that day, leaving it for me to find every morning when I opened the frontdoor.

When I am really there, I am always busy, cleaning the wine cellar, tending the orchard, oiling the timbers, pruning the vines. It’s not just the upkeep, it’s a very intimate work I do with my own hands. It’s a relationship, with the stone walls, with the village, with its history and mine.

Farm, cook, eat

The Shed-Steve Werney

The Shed-Steve Werney 1

The Shed-Steve Werney Photo

The Shed by Steve Werney Ph

Friends are the most valuable possession, are they not? They may take you on some grand adventure, whether to a place or a state-of-mind. Or else they teach you some trade. One of those is my friend Jerry Doyle who taught me how to apply and preserve finishes on different surfaces. Just now he’s restoring one of the oldest houses in Healdsburg.

On one of my visits, he introduced me to Cindy Daniels who, with her partner Doug Lipton, own The Shed, a market and community gathering place. It’s a celebration of food’s journey from field to fork, and a place where you meet a friend, sit in on a lecture, languish over a perfect expresso or a delicious lunch made from local ingredients. And then, you can shop for traditional hand-forged gardening tools and a very tasteful choice of cooking equipment.

The food is carefully selected, and the shelves stocked with the best spices, pasta, aging cheeses, and smoked fish. You can even buy salt from Slovenia, which of course is dear to my heart. There’s a story here, which involves Maria Teresa — who ruled the Hapsburg Empire for four decades, married for love, and had 16 children. She was known for her reliance on diplomacy and government reform. She also built a railway line from Vienna to Trieste, in large measure to secure this specific salt; now you can get it at the Shed.

The building itself, stands in the shape of a modern, very minimalist barn made of glass and recycled steel. It was designed by Jensen Architects. Inside, everybody tends to gather in the kitchen, which has a very homey feeling and is anchored by a wood-fired oven. Thick Carrara marble slab tables are a vision of minimalistic sturdiness and enduring character. I love the feeling of cold marble, set against warm, wood counters.

Close by is a zinc-covered Fermentation bar where you can order everything fermented. And here is one more surprise I love: glass funnels used as light fixtures over the bar. The second floor offers an open spacious meeting room, known as the Grange, where the Sunday suppers, music, films and lectures bring the people of Healdsburg together.

Among those who inspired the Shed is the poet Wendell Berry with the quote: “An agrarian mind begins with the love of the fields and ramifies in good farming, good cooking and good eating .”

The Epitome of Streamline Moderne Style

Floriana (2 of 11)



One of San Francisco’s signatures is its Victorians, but the Malloch Building, at 1360 Montgomery St. on Telegraph Hill, is an unexpected match to the city’s esthetics.

I became acquainted with this Art Moderne-Style building while working on a remodeling project for a client, who, just like the Lauren Bacall character in Dark Passage, owns a stunning, very chic apartment in the building.

Everywhere you look there’s an abundance of curves, everything flowing round and round: the dining room is round, the Art Deco fireplace is round, even the light seems rounded, coming in indirectly, through floor-to-ceiling windows, which, as you might imagine, offer unparalleled views of the Bay, with Yerba Buena Island in the backdrop.

Every element in the building reflects the Streamline Art Moderne style, including a trio of silver sgrafittos by Alfred du Pont. All the details have been preserved exactly as they were when the building opened — in 1937 — including an elevator encased in a backlit glass brick shaft. At night, as it comes up to get you, you have the sense of rising liquid silver.

An open-air lobby appears tropically lush and green with monstera leafs, framed by etched, sandblasted windows, and the art deco geometric images of clouds. You can still admire the same etched-glass windows and stylish railings just as they appeared in the film, and as Bacall lead Bogart up to her 3rd floor apartment, for ‘the kiss.’

Such a perfect contrast — the mid 20th century, sleek all-white moderne interior serving as a backdrop to one of the great examples of film noir. And no wonder that that famously stylish Humphrey Bogart took his refuge in apartment No. 10.

