Diving In

California Home + Design | Spring 2013

By Mary Jo Bowling

San Francisco interior designer Jay Jeffers and creative director Michael Purdy had been together 10 years, but looking at their agenda for 2012, one might have wondered if they would make it to 11.

Last year, the pair decided to tackle two of the most stress-inducing (and relationship-ruining) activities there are: completely remodeling a home (a modest ranch-style house in St. Helena) and starting their own business (Cavalier by Jay Jeffers, a fine home-goods store in San Francisco).

The St. Helena house had been purchased three years ago, and the decision was driven by the weather. “I was working on Wine Country houses for clients,” remembers Jeffers, “and I couldn’t help but notice how, as I drove north, it warmed up considerably—sometimes by 30 degrees. I loved the scenery and I started craving a place of my own up there.”

With Purdy on board with the plan, they started searching in Sonoma and Napa counties. “Our goal was simple,” says Jeffers. “We wanted a place where we could completely relax and where we could walk or ride our bikes to bars and restaurants.” They found these things in a 1962 ranch house close to the St. Helena shopping district. It was the kind of place only an interior designer looking for a big project could love. “I didn’t think it had much to it, but Jay had a vision,” says Purdy of the then-dated home. “But it did have room for a pool, which was on my wish list. While we were still looking, our real estate agent started calling it the Pool House, and the name stuck.”

“The original house didn’t have a lot of character,” says Jeffers. “But it was in our price range, and it had a big yard and a vineyard view—of someone else’s vines, which was great because we didn’t want a lot to take care of.” Within weeks the couple sealed the deal, cleaned up the place, performed some minor cosmetic improvements (“putting lipstick on a pig” as Jeffers describes it) and started enjoying their weekend digs.

Several months later, while he was having lunch with Shay Zak of Zak Architecture, Jeffers was astounded when the architect started describing a remodel in St. Helena. Whipping out his phone, Jeffers showed Zak the photos he had taken of the very same project. He decided to hire him to help transform another house just blocks away—his own. “I have redecorated many homes for myself, including a Eureka Valley place I redid three different times,” says Jeffers. “But I had never undertaken the challenge of remodeling my own home down to the bones.” Purdy was dubious. “I questioned the timing,” he says. “At first, it seemed a bit crazy to undertake all of it at once.”

Photography: Matthew Millman