You are here

Easy Living in a Stylish California Home

This Napa Valley retreat is an earthy escape for the large family of a high-profile San Francisco couple

Written by Candace Ord Manroe
  • John Merkl

    Happiness flows in St. Helena, California, and not just from the wine bottle. For Jean-Pierre (J-P) Conte, Hillary Thomas, and their six children (four his, two hers), this Wine Country community is shorthand for haven and all the pleasures that go with it. In fact, the name of their second home, Contento, means “happy” in Spanish. “J-P is half-Cuban and half-French; his last name is Conte, and my nickname as a little girl was Happy,” says Hillary. “Contento seemed like a good name on so many levels.”

    The San Francisco couple bought the three-acre property as the house was nearing completion four years ago, just in time for Hillary, an interior designer, to make the decorating decisions. A striking and consistent theme is the house’s overscale light fixtures. “Lighting played an important role throughout the design, from the outdoor rooms, where we spend most of our time with our children and friends, to the indoor living spaces,” she says. “Because the ceilings are so high, we needed big, meaty lighting.”

    A large artisan-made wood-and-metal globe chandelier—in effect a functional sculpture—is the focal point of the barn-style breezeway that leads to a peaceful courtyard and the house just beyond it. “Essentially the breezeway is the entrance to the property, and its chandelier is the first thing you see as you approach,” Hillary says. The space also serves as a spillover area when the couple entertains in the stone-paved front courtyard, and includes a quartet of extra-large custom Moroccan lanterns stationed at each corner of the breezeway’s floor.

    The entrance leads directly into the open courtyard. The lantern is from Paul Marra.

    Photography: John Merkl
    Produced by Jenny Bradley Pfeffer

    Interior designer: Hillary Thomas, Hillary Thomas Designs, 3489 Sacramento St., San Francisco, CA 94118; 877/287-9708 and 415/292-4014,

    Chandelier (“Carved Oak Sphere Chandelier Large Scale”): Paul Marra Design,
    Console (“Pane E Vino Server,” discontinued): Bunny Williams Home,
    Sconces (“Oren” #SL4267): Lucca Antiques,
    Planters (“Lemon Pot,” Multiples Collection): Inner Gardens,
    Bench: existing. Bench cushion (“Rough ’N Rowdy”/Platinum #955-207): Perennials,
    Bench pillows (“Spinnaker Cactus”; “Jardin 3.5 Stripe”/Grey, White): Janus et Cie,
    Lanterns: from Morocco.
    Mirror: existing. 

  • John Merkl

    Courtyard Table

    The lanterns’ flickering candlelight and the murmur of a 15th-century French fountain mesmerize guests seated at the courtyard’s table or in its conversation area, both shaded by 75-year-old transplanted olive trees. A place for this kind of deep relaxation was Hillary’s design goal, and she and the family take advantage of it as often as possible.

    “From April through Thanksgiving, with the occasional pop-in in January or February, this is our place of escape,” she says. “It’s where we get off the treadmill of life and hole up.” 

  • John Merkl

    Lovely Courtyard

    A pair of olive trees carried by crane to the site and replanted provide shade for seating on Sutherland’s Poolside Collection. Striped pillows are from Janus et Cie. 

    Chaise lounges (Poolside Collection): Sutherland,
    Cushion fabric, white (“Ishi”/Blanca #950-28): Perennials,
    Striped pillows (“Jardin 3.5 Stripe”/Grey, White): Janus et Cie,
    Goatskin side tables: Coup d’Etat,

  • John Merkl

    Living Room

    Hefty lighting, Hillary’s signature for the home, shows up in the “Sebastian” 18-light chandelier, which blends well with a pair of “Brody” floor lamps in the living room. All the lighting is from Lucca Antiques. “Flower” fabric in pale blue by Idarica Gazzoni covers a pair of club chairs, and brings a shot of color to the conversation area, which also includes “Hogan” sofas from Hollywood at Home and a custom coffee table. A “Mitako” stool of painted cotton rope from Holly Hunt sits between the chairs. “Lightning Fields” by the photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto hangs above the mantel. 

    Chandelier (“Sebastian 18 Light Chandelier”); floor lamps (“Lucca Studio Brody Floor Lamp” #SL3953): Lucca Antiques,
    Pair of chairs facing mantel (“Cosmo Chairs” #COS-CHR-015): Cisco Home,
    Chair fabric (“Flower”/Pale Blue by Idarica Gazzoni): Harbinger,
    Rope stool (“Mitako Stool”/Black Painted Cotton Rope, by Christian Astuguevieille): Holly Hunt,
    Photograph over mantel (Lightning Fields, by Hiroshi Sugimoto): Fraenkel Gallery,
    Sofas (“Hogan”): Hollywood at Home,
    Chevron-patterned pillows (“Herringbone”/Cool, by Idarica Gazzoni); floral pillows (“Flower”/Pale Blue, by Idarica Gazzoni); lumbar pillows (“Harmattan”/Panama #10583P, by Jenifer Shorto): Harbinger,
    Coffee table (“Lucca Studio Cort Coffee Table,” custom); chest to right of mantel: Lucca Antiques,
    Mirror above chest: Inner Gardens,
    Marble grapes; woven box: designer’s collection.
    Round stone candleholder: Lee Stanton Antiques,
    Benches in front of mantel: vintage.  