Cork models

Roundtemple, Tivoli (2)

D. Cöllen, Forum Triangolare

D. Cöllen, Kapitolstempel 2008 (33)

Cork, not the county but the bark from the Cork Oak, always suggests to me the extremes of youth and age.  Youth, because of cork’s elasticity and flexibility; age, because of the way, especially in its untreated form, it looks dry and wrinkled.

When my friend Dieter Collen was searching for a material to build architectural models, his research brought him back to the 18th century, when souvenirs of ancient roman architecture were made of cork (Cork Oak  is grown all around the Mediterranean but particularly in Portugal and Spain). The souvenirs in the 1700s were bought up by wealthy English aristocrats who brought them home and set them down as centerpieces on their dining room tables.  And so a starting point for reminiscences about travels to the Mediterranean, along with tales of Amaretto and ancient civilizations.

Dieter has revived this forgotten craftsmanship, and his models have become not merely talking points for architects but art pieces by themselves. Each piece is made to scale, precisely following dimensions and accuracy of the ancient buildings, temple ruins, bridges or towers. But at the same time he elicits sentimental nuances form the tactile natural look of cork. If you look closely at his model of the Coliseum, you can actually hear the roaring crowd as the gladiators and the lions stalk each other. Each of his pieces conveys its signature ambiance.  And so if you lean close to the Great pyramid of Cheops you can hear Napoleon coming out of the Great Tomb trying to tell all of his astronomers, artists and astrologers, about his mystical experience. “No, what’s the use,” he reportedly said. “You would never believe me.”

My questions to Dieter:

In what era of history would you live if you could choose?
In the 4th dynasty (2500 BC) in Egypt as an architect for gardens and irrigation.

Where would you go if you had to leave right tonight to an unexpected vacation?
To our house in France near Cahors, having picnic with friends on the banks of the Lot.

What was the last great architectural object you saw, that makes you want to build the model of?    The destroyed Buddha statues of Bamian / Afghanistan, helping to rebuild this treasure as a symbol against stupidity of men.

Who inspires you the most?
Antonio Chichi, the Italian master of cork modeling in the 18th century.

Your favorite building of all the times?
The great Pyramid, because it is the only human construction where 25 000 people worked over 20 years together to reach at last one point at its top which was seen as the connection to universe.

Bar Agricole

I fell in love with Bar Agricole the first time I stepped in the place, and not just because of the way it’s been designed, and those heavenly cocktails, but because it evokes so many associations with where I came from.

As you know by now I live as much in the past as in the present.  Each is my parent.  Each tries to drag me away from the other.

And so yes, I admit it. The glass skylight sculpture takes me back to Trieste, to the feeling of those strong winds, the Bora, raging across the Adriatic through the Kras area. Sidewalks in Trieste have railings just so passengers don’t get blown away. Roofs of the houses are covered with extra bricks, so tiles don’t fly away.  It will take your mind if you’re not careful.

Incidentally, the skylights fixtures are made of a thousand fused tubes of clear glass, a masterpiece by Nikolas Weinstein. They appear like curtains blowing in the wind or air- dried laundry catching the wind, with the ever changing light hitting the fabrics and in this case, glass, a material that adds the most dramatic effect to the space. The skylights are surrounded on one side by a wood siding crafted from reclaimed whiskey-tanks that fold down behind the tables, like a wave of warm evening air following the winter coldness of the blowing glass.

Bar Agricole is a perfect mix of the old country and always inspiring California, the minimalistic and at same time dramatic interior, all designed and made by local artists, designers and craftsmen. Chairsbenches, even the waiters uniforms are designed by a local designers.

Steping into this eco-perfect tavern. designed by architects Aidlin-Darling, it’s like visiting a gourmet showcase of San Francisco Crafts and Design, with the perfect esthetics and there you are, sipping a seductive classic cocktail, shaken and stirred by the tavern owner, Thaddeus Vogler. The drinks are fresh and at the same time celebrate the old traditions of farmhouse distilling, mixed with fresh fruit, every sip dangerously delicious.

My father and my grandfather were masters of distilling plum brandy, which makes me respect and enjoy those beautiful cocktails all the more. Thank you Thaddeus Vogler for giving us the gift of locally made food, drinks, art and design. More please.


