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Dish of the Week........ In the Gallery

Wednesday at the Barn

Dish of the Week

The Cheese Course

The Cheese Course at Barndiva is the perfect way to spend an afternoon in the gardens with a glass of wine, but we love to  serve it as they do in Europe, after the salad course and just before (or in lieu of) dessert. With due respect to local sourcing we have always searched far and wide when it comes to serving artisan cheeses. It's important to keep age old cheese making traditions alive wherever you find them, and cheese is one of the few things you can enjoy that most truly reflects the taste of the land where an animal has grazed.  A goat cheese by any other name does not taste the same! When we do source locally, we often return to Cowgirl Creamery, who in addition to importing artisan cheeses from all over the world produce their own exquisite selections. Mt. Tam Cheese is a soft cow's milk cheese made from organic milk produced in Marin County.  It has a bloomy rind, a firm buttery texture and is aged about 3 weeks.

Our favorite condiment to eat with cheese is pure honeycomb.  Hector's Honey is produced just a few miles from our restaurant.

In Spring we pair cheese with bright fruit: a slice of kumquat, rhubarb, delicate citrus, and edible flowers. This week Chef lightly poached field rhubarb in a touch of grenadine bitters to help the natural red 'pop' a bit.

We caramelize walnuts to balance the earthiness of the cheese and the tartness of kumquat, rhubarb and citrus. We add, as a final grace note, yellow blue and russet pansies from our garden.

In the Gallery

Manok is a local talent who has been painting in Sonoma for over a decade, but while she truly captures the bucolic heart of the gently rolling landscapes that surround us, it's easy to see traces of a nomadic life that took her from Laos, where she was born, to Paris, where she worked for Kenzo for many years. It's something in the way she can make the most normal forest, field or river feel exotic, using a range of colors imbued with light that brings Turner to mind. Yes, her skies are that remarkable. Layered texture comes from exclusive use of a pallet knife, but the sly sense of humor she brings to the natural order of the universe is, we suspect, all her own. In addition to the work we have on view in the gallery, her work can be seen in Diavolo Restaurant in Geyserville.



Raising the Barn

(originally posted November 17, 2010)

Ever wondered what it looks like above Barndiva? Here's your chance. Great images and recipes by Chef Ryan accompany the article by Sarah Lynch in California Home + Design Magazine.

Raising the Barn: An International Aesthetic Meets the Best of Wine Country's Heartland

Photo credit:

Photography by Drew Kelly and Brad Gillette

LEFT: Studio Barndiva’s eclectic offerings include local artwork and imported accessories, but the blue fireplace—adorned with a Magritte-worthy “It is not a fireplace”—makes it clear that visitors can always expect a surprise. TOP RIGHT: Jil and Geoffrey Hales built their barn (right) from scratch.

The perfect evening out brings together three elements: a delicious meal, a warm atmosphere and lively conversation. For Jil Hales, the proprietor of Healdsburg’s Barndiva restaurant, the bar is set significantly higher because the bar is where it all began.

“We came to Healdsburg eight years ago, after raising our kids in the U.K. and living in San Francisco for a few years,” says Hales, a Los Angeles native married to Geoffrey, a Brit, who brought his hardwood flooring company to the U.S. “What this town was missing was a world-class bar—a place to get a cocktail and a bite to eat late at night.”

LEFT: The kitchen island in the pied-à-terre was fitted with fluorescent lighting and colored gels as a prototype for the restaurant bar. RIGHT: A farm-worthy monitor, painted salmon pink, in the center of the ceiling will one day be accessed by a catwalk.

While the Hales were dividing their time between London and a fruit farm in Anderson Valley that Jil has owned for 30 years, they bought a property just off the town square in Healdsburg and built a two-story barn from the ground up. Downstairs, the bar and restaurant serve the best cocktails in town and an ever-evolving menu of farm-to-table dishes. Upstairs is the Hales’ pied-à-terre. Acting as general contractor and chief designer of the barn was an all-encompassing project, and Jil lived up to the nickname her friends had given her when she first moved to Anderson Valley: the Barn Diva.

