Home & Garden

A vintage setting

Tuscany meets suburbia in Ron and Candace Calvert's wine-centric world in Cameron Park.

He makes wine.

She makes a rustic furniture line from the reclaimed staves of old wine barrels.

When you walk into their backyard -- with Ron's small vineyard to one side, its just- budding zinfandel and barbera vines winding upward onto fantastically sculptural bands of rebar that he twisted into shape -- you face the wine cellar they built into the hillside behind the house.

"If I had to do it over again," says Ron, an electrical engineer, "I'd buy a house that already had a wine cellar. It's easier to take a room in the basement and convert it to a wine cellar.

"This way, you're dealing with the same issues as building a house."

Those issues include not only the design, which Ron created with the help of a computer program, but also the plumbing, wiring and contracting -- and the fact that the project took longer and cost more than the Calverts expected.

What's more, says Candace: "They had to bring tractors in to excavate the hillside. It tore up the lawn."

"It's not like HGTV, where everything's done in a half-hour," says Ron.

Anyone who's tackled a home remodeling or construction project knows to expect the unexpected, after all.

The result is a thoroughly modern wine cave lined with cultured stone as well as modular redwood wine racks that can hold 800 bottles.

All home winemakers should have it so good: The space includes soapstone countertops, ceiling beams reclaimed from an old barn near Pleasant Valley, concrete floors stained shades of rust and terra cotta -- and a speaker system so Ron can listen to music while he's calibrating the chemistry for his jugs of wine.

"We come and hang out here in the summer," says Candace. "It's really cool."

"And at Christmas, we come to the wine cellar for a glass of port," says Ron.

He learned winemaking for his small operation courtesy of classes at Napa Community College and the UC Davis Extension, and he attends meetings of the El Dorado Home Winemakers club.

Going into his fifth season of growing grapes, he's already a veteran of rains that come too soon and, most of all, raccoons that come too often.

"We cover the vines with netting in the summer and put motion sensors out there," says Ron.

And the raccoons, clever little critters that they are, poke at the fruit through the netting so the grapes fall to the ground for easy gathering. Do not underestimate our raccoon friends. They lived in the foothills long before suburban interlopers came along.

Candace says her contribution to the house chiefly involves painting the walls, but that's hardly true. She has an eye for design, a knack for pulling together elements like her grandmother's old sewing table plus an assortment of pretty Ikea bed linens in the guest bedroom.

"I have a girlfriend who says my house is Pottery Barn," she says.

It has that look: plushly casual and comfortable, with great details such as an antique walnut armoire in the dining room and a tasteful array of subtle colors on the walls.

In the living room, a 1912 upright grand piano is paired with a sleekly curved new couch and comfy chairs.

"My parents refinished that piano 30 years ago," says Ron. "It's the one I grew up with, and it's an anchor. I've played since elementary school."

Throughout the house, Candace has changed out the lighting, much of the hardware and many of the plumbing fixtures -- an easy tip for anyone who wants to customize a new suburban house.

"I didn't like what the builder put in, even though this is a custom-built home," she says.

Over the deep soaking tub in the master bathroom, for example, she hung a punched metal Ikea chandelier.

Her recycled barrel stave furniture is marketed under the aegis of Chill Designs, a name that combines her first initial and her maiden name, Hill. The line includes an Adirondack chair, a side table, a bench and a wine rack.

"I saw an Adirondack chair made from barrel staves in a winery in Portland when I visited my father last year," she says. "I thought, 'That's neat. I can do that.' So we came up with a template and prototype, and away we went."

And so a former computer tech who worked for the state has become a furniture designer.

Between gaining an assortment of bacteria and losing the oak flavor they impart, wine barrels have a limited life span. So folks in wine-happy areas like Oregon and Napa -- and now, Cameron Park -- started making furniture from the wood staves of the old barrels.

"They're sturdy," says Candace. "And they're heavy-duty. This is a great way to recycle barrels."