California's good life, large and small

The Napa Valley benefited in many ways from the Wine Rush that began in the 1970s. It attracted visitors, new residents and, of course, giant casks of money with which to build and embellish the area's wide range of homes and estates.

Kathryn Masson's new book, "Napa Valley Style" (Rizzoli, $50), takes us on a tour of 22 Napa Valley homes, from Victorian farmhouses to contemporary stucco and steel. It features the work of renowned architects and designers such as Michael Graves and Ricardo Legorreta as photographed by Steven Brooke. Among the more dazzling residences included is the E. York Wine Cellar, a winery and stone house surrounded by open countryside.

"This contemporary architectural form and a geometrically patterned, curved steel balcony above the entrance are juxtaposed with the style and the materials of the historic building to create a provocative tension between old and new," Masson writes.

Yes, the text can be a bit stuffy, but the photos throughout are stunning.

The E. York kitchen, for example, is a great blend of chrome and stone, featuring the indigenous stone walls of the original farmhouse.

Another looker: Villa Cucina, in the eastern hills near Rutherford, the home of Bay Area restaurateur Pat Kuleto. It's a rustic country villa of stone and timber, with a kitchen that boasts hand-hewn beams, copper pots and a 10-foot-long antique European chopping block.

There's also the York-Alexander House, a stone residence dating to the 1870s and one of the most significant structures in the valley. Italianate in style, it is one of Napa's best Victorian-era homes.

Most unusual among the book's mix of styles is a rammed-earth home in the southern valley, "designed with the proportions and detailing of an authentic French farmhouse."

As you would hope in such a book, the author has a good eye for the surrounding yards and valley views.

Brooke's color photos -- 137 of them -- strike a fine balance between compelling exteriors and revealing interiors.

All in all, the book gives a good and spirited tour of Napa, even if it comes without the usual refreshments.

-- Chris Erskine

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