Adapting the name to her new venture, Jil’s restaurant suitably hits a few high notes. From the outside, the building suggests a familiar rural vernacular—it’s a single structure with richly stained board-and-batten siding. Inside, the towering space is a sophisticated mix of travertine floors, wood tables, a colorfully lit bar and cream-colored walls adorned with modern art and antique farming tools. Out back, an enclosed garden is set with tables, big rustic sculptures and a trickling water feature; overhead mulberry trees are draped with twinkling fairy lights and a heritage black walnut offers dappled shade during the day.

FROM LEFT: The Cor-Ten steel and neon lights in Barndiva’s sign hint at the owners’ modern sensibilities; Studio Barndiva represents local artists such as painter Laura Parker and wire sculptor Ismael Sanchez; floor-to-ceiling drapes, formal flower arrangements and streamlined drum shades are just some of the sophisticated designs Jil chose for the restaurant; before coming to Barndiva

The pied-à-terre upstairs, which is accessed through the front door tucked alongside the restaurant’s entry patio and up a Dan Flavin-esque staircase with rainbow fluorescent risers, is even more of a surprise. It feels like a loft in Tribeca rather than a barn apartment in Sonoma County. The voluminous main room is centered on an oval dining table surrounded by red leather Eames Executive chairs. On one side a 16-foot-long kitchen island is topped with another fluorescent-lit bar (the prototype for the bar downstairs). The kitchen itself is an updated take on the European unfitted kitchen, with open storage, several sinks and a formidable black-enamel Lacanche range. A built-in bar adorned with Jil’s favored Tunisian ironwork, more classic midcentury furniture and artwork collected from around the world complete the scene in the main space. On one end is a guest bedroom and office mezzanine, and on the other is a master suite.

Two-and-a-half years after completing the barn, the restaurant was bustling on evenings and weekends, and Jil was ready to raise the bar even higher. The Hales’ life in Healdsburg had become increasingly focused on the community around them as they supported local vintners and farmers. But Jil’s passion for art and design needed an outlet, and the four walls of the restaurant were filled. So in 2007 she opened a gallery next door in a space that was formerly an opera house. Artists & Farmers, as it was originally called (now Studio Barndiva), was a place to celebrate and sell the art and designs she discovered locally or on her many travels. On display is an assemblage of Hales’ own lighting made from Tunisian architectural salvage along with locally crafted paintings, wire sculptures, blown glass, reclaimed wood furniture, imported gifts and accessories. “I don’t want to show things that can be easily found somewhere else,” says Hales, pointing out one exception: aselection of John Derian back-painted glass plates. “I know he’s in lots of other shops, but he’s a friend.”

LEFT TO RIGHT: The restaurant’s back patio features pendants that Jil fashioned from Tunisian window guards; fluorescent lights show up at the bar, where a circular backlit inset mimics the two round windows at the top of the building; the entrance to the private residence is marked by a dramatic glowing staircase; the weather in Healdsburg makes it ideal for outdoor wedding receptions.

Behind the gallery is yet another garden. This one is filled with raised vegetable beds, outdoor sculpture and a table large enough to seat 200 under an armature designed for a canopy of mini-globe lights. Like the garden on the other side of the fence, the setup begs for a modern country wedding and it’s been a popular spot for such events since it opened. In fact, Geoffrey and the couple’s eldest son, Lukka, run Barndiva’s event and hospitality business, and they’re now averaging 60 weddings a year. The Hales have also taken over management of the nearby Healdsburg Modern Cottages, four nightly cottages authentically furnished with pieces by Eileen Gray, George Nelson, and Ray and Charles Eames.

LEFT: The humble facade of Barndiva belies the stylish elegance of the experience inside. RIGHT: An outdoor area behind the gallery is attached to the restaurant’s garden through a gate and is a popular spot for wedding receptions.

In her mission to open a world-class bar in this sleepy town, Jil has elevated the creation of the perfect evening to an art form. “I went for the type of environment where I would want to share a meal or toast a special occasion with friends,” she says. “If something doesn’t come from the heart, it just doesn’t work. If you’re not authentic, you’re running on fumes.”

Sitting under twinkling lights, as a parade of seasonal dishes made by Thomas Keller–trained chef Ryan Fancher, original cocktails and wine selected by the in-house sommelier passes by, it would be hard to argue against that.

Recipes from Barndiva’s Chef Ryan Fancher

Both of these recipes make the most of fruit and vegetables in late summer or early autumn, when ingredients are at the height of their season. They are great dishes to source at a local farmers market.

