The Making of Calistoga Ranch, An Auberge Resort

Tucked into a hidden canyon just off the Silverado Trail in California’s Napa Valley, the site for Calistoga Ranch provided a unique opportunity to create a private luxury resort on one of the last available parcels in the Napa Valley.

Swiss immigrant Otto Lommel originally purchased the property in 1921 as a family retreat.  Forty years later, the site was transformed by his son Arle Lommel into the Calistoga Ranch Club, a private membership campground. Mr Lommel still resides on the 15 acres of land he saved for himself, while the rest of the land is now Calistoga Ranch, An Auberge Resort.

The primary goal was to create a “bungalow in the woods” experience that combines sophisticated luxury design with an intimate, authentic connection to the natural surroundings, making the site itself the resort’s most important amenity.

The site for Calistoga Ranch had long been zoned for camp-ground use, with a strict limit on stick-built construction. Rather than attempt to change the existing zoning, the development and design team chose to work within the existing guidelines. Set upon 157 heavily-wooded acres, Calistoga Ranch “treads lightly” on the land; the resort structures are clustered on 23 central acres, with the remainder left undeveloped except for hiking trails.

There were virtually no grading changes, the only real excavation was for the property’s pool and wine cave. Lodges and amenities are linked by decomposed granite footpaths, acknowledging both the primacy of the natural setting and the site’s campground legacy.

“Within this extremely beautiful and sensitive natural setting, creating a resort that respects and celebrates the land was of the utmost importance.  Calistoga Ranch has been treated as a sanctuary, with the vast majority of its acreage feeling as if man has barely set foot here.”

Design Approach

The defining feature of Calistoga Ranch is the intimate connection between indoor and outdoor spaces; outdoor living rooms, showers, decks, trellised walkways, and a rustic material palette of cedar shingles, dry stacked stone, and copper roofs; offer guests a direct connection to the natural surroundings that are unique to this valley.

In response to zoning restrictions on stick-built construction and the design goal of disturbing the site as little as possible, each guest and owner lodge is a series of modular units, connected by wooden decks, trellised walkways and large outdoor deck/living areas.

Surrounded by the beauty of old growth woodlands, the owner lodges average 3,200 square feet, 30% of which is provided by the outdoor living spaces.  Each is individually placed, with a unique arrangement of connecting decks. The positive result is that no two accommodations are alike, providing a unique experience for every guest.

Authentic programming honors the serene landscape, revolving around unique elements including a cabernet vineyard, honeybee colonies, a secret garden and greenhouse, and a chicken coop complete with a crystal chandelier.

Modular Design

A design solution using pre-fabricated modular units met several important needs for this project.  By using modular units set upon pier foundations for nearly 80% of the built elements, the design and development team was able to build within existing zoning guidelines.

Set upon pilings, rather than on traditional slab or perimeter foundations, the guest and owner lodges literally float above the landscape, allowing unfettered root growth and natural drainage patterns within this sensitive valley setting.

Using a series of structures for each guest and owner lodge allowed each unit to be more easily customized around existing topography.  ‘The whole design process strategically piecing an intricate puzzle together.” Bruce Wright, Senior Vice President and Principal.

All guest and owner lodges at Calistoga Ranch, which comprise 78% of the resort’s total square footage, are constructed of a series of pre-fabricated modular units. The units arrived on site with all rough framing, sheetrock and rough trades complete, and finish trades were accomplished on site.

Public Areas: Stick Built Construction

Only the public areas, which comprise 22% of the total square footage, are constructed using grading and traditional foundations. These new structures utilize the traditional forms and massing of agricultural buildings common in the area and are constructed of a simple palette of materials: natural cedar, stacked stone, concrete and glass, with small amounts of copper and steel.

Design and Construction Phase

The first step in the design and construction process was to commission a complete topographical and separate tree study to allow the design team to thoroughly understand existing conditions.

All of the resort structures have been built around trees, rock outcroppings and contours of the site to make every undulation of the land and bend of the trees a part of the design. Every tree was meticulously marked to save nearly all old-growth woods. Even the cutting of individual branches required approval by the project manager.  The trees and lush landscape were integrated into the design itself, providing shade and a sense of drama to the resort.

Specific Solutions

One of the most important environmental challenges was to maintain and/or improve the existing stream courses and storm run-off patterns. Pier foundation systems were a critical element in maintaining these patterns. The design team also worked with the California Department of Fish & Game to maintain and improve the conditions of the existing blue-line stream that runs down the center of the valley.

Throughout the construction process, a specialist on the design team worked with the County of Napa on a stormwater management protection program, monitoring the stream to enforce a zero silt/construction run-off policy. A man-made lake and dam built on the property in the 1920s were similarly repaired and rehabilitated. To serve a new vineyard near the main reception area, a package water treatment facility was constructed on site to convert used water into grey water suitable for irrigation.

Fostering an intimate connection to the site also involved saving historic built elements integral to the history of the site. The design team preserved numerous dry-stacked stone walls throughout the site, using them as feature elements.

Spa

A spa sanctuary, nestled away in a wooded canyon, inspired by Calistoga’s healing waters.

In collaboration with TLee Spas, The design maximizes the destination, guests experience “forest bathing” at its most indulgent, surrounded by moss-laden old-growth trees and the rhythmic trickling of a nearby creek.

Tranquil treatment rooms feature outdoor garden showers and private soaking tubs. Guests can detox at the indoor-outdoor spa with a soak in the mineral pools and mud baths, or book a purifying treatment using honey from the 60,000 bees kept on the premises. Healing mineral water, exceptional bodywork and unique treatments reflect the true spirit and legacy of the region.

Stats

Opening Date – May 2004

  • Total site area – 157 acres
  • Developed site area – 17 acres
    • 47 guest lodges
    • 27 owner lodges
    • Entry lodge
    • Event lawn
    • Fitness lodge
    • Spa
    • Lake House
    • Wine Cave Vineyard

Team

  • Owner – Olympus Real Estate Corporation
  • Operator – Auberge Resorts
  • Developer – Criswell Radovan LLC
  • Architect – SB Architects
  • Spa Design – TLee Spas
  • Interior Design – Darrell Schmitt Design Associates
  • Landscape Design – Projects Pacific
  • Landscape Consultant – Jack Chandler & Associates
  • Landscape Installation – VanderToolen Associates

Award wins

  • Hospitality Design Magazine – “Best New Resort Design”
  • Pacific Coast Builder’s Conference Gold Nugget Awards – “Grand Award-Best Specialty Design”
  • Calistoga Ranch Named on World’s Top 50 Hotels List in Travel + Leisure’s 2015 “World’s Best” Awards
  • Calistoga Ranch Named one of the Top 100 Resort Worldwide by Robb Report – 2014
  • Calistoga Ranch Named number one Hotel in California by U.S. News and World Report – 2013
  • Travel + Leisure calls Calistoga Ranch “the best of what’s new in the California wine country” – 2014