  • John Merkl

    Dining Area

    Dining armchairs from Hollywood at Home surround a custom Blank & Cables table. 

    Wall paint (“Rodeo” #1534): Benjamin Moore,
    Chandelier (“Sebastian 18 Light Chandelier”): Lucca Antiques,
    Dining table (custom): Blank & Cables,
    Dining chairs (“New York Athletic Club Armchair”): Hollywood at Home,
    Seat leather on dining chairs (“Arden,” colorway discontinued): Holland & Sherry,
    Vases: Inner Gardens,
    Wall art: by Matthew Heller,
    Floor lamps (“Lucca Studio Brody Floor Lamp” #SL3953): Lucca Antiques,
    Area rug in living area: owner’s collection. 

  • John Merkl


    Hillary chose BDDW bar stools and a La Cornue range for the kitchen, where glass doors between this room and its outdoor counterpart open up for a seamless space. The indoor kitchen anchors one end of an open floor plan that includes a dining area in the middle and the adjacent living room beyond. Benjamin Moore’s “Rockport Gray” covers the existing cabinetry with a soft hue that blends well with the “Rodeo” on walls throughout the three-room space. 

    Cabinetry: existing.
    Cabinetry finish (“Rockport Gray” #HC-105): Benjamin Moore,
    Backsplash tile: existing.
    Range: La Cornue,
    Pot filler faucet; oven hood; island faucet: existing.
    Bar stools (“Square Guest Stool”): BDDW,
    Crest; stag heads; quail trophies: John Rosselli Antiques,  

  • John Merkl

    Outdoor Kitchen 

    In the relatively short time they’ve owned the property, the family already has established favorite traditions. Each Memorial Day everyone gathers at the back of the house to celebrate in an area that includes the pool, fire pit, and outdoor kitchen, plus living and dining rooms, all with luscious wine-country views. And in autumn, when the hills and vineyards burst in every shade of glorious gold, a harvest party notes the occasion.

    The outdoor kitchen is one of the home’s busiest spots and is a natural gathering place for cooking and socializing. 

    Chandelier (“Sphere in Sphere”): Coup d’Etat,
    Pendant lights over island; wall sconces; outdoor cabinetry; grill: existing.
    Basket on island: Hudson Grace,

  • John Merkl

    Outdoor Dining Area

    “Two acres of our property are planted in grapes, which we sell to the neighboring winery that makes our wine,” Hillary says. Their first vintage, a Cabernet, was bottled in 2012. Since then, a Contento Cabernet (what better name for the private label produced only for their family and as gifts to friends?) is a staple at dinner parties held in the outdoor dining room.

    Beautiful yet casual settings always grace the banquet table, enhanced by dramatic lighting from an enormous pair of bronzed chandeliers that hang above. The eye-catching fixtures crafted from a complex entwinement of vintage iron wagon wheels perfectly capture the conundrum that is Napa’s rustic sophistication. “A third, even larger wagon-wheel fixture hangs over the outdoor living area,” says Hillary, whose overscale lighting theme weaves all the home’s spaces—outdoors and indoors—together.

    “Sphere in Sphere” chandeliers from Coup d’Etat hang above the custom dining table. 

    Chandeliers  (“Sphere in Sphere”): Coup d’Etat,
    Wicker chairs (“Havana Dining Chair with Arms”): Gloster,
    Table (“Antoine”): Casamidy,
    Upholstered chairs: existing.
    Slipcover on upholstered chairs (“Rough ’N Rowdy”/Platinum #955-207): Perennials,
    Placemat: Hudson Grace,
    Dinnerware (“Pearl” by Costa Nova): Gumps,
    Flatware (“Berlin” by Alain Saint Joanis); stemware: Sue Fisher King,
    Crystalwineglasses: Riedel,  

  • John Merkl

    Table Setting

    “Pearl” dinnerware by Costa Nova blends with Riedel wineglasses for a casual outdoor dinner. 

  • John Merkl

    Stone Oven

    Sometimes more intimate family-only gatherings take the stage at Contento. “One of the fun things we do as a family is pizza-making day,” Hillary says. “We make pizzas from scratch on the outdoor kitchen island, then bake them in the pizza oven.” Everyone loves Thanksgiving when the entire clan heads for Contento, where they’ve been known to cook their turkey in the pizza oven, just for fun. “We truly are the Brady Brunch. Quite the brood,” Hillary says.