Barndiva’s Heirloom Tomato & Compressed Watermelon Salad Serves 4

1 medium watermelon 1 tsp. lemon verbena 1 large golden beet 1 large Detroit dark-red beet 6 heirloom tomatoes 2 Tbsp. sweet basil 4 Tbsp. Spanish sherry vinaigrette Salt and freshly ground pepper 1 cup purslane (optional) 2 Tbsp. crystallized ginger, diced 2 red radishes

Spanish Sherry Vinaigrette 1 cup grape seed oil 1/3 cup Spanish sherry vinegar A pinch of salt, sugar and freshly ground pepper

The Watermelon - The night before or a few hours before serving, cut into large cubes and sprinkle with the chopped lemon verbena. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate. • The Beets - Cover with 2 cups water, 1 Tbsp. butter, 1 clove garlic and a sprig of thyme. Cover and cook at 350° for 3 hours. Cool and slice. • The Heirloom Tomatoes - Slice them thickly and mix them in with the chopped sweet basil. In a bowl, whisk together all of the ingredients for the vinaigrette. Bathe the tomatoes in 4 tablespoons of the vinaigrette for 30 minutes or more. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. • Assemble - Stack the tomatoes, largest one on the bottom. Arrange the watermelon. Dress the beets in the bathing vinaigrette, season with salt and pepper, and plate. Sprinkle ginger and thinly sliced radishes over the dish. Dress the purslane, and add it to the dish to finish.   

Herb-Roasted Local Halibut Serves 4

8 baby artichokes 2 Tbsp. canola oil 4 cloves garlic 2 springs rosemary Salt and pepper 20 fava beans 1 zucchini 1 gold bar squash 5 lbs. Roma tomatoes 15 Toy Box cherry tomatoes 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil 4 6-oz. halibut filets 1 Tbsp. butter 1 cup tempura batter 4 squash blossoms

Tempura batter 1/2 cup flour Corn starch 1 tsp. baking powder 1/2 cup sparkling water Salt

The Baby Artichokes - Peel the outside layers to reveal the heart. In a hot pan, roast the artichokes with canola oil, garlic and rosemary until soft. Season with salt and pepper. • The Fava Beans - Peel the favas, and cook them in boiling salted water for one minute. Let cool. • The Summer Squash - Cut the zucchini and squash into diamond shapes, and cook them just like the fava beans. • Vierge sauce - Puree the tomatoes, and strain the clear liquid from the tomatoes through a clean kitchen towel. In a saucepan over medium heat, reduce the liquid by half, and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle extra virgin olive oil. • Halibut - In a hot sauté pan, sear the fish until golden brown, being careful to not overcook. Baste with butter, garlic and rosemary. • Assemble - Pool the sauce in a bowl or shallow plate. Arrange the vegetables in the sauce, and nestle the halibut in the middle. In a bowl, mix the tempura batter’s ingredients, and dress the blossom lightly with the tempura batter. Fry in  350° oil until golden, and place on top of fish.

By Sarah Lynch on October 04, 2010 at 3:13 PM


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Knowing More and More, About Less and Less

(originally posted August 25, 2010) Every year when the kids were little we marked the official end of summer with a blowout weekend at the Mendocino County Apple Fair, held in Boonville. Saturday night we went on all the rides and ate junk ‘til our sides ached; Sunday morning, usually with a strange assortment of hung-over house guests in tow, we somehow managed to slide into the old wooden stands at the fairgrounds with a minute to spare before Guido Pronsolino welcomed the crowd to the start of Sheep Dog Trials. Remember the movie Babe? No animated pig in sight, but the same loyalty, patience, and hushed nail-biting tension ~ even better when it happens in real time.

The County Fair ended up being a hyper version of the pen marks we made on the door frame to show how fast the kids had grown: no sooner did we let go of their hands for a second to reach for the caramel corn than they were shouting over their shoulders, we’ll call you on the cell when we’re ready to leave, disappearing into the fairground crowds just as a few years later they would disappear into their own lives. But hell, that was bound to happen. At least the memories we were making were good ones.