It was originally a Mormon Church, built in the upper Castro district before or after the earthquake of 1906; that’s not quite clear. Then it became a Methodist church. After that, in the early 1990s, it was converted into the city’s first gay and lesbian synagogue, Sha’ar Zahav. But then that community needed a larger space and sold the place to a young couple in 1997. They sold to a Doctor, who passed away and the house was sold to Joe and Rafael, San Francisco realtors, who share a passion for distinguished and unconventional buildings.

The new design is a perfect recast of the space with a sleek contemporary design, but at the same time, honoring the original architectural features, including the high roof, lined with beautiful wood paneling.

The interior decor includes Joe and Rafael’s collections of interesting objects, for instance, a group of old globes, of different sizes and colors, and placed in a compelling way, and as your eye wanders here and there, everything fits into the spirit of the place, literally and figuratively.

In the living room, where the apse used to be, there’s a fireplace. It makes for an interesting play on the relationship between the hopeful magic performed on the altar and the mysterious appeal of fire.  Both call together a community, and both you might argue suggest the fundamental principles of good design, which should enlighten, even provoke, and in some way always transform.

The front of the same room, where the nave used to be, is the dinning area, and again the interpretation is aligned with the original purpose.  After all, this is where the real celebration of life happens.

Altogether, it’s a fantastic merging of life and style, a space reinterpreted, a holy space no less, but recast with good intention. It reminds you that the real substance of a church is not the building or the symbols inside, but the people, themselves, the congregation, however you define that.

Interior Unfolded

Years ago, as an art history student, I used to spend long, languorous summers restoring frescos on the walls of centuries old churches. The sensible touch was all important. You had to be very careful not to tap too hard with your little scalpel, or brush the plaster too vigorously.  The work was all about precision, patience and taking pleasure in revealing and rediscovering…..

Which brings to mind the work of two major American artists, David Ireland and Ann Hamilton and their transformational art at the Headlands Center for the Arts located at Ft. Berry in the Marin headlands. These white painted army barracks, built in 1907, have been changed into an unexpected fine art.

Late conceptual artist David Ireland and his crew stripped  the military architectural structure down to expose historical layers, sandblasted the paint off the stamped-tin ceilings, pillars and walls. Using sandpaper and solvents they picked the paint off the beautiful stairwell, railings, and banisters. They stripped walls down to the original plaster and baseboards to their original wood. They sandblasted through layers and layers of color, stopping at the rich greens and ochres that are now visible.   Ireland’s work reminds me of how age sandblasts through the layers of memory: the most subtle smells from childhood. You travel to the past from one exposed level of paint to another.

I was very fortunate to get to know David Ireland  and to be invited to his home on Capp street while he was still alive. He was tall, with the white hair and he had a look from the past.He told me once that he use to have an African safari store, he looked like he could be safari guide or archeologist. David Ireland was an explorer, treating his home as an archaeological side, always trying to find secret of the past,taking pleasure in revealing and rediscovering…..

It is good to know that his San Francisco home on 500 Capp Street will reopen next year.

Pier 70 – Ghost town in San Francisco

The ghost towns in California are all but gone.  Here and there you still find remnants in the gold country, a few dusty streets and empty houses, or over the border in Nevada.  And for a moment you can still imagine what it must have been like, and even the romantic notions people must have had about living in such a place, and the promise of the coast in the far distance.

 I thought of ghost towns the other day in Pier 70, located just before the San Francisco world ends at the eastern industrial band and bay, the end of 20th Street and Illinois.

I have been fascinated with this part of San Francisco for years. It is a largely unknown ghost town in the very middle of the city.

You may remember that the city’s origins in the 1850s involved shipbuilding, much of which was centered in this area. It was a happening industrial spot that gradually extended to Dog Patch and parts of Potrero Hill.  And up until 40 years ago, Pier 70 bustled. I stand in the shadows and imagine life in the warehouse, the sound of the machinery and loud conversations. I am standing where thousands of workers clocked in each day and where many of the nation’s battleships were built, christened and launched.
Union Works Machine Shop, which later become Bethlehem Steel, thrived here. Their work force peaked in 1945 at around 25,000 workers.