    The oven was part of the nearly completed structure when Hillary and J-P bought the home. 

  • John Merkl

    Outdoor Living Room 

    A glimpse of the interior shows the close connection between indoor and outdoor areas. The home’s largest lighting fixture repeats in this area.

  • John Merkl


    Artwork highlighted by wall lights lines the hallway. 

    Wall paint (“Rodeo” #1534): Benjamin Moore,
    Wall lights: existing.
    Art at end of hall: owner’s collection.

  • John Merkl

    Master Bedroom

    Crisp white makes this private space a perfect escape. The headboard is upholstered in “Basic Instinct” fabric from Holly Hunt.  The “Rake” area rug from Meridia blends with white upholstery on the chairs. 

    Wall paint (“Simply White” #OC-117): Benjamin Moore,
    Chandelier (“Lucca Studio Simpson Chandelier” #SL3064): Lucca Antiques,
    Area rug (“Rake”/Stone): Merida,
    Bed: custom.
    Headboard fabric (“Basic Instinct”/Birch #3025/01, by Great Plains): Holly Hunt,
    Bed linens (“Maria Links”): Walker Valentine,
    Pillow shams (“Mala”/Lake #GWF-3103.513, by Groundworks): Lee Jofa,
    Drapery: existing.
    Wall sconce (“Melissa Quartz”/Zinc #MM-1001): Urban Electric Co.,
    Mirror (“Vincent”): Made Goods,
    Art above bed: by Traeger di Pietro,
    Chest to right of bed (“Distressed Fir Chest”): Paul Marra Design,
    Table lamp (large white lamp): Ryan Mennealy Ceramics,, through Harbinger,
    Upholstered chairs and ottoman; tray on ottoman: existing.
    Black-and-white photograph (by Rodney Smith): Fahey/Klein Gallery,
    Bench under photograph (“Klismos Bench”): Scala Luxury,  

  • John Merkl

    Sitting Area

    A beauitful black and white photograph hangs on the wall above a "Klismos Bench" from Scala Luxury.

  • John Merkl

    Nightstand Details

    A master bedroom table lamp is from Ryan Mennealy Ceramics. 

  • John Merkl

    Master Bath

    His and her showers are separated by a steam shower. A hanging light fixture from Charles Edwards crowns the marble-clad tub. 

    Sconce (“Melissa Quartz” #MM-1001): Urban Electric Co.,
    Bench at vanity (“Annika”): Made Goods,
    Tray on vanity: from Morocco.
    Chandelier (“Square Drum Large” #HS-322-LG): Charles Edwards Antiques,

  • John Merkl

    Guest Bedroom

    A scalloped “Papyrus” design by Katie Leede pops on the headboard. The “Brush Stroke” lamp is by Bunny Williams.

    Headboard fabric (“Papyrus”): by Katie Leede,
    Duvet and shams: Walker Valentine,
    Striped pillow: Zak + Fox,
    Lamp (“Brush Stroke Lamp”): Bunny Williams Home,
    Lamp shade; finial: Hillary Thomas,
    Side table; mirror: owner’s collection.
    Wall paint (“Simply White” #OC-117): Benjamin Moore,

  • John Merkl

    Kids' Room

    To accommodate the six children’s need for their own space away from the adults, Hillary made one architectural adaptation. “We converted the third-car garage into a bunk room,” she says. “It’s kid heaven, decked out with an Xbox and lighting that can be controlled with your iPhone.” She designed metal-and-wood beds, and along with a pullout sofa, the room sleeps 12. “Friends are always welcome. This room is the kids’ private escape, and they love it.” Even the art—old silk-screened T-shirts—is kid-centric. 

  • John Merkl

    California Cool

    California’s famous indoor-outdoor lifestyle is as important to the humans in the family as it is to Bodhi, the family’s Bernese Mountain Dog and ace jackrabbit-chaser who can race freely in and out thanks to glass doors that disappear into wall pockets. “I wanted a ‘put your feet up’ casual design, created with natural textures, durable fabrics, and a pale palette,” Hillary says. “This is where we commune with family and friends. It’s our gathering place and our source of serenity.” True to its name, Contento is the family’s happy place.

    Palm trees bookend the inviting pool.

  • John Merkl

    Poolside Lounging

    A fleet of Janus et Cie umbrellas adds shade and style. 

    Chaise lounges (Poolside Collection): Sutherland,
    Cushion fabric, white (“Ishi”/Blanca #950-28): Perennials,
    Striped pillows (“Jardin 3.5 Stripe”/Grey, White); umbrellas (“Janus Aluminum Umbrella Square Frame” #250, in “Spinnaker Whitewash”): Janus et Cie,  

  • John Merkl


    Homeowner and interior designer Hillary Thomas. 

  • Tim Street-Porter