To this day Boonville puts on a proper fair with a parade, a rodeo, sheep dog trials, pie eating contests, a fairground full of rickety (thus exceptionally thrilling) rides, and large exhibition halls filled with every variety of crop grown and animal raised in the county, all spit polished and groomed to what contestants hope is an award winning shine. It was in those 4-H buildings one summer that I first began to understand what a mutually dependent relationship between a farm animal and a human could look like, and where it starts in a young person. You haven’t lived until you’ve spent time with a bright eyed nine year old wearing a green sash who speaks with the authority of someone who can put food on the table.

Growing up in a big city all I’d ever known was the social relationship people have with their pets, starting with the BFF status we invariably confer on them. The relationship between those young future farmers and their animals was different. These were kids who cared for their animals from birth with a matter-of-fact understanding of just how they fit into a farming family’s dynamic. As far as I was concerned the blue ribbons weren’t awards for how perfectly they groomed their animals but for all those early mornings and late nights they’d swept and cleaned and cared for them like their lives depended upon it, which, once upon a time, it did.

The Sebastopol Gravenstein Apple Fair isn’t associated with 4-H ~ it’s just a wonderful community event now in its 100th year with the big green heart of a Gravenstein apple, which Sebastopol, with the help of Slow Food, is trying to bring back from the verge of extinction. So I wasn’t expecting a real county fair experience when I set out to go two weeks ago with a group of friends. We wanted to hear great bluegrass by John Youngblood & Company and eat Gravensteins to excess. We scored on both counts: Just as the sun came out John played an incredible set on a stage beneath a giant canopy of spreading oak trees. We ate apple pie, apple fritters, and (in my case, at least) drank copious amounts of hard cider. We saw a display of very old tractors and tried out ingenuous farm tools that had never been patented (some, like the recumbent bike that cut useless roundels out of redwood trees, for obvious reasons). It wasn’t until a much needed trip to the port-a-potties sent me to the furthest corner of the fairgrounds that I found that animals had, in fact, been invited to the party.

Sebastopol is not deep country, not anymore, so it was understandable that the animals on display weren’t many, but it was hard to miss the fact that not one of them would ever end up on the dinner table anywhere. There were cashmere sheep with Jean Tierney eyes, llamas groomed like large exquisite poodles, and miniature donkeys that had been saved from a coal mine ~ I’m assuming somewhere far from Sebastopol. Had I inadvertently stumbled upon the Jonathan Safran-Foer collection of farm animals?

Safran-Foer, in case you somehow missed it last year, is the author of Eating Animals, a passionate and highly personal rant on why he believes the human diet should not contain animal proteins. Safran-Foer is a wonderful writer ~ Everything Is Illuminated, his first book, was a tour de force ~ but in Eating Animals he bullies the reader in much the same way a Jehovah Witness arrives at your door with the ‘either/or’ option of accepting their version of religion or going to hell in a handbag. I have no doubt that expanding one’s vegetable diet would be good for the planet, if not for our health, but there is a big difference between making the decision not to eat animal proteins and an insistence that everyone else make the same commitment ~ which would mean, by extension, that we stop raising animals for food.

Michael Pollan tackles many of the same issues In Defense of Food as Safran-Foer does in Eating Animals, but manages to reach an inclusive endgame ~ he believes that through shared community values that directly effect the marketplace we can still make profound changes in the way food is produced in this country. The first step is to become more thoughtful eaters. The little I managed to read of Safran-Foer’s book struck me as guilt driven, written by a man so petrified by the idea of raising healthy children in a messed up world (and who isn’t) he’s gone into the wall building business: this side of the wall (vegetarians only) is good, that side (the rest of us) is bad. It’s the kind of thinking that can only serve a divisive agenda, creating antagonistic groups of people who, while they certainly differ on eating habits should be waging the same war when it comes to fighting for respectful, responsible stewardship of the earth. Talk about throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Even if we put aside the case that the human race is predisposed to being carnivorous ~ we ignore at our peril that we have only made it this far in history by a profound reliance upon domesticated animals. A lot has gone wrong with that seminal relationship in the last century, starting with the way we treat animals in the corporate food system that by and large replaced them with machines. But if we can find our way back to it, a culture of mindful animal husbandry holds many answers to the real complexity of farming well. And, as Wendell Berry writes in so many of his wonderful books, there is real complexity to farming well.

