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Family First
House & Garden, May 2004

Drive two hours north of San Francisco, beyond the wine country of casual elegance, and you come to where rural gets real. The air smells of bay trees, wood smoke, and cow. You rumble across a roaring creek, creep along a grassy track, and blink at the exuberant red ranch house, all windows and welcome.

“It’s the wrong shade of red, but don’t tell my brother, says Celia Tejada, who has used at least eight shade of red – so far – in the house she owns with her brother, Ivo.
“She is impossible, impossible to work with,” he confides as Celia stands within earshot. “Impossible.”

This lifelong bantering started a world away, in Ruerrero, a Spanish farm town known for making goat cheese. Here in northern California, Celia, the senior vice president for design and product development at Pottery Barn, is designing Tejada Ranch, an 82-acre weekend place for herself; her two children; Ivo, a Bay Area contractor; his wife, Nina; and their two children. “My house is for me, my family, and my friends,” says Celia, who credits Ivo’s “hands of gold” for realizing her sketches. “Everybody has a work in it. And I do it for the joy of playing with the space.”

Celia and Ivo wanted a retreat where they could instill the values of their village in their children. When he found the property in 1999, she knew that it had the potential to be magic. Bounded by creeks and a river, the land includes steep hills with a ribbon waterfall, woods, pasture, fruit and nut trees, and stands of weeping silver birch and cypress around the house. But, oh, the house. Built in the ’70s, it had low ceilings, small rooms, and little light. Fortunately, it also had the bones to support change.

Just inside the main entry is a gallery – the Spanish version of a New England mudroom – with a vaulted ceiling and an easy-to-clean cement floor. Private space, including all the bedrooms except Celia’s, is to the left; to the right is public space that celebrates the love of family, friends, good food and conversation.

The roof, with beams running below, is now the ceiling of the 25-by-45 foot main room. Six sets of French doors make the space feels as if it were walled in glass. At one end of the room the dominant feature in an elevated, custom-designed sofa pit that faces a grandly rustic fireplace. The sofa absorbs all comers, who nap, read, or watch movies on the wall-mounted screen; the sofa back has an extended lip that serves as a table for art or craft projects. Mid-room is the dining area, with a long table made of planks atop big-wheeled industrial restaurant preparation tables. Beyond is the spacious cooking area that Celia designed.

She turned the former garage into her bedroom, which has a wall of red, a fireplace, and a freestanding bathtub next to a wall of French doors. At some point the space will become the boys’ bunkhouse, and Celia will move into an addition yet to be built.
This is a place of practical whimsy, inside and out. Ivo’s vintage Dodge flatbed – blue sculpture doubling as machinery – serves as the bar for outdoor dinners. Hay bales provide seating. Candle-filled chandeliers hang from pulleys on tree limbs. The chicken coop has eight nesting areas, each painted a different color, a touch that fails to quiet African fowl that defend the place against rattlesnakes. Eight garden beds – one for each family member, plus one for guests – are filled with vegetables.

Ivo and a friend from Ruerrero are remodeling the barn. They envision a space for family festivals, cooking, dining, movies, and performances. Beyond are the vineyards of Spanish varietals that have already produced several vintages. “Ivo planted the vineyard with great love,” Celia says.

They want to make the retreat self-sufficient. Already the children gather eggs daily. Celia envisions olive trees and pressing own olive oil. Alberto Solis, a family friend who deals in specialty foods, is investigating the potential for walnut oil. Pigs, cows, and horses will join the dogs and cats already in residence. “This is,” Celia says, “a work in progress.” Ivo rolls his eyes.