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Marble House

*European Economic Community

Product Description

Asian Beacon

San Francisco, California, USA

A pagoda as exotic as the famous teahouse of Potsdam and Alva Vanderbilt's Marble House graces an olive ranch in bucolic Marin

Imagine the look on the faces of Nan McEvoy's grandchildren when she showed them the latest marvel at her olive ranch in Marin - a Chinese pagoda with giant copper lizards slithering up its roof. Real lizards called skinks scurry among the olives. Because the children love them, McEvoy used their image everywhere. And, as the ranch's official mascot, the skinks appear on every label of McEvoy Ranch olive oil.

 McEvoy, a former owner of The Chronicle, made this new skink attraction - an aberration among Victorian era buildings on the property - the centerpiece of a harvest party last fall.

 "That's what Nan wanted the space for - a party room outdoors," says interior designer Michael Booth, whose firm, Babey Moulton Jue & Booth, created the festive 42-foot -high pavilion.

 They started eight years ago when the first versions were sketched by Los Angeles architect Mark Appleton. "It was a rustic-looking barn shape, but Nan wasn't happy with it," says Booth. "She found it too heavy."

 Instead, Booth and his firm responded to McEvoy's love of chinoiserie and looked to buildings such as the Tabernacle on Martha's Vineyard for inspiration. A Methodist center built in 1879, the Tabernacle also has an open- air metal pavilion that is light in silhouette.

 "We even looked at a Chinese teahouse in Rhode Island, at Alva Vanderbilt' s Marble House. That really is over the top," says Booth. "It is a reproduction of an elaborate Chinese original, but we felt it was far too fancy for the ranch."

 Their version is more sedate, like the Chinese Tea House at Sans Souci in Potsdam near Berlin.

 The McEvoy structure had to better suit its rural context of redwood groves on one side and olive orchards on sun-drenched hills on the other. Beaded boards on the inside and painted resawn cedar boards for exterior walls are a nod to wooden buildings in the West, but the conical roof is unmistakably Asian. Covered in copper shingles, the fanciful roof will turn verdigris in color as the tentlike building weathers to gray in the fog.

 "You forget that this area is so near the ocean," says Booth. "The weather is deceptive. It may be sunny, but the fog comes in close to the coast."

 The designers made the pavilion weather-tight with forged steel doors by Jefferson Mack that shut large openings in the octagonal structure. For the metal roof, Booth and his team turned to Larry Stearns in Vermont. "He restores capitol buildings back East and really explores unusual materials," says Booth. "We tried to emulate clay roofs we had seen in China, but he was able to do it just as well in copper." Working from photographs McEvoy and Booth shot during a trip to Asia, Stearns sent detailed mockups for approval. But when he came to install the real thing, he also showed off a copper dragon he had made for kicks and was promptly enlisted to make giant skinks for the roof.

 "We first put just one on and then decided it needed a friend," says Booth. "We never thought Larry could do that until he showed us the dragon. He just made them by hand."

 The skinks appear unexpectedly in other places, most prominently as cast bronze door handles by metal artist Alex Weinstein. On the other hand, wall sconces he created look more like Stearns' original dragon.

 In China, McEvoy and Booth became enamored of the river rock and tile paving commonly used in gardens and parks and chose it for the pavilion floor in Marin.

 "But it was an enormous challenge to find someone outside China to do it," says Booth. Lucky for them, an Internet search found Mark Davidson of New Zealand, who had done such a floor in England.

 Davidson worked steadily for three months with two laborers who had to learn his technique, fitting every rock and sliver of brick on edge to create a vast, geometric carpet.

 The floor pattern grounded the exotic design well, and the rest needed little decoration. "The view was so extraordinary we did not need to compete with it," says Booth. Instead, working with Alan Deal and Steve Henry, Booth refined details. Elisa Stancil layered tertiary colors on the walls to create a glazed effect inside. The scalloped ceiling is clad with horizontal beaded boards to enhance the feeling of billowing fabric, and under the cupola the ceiling is painted blue - not so much to replicate the sky but to contrast the browner shades inside.

 "Nan never liked the blue ceiling," says Booth. But he persevered, resisting her request for a trompe l'oeil painted sky.

 When the pavilion was not in use for gatherings, McEvoy and her son, Nion, wanted it to become a sculptural garden feature that could glow at night. To achieve the effect of a flickering flame, actual silk and wood lampshades in varying shapes and sizes are suspended from the ceiling like lanterns in a Turkish mosque. Based on Chinese originals, the Venetian suspended lights provide just the kind of illumination they were after.

 "Now the pavilion is part of the landscape," says Booth. "It is a beacon."

 May 11, 2003|By Zahid Sardar

Zahid Sardar is The Chronicle design editor.

 This article appeared on page CM - 56 of the San Francisco Chronicle


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