Look, there’s little doubt that dependence on machine based agriculture and overdependence on the chemicals their use has engendered has lead us to where we are today ~ mired in the wrong kind of shit, the kind that fertilizes nothing. But the historic relationship between farmer and animal, which should be built upon respect born out of mutual dependence, goes hand in hand with a natural cycle that could provide a roadmap to re-claiming ecological (and quite possibly psychological) health. The widespread soil erosion, toxicity and decay we’ve seen with the rise of mono-culture mega-farms that have proliferated in the last fifty years have gone hand and hand with the destruction of our rural communities, the direct result of not having what Berry’s friend Wes Jackson calls the “right ratio of eyes to acres.” These are issues that cannot be addressed in any meaningful way if we eliminate the central dynamic of personal farming that has animals at its center.

I had a good time at the Sebastopol Gravenstein Apple Fair with my friends, but I left feeling like it was a bit of a lost opportunity. County Fairs have the potential to embody two essential American traits we are fast losing: inventiveness and the ability to admire accomplishment based on hard work, not luck or the hubris that often comes with fame. Walking around a crowd-filled fairground isn’t the same as walking around a crowded mall ~ the mall is a sales construct that teaches us nothing, it exists with the sole purpose of selling a false sense of security. Programmed to replicate the same controlled experience over and over again, all it can inspire is a faster technological response to a shrinking list of stimuli. When are we going to wake up and see that all technology has thus far afforded us is the ability to know more and more about less and less?

A County Fair is an opportunity to have a unique experience with people you can choose to recognize as your community. It’s about hand-grown food, and hand-made craft. Not all of it’s good, of course, but if you don’t like the apple pie at one stand, there is another one a few steps away touting a different family’s recipe. Pies at small County Fairs aren’t flavor profiled by a chemist in some food lab a thousand miles away, their taste testing was done in kitchens like yours just up the road where dogs and kids wander in and out and the oven door has a loose hinge. No doubt every generation had added something to the mix, but they still call it Grandma’s Recipe because, at heart, it still is.

With or without the kids, I’m going to the Boonville Fair this year. I long for that smell of hay with a hint of cow manure you get the minute you step out of the car, full moon rising, into the big field that serves as a parking lot and head off towards the fairy lights of the fairground. At some point the smell of cotton candy takes over, but it’s nice to get a whiff of the real smell of a place, before that overlay of sugar kicks in.

LINK The Mendocino County Apple Fair in Boonville is September 17-19th. Rodeo is Saturday Night. Sheep Dog Trials start at 10 am Sunday.

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Introducing Studio Barndiva... almost

(originally posted march 27, 2010) For someone who’s pretty much obsessed with taste ~ the food and drink varieties ~ 
ironically that’s not the taste I’m asked about all the time. More than any single dish people have enjoyed in the restaurant, or single object they’ve purchased in the shop, it's been the overall aesthetic of Barndiva and the Studio ~ the way everything is put together in both buildings ~ that has generated the greatest force field of interest over the years.

With respect to the shop, we’ve even had clients who buy a whole mixed media wall to get what they call “the look,” or “the effect.” I know I have a talent for design, but the overwhelming response to the mise en place of our lives has lead me to suspect that something else is operating here beyond expansive admiration. A clue can be found in the oft heard refrain from those customers who don’t just look around and take a picture of Artists & Farmers like it's some Disneyland of Design, but actually step up & buy something: “I love it,” they will tell us, “now I just have to find a place to put it."

It's probably good to remember that we’ve only been at beautifying our surrounds for a few hundred years, though we’ve been foraging for a few thousand and are packrats by extension of the same primordial pull. Why then, is it so hard to know how arrange our surroundings so they truly reflect what we call our ‘taste,’ that material and very social manifestation we hope speaks to who we are ~ and where we hope we are heading?

Barndiva and The Studio define a very personal taste aesthetic, and it’s the personal part writ large that most people seem to desperately want. Unfortunately, it's something you won’t find in the dozens of home and design magazines who ply their trade by generating thousands upon thousands of images of (we are told) coveted homes filled with dream rooms of stunning art and fabulous furniture. We’ve all been trained to lust after the things we see in those rooms, which is fine ~ I love my Côte Sur ~ but at the end of the day they all beg a question they can’t answer for you. Namely, who would you be if you lived in those beautiful, seemingly perfect rooms? The answer has to start with: who are you in your rooms now?

