When Phillip Hart and Mary Morwood Hart began planning their custom house, they made a pact.
“We agreed we were not going to stress and argue,” said Mary. “We were building our forever home, so we wanted it to be a very enjoyable experience.”
This was an ambitious goal, partly because the change in residence accompanied a major change in lifestyle. The couple previously lived in Orange County, where they ran their family floor-covering store. In 2000, they purchased 42 acres in Templeton with plans to begin a commercial winery.
They kept their pact in mind when searching for an architect. After talking with Stephen King of Paso Robles, they hired him without viewing a single example of his work.
“We liked him when we met him and we didn’t want to work with someone we couldn’t see eye-to-eye with,” said Mary.
The couple wanted the architecture of the home to be eclectic and one-of-a-kind. King designed a 4,600-square-foot, crescent-shaped structure with varied rooflines and angles.
“Being in the floor covering business and dealing with high-end homes, we didn’t want our house to look like so many of the houses we’ve seen,” noted Mary.
They had a few specific requests. They modeled the size and floor plan of the master bedroom after a permanent tent hotel they had stayed at in India. Phillip always wanted a regulation-sized snooker table, which is larger than a standard pool table. The couple and their now-5-year-old son Bede are also avid readers. So they built a snooker room/library that has a traditional raised seating alcove so that onlookers have a better view of the game.
With a winery business and large families out of state, the couple knew they would be host to a constant stream of guests. So they geared much of the house toward entertaining. The home is basically one large open space with no hallways, which is conducive to their social lifestyle.
“We didn’t want to create a house with lots of places to go hide, so there’s no gym or TV room,” Mary explained.
With size not a hindrance, the couple planned out spaces to suit their lifestyle. Guest rooms are generously sized, as are bathrooms. They built a 240-square-foot wine cellar below their main living area. They even designed an indoor shower specifically for their dogs, who like to romp in the muddy vineyard.
The outdoor spaces are an extension of the house. Every guest room has access to an outdoor area, and the great room has glass doors that fold completely out of the way, connecting it with the back patio and pool area.
“We spend the summers dining outside, and in the winter, we just kind of nestle in front of the fire,” said Mary.
Both Mary and Phillip, who is a trained chef, spend a lot of time in the kitchen. So they outfitted it with a commercial-style refrigerator, large pantry, and four ovens including their Aga cast iron oven/cooktop. Four drawer-style dishwashers allow them to run separated loads such as dishes, cookware and wineglasses. A large bar that seats eight is ideal for parties.
Although the interior has the feel of a contemporary farmhouse, the couple layered in an eclectic array of materials. They learned in their floor covering business that combining color and pattern is nothing to fear.
“People walk in with paint chips and fabric swatches and want everything to match perfectly,” said Mary. “We’ve learned that you can have very different rugs next to one other, and that adds a new dimension.”
Through their business, they have access to handmade floor coverings. They installed wool and silk blend rugs from Nepal as wall-to-wall carpeting. Some were custom-designed, such as the carpet on their stairs, which is a striped pattern worn by Tibetan women that signifies they are married. Even with a young child, two large dogs and many guests, they did not hesitate to use high-end flooring.
“They’re works of art, but they also withstand a lot of traffic and wear and tear,” said Mary.
The couple likes the warmth of wood. They had all of their doors custom made by Pacific Millworks in Atascadero, including their Arts & Crafts inspired mahogany and copper double Dutch front door, which allows them to take advantage of cooling breezes. The floor in their great room is Indian teak. Other surfaces sport a rainbow of wood tones, most purchased from Mayan Hardwood in Paso Robles.
“We just walked in and picked out slabs that appealed to us,” said Mary, noting that the couple agreed easily on nearly every decision.
Display nooks are lined in zebra wood. The laundry room sports boldly hued purple heart. Bathroom countertops are American walnut. And the kitchen countertops are wenge, an exotic, dark wood that the couple left unvarnished, finished simply with a foodgrade oil-based rub.
“We wanted wood on the counters because it’s softer, considering how much we cook and deal with wine glasses,” said Mary. “Marble and limestone are just not our style — they’re too cold.”
Like the house, the couple’s furniture is eclectic. They brought with them several modern pieces, but mixed them with antiques such as their early 19th century dining table. Form is just as important as function. Their Roche Bobois leather couches have backs that flip down so that they can be sat upon from behind when guests want to face the kitchen.
The Harts acted as owner-builders, living on the property in a 600-squarefoot house during the 18 months of construction. Still, they managed to keep a good attitude toward each other and the project.
Their vow to look at the big picture extends to the vineyards, which are certified organic and biodynamic. They moved into their home in 2007, and their winery opened in 2009. Its name, AmByth Estate, is Welsh for “forever.”
“It’s symbolic of what we’ve done here,” said Mary. “We’re farming consciously and we built a house here that we hope to enjoy for the rest of our lives.”