The Halter Ranch farmhouse in Paso Robles is a Victorian revamp

Combining modern upgrades with attention to authentic detail has created a livable guest house, rich in local history

rajuretic@sbcglobal.netMay 7, 2014 

In 1885, Adelaida was a bustling town due to its prolific mercury mines. The house at what is now Halter Ranch Vineyard was built then. Over a century later, both the region and the house are experiencing a renaissance — this time, thanks to the wine industry.

The 2,000-acre ranch was purchased by Swiss entrepreneur Hansjoerg Wyss in 2000 from the MacGillivray family, who had owned the property for two generations. Wyss expanded the vineyard on the property, established a winery and tasting room, and set about reviving the aging Victorian. His goal was to reinvent the family residence as a luxurious private guest house.

Vineyard project manager Leslie Wyss (no relation to Hansjoerg) oversaw the renovation. She worked with Mike Peachey of MW Architects and general contractor Jerry Williams of JW Design & Construction.

Structural improvements included replacing a loose rock foundation and updating both electrical and plumbing systems.

Before 1943, the house had been expanded to include a new kitchen. Leslie Wyss and her team added a laundry room, powder room and basement, bringing the total house size to around 4,000 square feet. They raised a portion of the roof to turn a cramped attic room into a spacious master suite. All new additions were toward the rear of the house.

“The view from the road didn’t change at all,” she said.

The interior needed a complete overhaul due to extensive water damage. The crew installed new drywall and plaster. They rebuilt the crumbling fireplaces. A prior combination of wood and carpet was replaced with hickory flooring.

“A lower-grade hickory was chosen, which has knots and color differentiation, which we thought had a rustic look that we liked,” Wyss said.

Whenever possible, they preserved original details of the home, such as exterior gingerbread trim, the front door and several windows, including three stained-glass windows at the front of the house. They refinished and reused all of the original ornate filigree door hardware that remained.

Other original features were faithfully replicated. Woodwork, including doors and interior moldings, was milled onsite to match originals. Redwood siding was milled at a shop in San Luis Obispo. The mantel for the sitting room was fabricated with intricate carvings that match the original front door. They found tile for the fireplace surrounds that is similar to the home’s original tile, purchased from Totally Tile in Paso Robles.

Wyss designed the interior to “create a rustic look in a comfortable, modern home,” she said. Although she wanted a vintage look, she chose all new furnishings.

“Victorian furnishings tend to be quite uncomfortable,” she said.

The style of the house is transitional, combining a few contemporary pieces with clean-lined vintage or farmhouse items for a simple yet sophisticated look. The four bedrooms, each with its own private bath, are spare and serene with the focus on luxurious bedding. In common areas, the goal was to create appealing conversation spaces. This called for plenty of comfortable seating, including slip-covered rockers in the living room and leather club chairs flanking the fireplace in the sitting room.

The house is used frequently for entertaining, so the kitchen is the hub of the house. The foundation for the kitchen is classic Shaker cabinetry built by J.A. Hunter Custom Cabinetry of San Luis Obispo. Wyss chose soapstone for the countertops and integrated sink.

“It can be a little soft, but it’s a beautiful, rustic, old-fashioned look,” she said.

She asked a professional chef to help lay out the kitchen “for maximum efficiency.” Amenities include a freestanding range with six burners and two extra-wide ovens that fit professional sheet pans. The commercial refrigerator had to be specially fitted into the cabinetry. The bar has an ice maker and prep sink. Alongside the regular dishwasher is a commercial glass washer for the abundance of wine glasses used by guests.

The massive butcher block-topped center island offers enough prep space for an army of cooks. Underneath, concealed by wood fronts, are several appliances tailor-made for entertaining, including two warming drawers and two freezer drawers.

Guests have two dining options. They can gather around the custom-built trestle table that seats up to 14 when leaves are installed. Wyss encircled it with farmhouse chairs painted in alternating hues of red and yellow for a hint of whimsy. Or, in good weather, guests can dine outdoors on the picnic table made from redwood salvaged during the renovation.

For large gatherings, the picnic table comes indoors. Or the hosts create impromptu dining spaces in other rooms. To Wyss, flexibility is the key to successful entertaining. “Nothing in the house is so huge that it can’t be moved around,” she said, adding that consistency in style allows a host to move items from room to room and still maintain a cohesive look.

The renovation wrapped up in 2003. Since then, the Victorian has seen a multitude of guests, family-style dinners and sizable shindigs. Wyss is glad this sleepy family home is getting its fair share of attention.

“It’s fun to share with people,” she said. “Guests love seeing how we’ve maintained the look and feel of an older home, but haven’t sacrificed amenities.”


The Paso Robles American Association of University Women (AAUW) will hold its annual Home Tour from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday.

Tickets are $25 and available at Blenders, 538 12th St. in Paso Robles, or by contacting Bev Howe at 239-1817. On the day of the tour, tickets are available at the Victorian at Halter Ranch, which is next to the tasting room, 8910 Adelaida Road in Paso Robles.

Proceeds go toward scholarships for local graduating seniors and returning women students.

In addition to the Halter Ranch Victorian, the homes on the tour are:

Rolph Home

The farmhouse-style residence of John and Elizabeth Rolph, built in the late 1990s, is energy-efficient and fits harmoniously within the surrounding landscape. The Rolphs have added gardens and orchards as well as photovoltaic solar panels. The home is accented with decorative rugs and fine art. A separate guest house echoes the architectural theme of the main house.

Merrill Home

Dana and Marsha Merrill of Pomar Junction Winery purchased their Victorian-style ranch house in 2012 and performed extensive remodeling. They preserved murals by artist Steven Kalar. New features include creative tile work and handcrafted cabinets. Each bedroom is decorated in its own eclectic theme. The house has a wrap-around porch that overlooks an infinity lagoon pool, an outdoor barbecue area, a tennis court, and a spa with waterfalls.

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