The editors of Elle Décor or Dwell don’t know you ~ nor, really, does that decorator you hired (if you have the dosh or the inclination) that came so highly recommended. The talented ones have their own proven sense of what works together in a room, and general rules of thumb on how to arrange furniture and art to make rooms larger or cozier ~ all good ~ but trust me when I tell you ~ having worked on the periphery of this industry for years ~ that at the end of the day rooms that sing do so because whomever lives in them composed their own song. Great taste comes from writing (and rewriting) your own lyrics over time, and altering the melody so it stays relevant.

K2 asked me the other day, as we were waxing on where to place things in the new space we are creating in The Studio, what objects I still had around me from when I was very young. The question took me by surprise because as it turned out the answer was….not a lot. My Kertesz photograph lives wherever I sleep most nights; as does the small oil of two figures on a blue bed that Frane gave me the weekend I met Geoffrey; I still have the huge antique Guerlain cologne bottles I inherited from the first Tex Feldman, the sleepy doll I never cared much for until Beatrice crushed its face dusting it on a windowsill when I was 5, but besides photographs of my family at various stages of our lives, nothing around me is much more than ten years old. The truth is that even before the fire which wiped out most of what I’d collected in life, I didn’t hold onto things with the avidity of someone who seems to have a lot of beautiful, lived in things around her.

The fire taught me many things, the primary lesson being that with the exception of your personal words and images, everything else in a material life can be replaced. By letting go of things you once found charming, or amusing, you make room for the next step in your own definition of those attributes. There should not be a divide between the things you buy to impress the world and the things you collect because they speak to you on a personal level. Sorry. If the things you want to surround yourself with are stupid or silly, own it (that may not be a bad thing anyway). If they are made badly or the product of a calculated corporate mindset that does not value human labor or the environment, ask yourself why you have them around. Things, no matter how small, should add to the daily conversation you’re having with life (or should be having).

As the new gallery has taken shape over the past week ~ 14 hour days and sleep riddled with questions ~ but so much fun ~ I’ve realized that the one talent I really have isn’t what to pick up and put into my world, it's when to let go. Years of looking critically at art, architecture, literature and cinema informs my choices when I put things together that don’t at first seem to have anything in common. But at the end of the day, no matter what passion you’ve followed, even if it's light years away from a proclivity for art and design, you still live with things, pick them up and put them down on something, use them, sit in them, sleep in them, eat off them, look at them at odd hours of the day when you are really thinking about something else. If you are what you eat (and I believe that is profoundly true) you are also a reflection of your surroundings, like it or not. They can elevate the experience of life, or weigh it down. 
Thankfully, the choices really are yours. And the good news is that you can only get better and better at curating your own life when you start paying attention.

As things will happen in this cosmic joke we call life, a few days ago I received an inquiry from the New York Times Style Magazine to feature The Studio in the upcoming issue. To be in The Style Magazine ~ which only comes out a few times a year~ is one of the coolest compliments. The fact the call came the week we had just closed and dismantled Artists & Farmers might, for the faint hearted, seemed like the ultimate WTF.

The thing is, I’m so excited about what we are about to become that I managed to find a shrug and a classic 'whatever' about the timing. They will come around again or they won’t ~ whatever the case, they will find us in a our usual state of creative flux, a wonderful place that defines everything we do and keeps it all interesting for me, K2 & Dane here in the Studio and Geoff, Lukka, Ryan, Tracy, Tommy, Spencer and the rest of the wonderful gang at Barndiva who have thrown in with us.

All text and photos, Jil Hales (unless otherwise noted)



Moving Forward

(originally posted March 17, 2010)

Time to tell you how we’re going to fill up our dance card this spring:

Next week we will paper over the windows at Artists & Farmers for a major systemic Spring cleaning. When we re-open, as Studio Barndiva, we will have lightened our load of small pieces, allowing us to deepen our connection to painting and sculpture and giving us enough room to use the gallery for live events. In April we’ll move outdoors and “finish” the gardens. In May we’ll throw a party to celebrate with Friends of Barndiva. We wouldn’t be able to do any of this without your support.