Fencing, graffiti tagged, and riddled with broken windows, now off limits, vacant, surrounds most of these buildings.
Looking at the architecture that was once so magnificent, the industrial power of the machine age, it all makes me think how this empty place becomes anything your imagination takes you to. For example, the Union Works Power house reminds me of an old-fashioned dance hall with a big crystal chandelier. Such is the nature of haunted places.

But there is another gift here. The front door is a visual gift for admirers of the bohemian street artist, Hugh Leeman. He pained a mural, a portrait of “Benz”. It adds to the artistic value to my ghost town.  Remember also that this was one of the settings used by Alfred Hitchcock for Vertigo.
The Bethlehem Steel Office Building, designed in 1917 by San Francisco architect Fredrick H. Meyer, was used in the opening scene, where James Stewart meets an old friend and Hitchcock in his cameo is one of the passersby.

Yes, ghost town, street art, classic movies, machine-age era architecture and emptiness itself, meet here on Pier 70.

Oliver Ranch

I’ve been invited to visit Oliver Ranch a couple of times over the years; it is always a different experience, and yet the same sculptures, the same Northern California rolling hills, the same native oaks, never changing, there for centuries. But then on a long walk through the land you forget the sameness; suddenly, you find yourself in front of these sculptures that seem unseen, that always offer a fresh revelation.  And like the oaks and the hills they make you feel they have been there for centuries, not a mere 20 years.

The artists who come here, on a creative retreat as it were, must live on the ranch, experience the land and the result is born there on the spot. And it stays there, never to be moved, never to be sold. I deeply admire Steve and Nancy Oliver for that, for their vision and commitment to art and for sharing their collection with others.

All 18 installations on the land are poetic. They each tell a story, against the rhythm of the trees and hills around them. From a footprint in Miroslaw Balka’s childhood home in Poland, to Bruce Newman’s staircase sculpture….

And there is Ann Hamilton‘s Tower, where commissioned dance, poetry, theatre, and music performances take place. The Tower goes almost as far into the earth as it does into the air, with concrete piers driven deep into the ground and a large, thick concrete pad for the tower to rest upon. It’s open to the sky at the top, with a water cistern at the base.

I especially love Roger Barry’s steel bridge. On the summer and winter solstices, the shadow cast on the ground is only from its respective arch. On the spring and autumnal equinoxes, the shadow cast is exactly split by a strip of light that comes down through the center of the arch. The accuracy of this shadow split by the light is within one millimeter.

On the hike thru the hills you see other impressive sculptures by famous artists like Martin Puryear, Richard Serra, Terry Allen, Ellen Driscoll, Bill Fontana, Kristin Jones and Andrew Ginzel, Andy Goldsworthy, Dennis Leon, Jim Melchert, Fred Sandback, Judith Shea, Robert Stackhouse and Ursula Von Rydingsvard.

Artists invited to the ranch live in a studio designed by Jim Jennings. The studio is actually a pair of residential units framed by two concrete walls that provide an elongated surface on which David  Rabinowitch has carved an intricate design — in dialogue with Jennings’s architecture The two seemingly parallel poured-in-place concrete walls cut through the hill.  Whenever I am there I think how this would make such a perfect refuge.

Nine Houses

The other day a friend and I were sitting in the kitchen talking about this and that and the conversation lead to a place where my home is in Slovenia. I mentioned a village and I told him that is not big. “Well, but there must be a street,” he said. “There is no street,” I replied. “It is just nine houses and a church”.

And so I came to the name for a blog: Nine Houses. Each has some association, which I’ll share with you in time.

But the essence of this place is a paradox. On the one hand, the look of these houses and their gardens conveys serenity and restraint, the sensation of being at the far end of the world, completely removed from speed of any kind. Secure.

On the other hand, underneath: chaos, asymmetry, passions run amok. History. Here, you are equidistant between Venice and Alps. Between calm and calamity, between great refinement and the coarseness of it.

It’s the contradiction that’s interesting, and finally inspiring.


I am an interior designer, drawn to beauty in all its forms, especially in art, architecture and fashion. As a designer, I take my inspiration from my clients, and from what I find in the world.

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