For the past three years Artists & Farmers has been privileged to represent some of the finest craftsmen and women in the world, many of whom had no previous representation in this country. That will not change. But our strength as a family, and as three individuals, has always been to follow our interests, and our instincts, even in the crazy world of food, drink, art and design, even as this recession rocks us all from side to side, up and down. You don’t get on a roller coaster unless you crave, at some level, thrill for the ride. And while uncontrollable forces can make you dizzy (or sick to your stomach) they can also make your heart beat a little faster, your creative juices start to flow. We feel a flow coming on.

Most of you know the history of the studio up to now. My friend Bonnie Z is fond of putting on what she thinks of as her Bella Lugosi voice (which in reality sounds more like one of her crazier chickens) to intone ‘first there was 3.... then there was 2… then there was…’ but as we’ve run through partners, eventually inheriting the entire space, we’ve used the time to study this extraordinary property. Building the herb beds and throwing down Sonoma gold on what was just a parking lot was a no-brainer, but we’ve never lost sight of the fact that this land, before the old auto-body shop was built on it, once housed Healdsburg’s first opera house ~ can you imagine the cultural optimism this town had two hundred years ago to have tried to create that scene when you still tied up horses at the front door?

We’re not advancing the notion that a frontier opera house is what’s missing in town (though we certainly wouldn’t mind one) merely that a little frontier spirit is never amiss, especially now. Our MO, the same one that built Barndiva ~ is to have fun, work hard, and build something that doesn’t exist yet in town. We want to be proud of the product we’re selling, whether it's an invitation for you to eat and drink in one of our spaces, entrust your wedding day with us, or buy an object of significance in the gallery and take it home.

So here’s our thinking:

  • There are wonderful galleries in town, but there remains a need for art + performance.
  • There is not yet a great space to dance after a wedding, then stumble safely back to your bed whether it's in a hotel or your own home.
  • There is no small venue, no beautiful room, where a string quartet can play on a summer eve while you sip.
  • The town could use a salon ~ the 18th century definition of one (look it up) where lively intellectual conversation in the fields of arts and letters and, yes, politics, are discussed with wit and verve (remember those things?) over a good cocktail.
  • Finally, if all that weren’t enough (we will never be accused of doing things in half measures) we’d like to advance the notion that coffee is not the only hot drink we long for throughout the day (sorry Phil). I drink tea a lot ~ not least for it's suspected medicinal effects ~ black in the morning, white in the middle of the day, a lightly caffeinated green to get me to cocktail hour, after which my momentum seems almost pre~ordained. But I wasn’t always a tea drinker, even after many years in London. My friend Todd at Rishi never gave up on me, sending small elegant black sachets with every Barndiva order, with intriguing names like Iron Maiden and Ancient Moonlight White. The idea for an occasional tea bar came to me one afternoon during a very long walk across Paris. I must have passed two hundred great bars ~ you know the ones, zinc or marble counter, Godard pinball sounds in the background ~ where for 3 euro’s I could have walked up to the bar, slung my foot over the brass rail and had a moment to myself over a quick espresso. Jeez, even the Queen of England calls it a quick cuppa~ why can’t you get a perfect cup of tea, made and served properly (as befits a drink that goes back 2,000 years) the same way? In the new gallery space we’ll be working with our friends at Rishi, ~ who we believe source the finest organic, fair trade teas in the world, to redress this inequity.

Things will change slowly until the end of May when wedding dinners start beneath the arbors in the new Studio gardens. We invite you to come in and share the transition period with us. If you are on this list you’ll naturally be invited to our Salon Evenings and all of our opening night parties for art shows, the first of which will be Art of the Rind, with photographer Wil Edwards, working with Cowgirl Creamery, in June. In July the crazy talented (and just plain crazy) Frane of worldwide children’s book fame will be in residence. Frane is working big for the first time in years ~ this is fabulous work, work to make you dream, and we are so proud we will be representing her. If we play our cards right in Carmel next week, Susan Keifer will follow Frane in August.

But hey, listen, If you don’t collect art, have no interest in raising high the roof beams at a wedding, are uncomfortable with the idea of Salon Evenings, and would never be caught dead alone at a bar with a cup of rare tea, you still have something to look forward to after our upcoming zeitgeist at 237 Center Street…For YOU, dear reader, there is the great news that as we shift our wedding celebrations to the Studio, Barndiva will be no longer have to close to the public on Saturdays!


All text and photos, Jil Hales (unless otherwise noted)