As the end of the decade approaches this holiday season, I am happy to report the 2010’s end with a great discovery for us. We now know who the architect was that designed our building! It is the highly respected Napan, Robert (Bob) Keenan. When we purchased Villa Murialdo in 2016, we learned it was built in 1993 but we had very little other detail about the building’s origins. Having a background in design and construction I was curious about the architecture from the moment we first saw it and drawn to some of the buildings unusual features. Most notably, the large curved brick structure visually connecting the four units in two separate buildings. Inside this free standing edifice is a two story stucco silo of empty space with the only pragmatic feature being the home to the building’s mailboxes. Often architectural elements such as this are jettisoned in the effort to save money during construction. Not this one. Thankfully it survived the “cutting room floor” and today significantly contributes to it’s unique Mid Century Modern and Italian influences.
“Bob often included a curved wall to soften ‘the mass’ of a structure,” said Robert Keenan’s wife, Lois, “to make it more graceful. He designed a dance studio in the round for a famous ballerina living in Angwin. When she questioned it, Bob replied that we walk/dance/move in curves/in circles, not in squares. She later let him know she loved the environment he’d created!,” Lois has visited with us now several times since we gave her a tour this summer of the property. One of our guests who comes each year, as it turned out, knew someone who knew Lois and we were thrilled to finally discover a great deal more about the architect who designed our Villa Murialdo.
“After the building was completed, Bob lived in the “owner’s” Unit A where he lived before we were married,” Lois said. “We met in 1977 when I was looking for an architect to design my house. I drove around Napa, and every structure I found uniquely graceful and stylish had been designed by Robert Keenan,” added Lois. They were married in 1998 in a home Bob designed in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Sadly Lois told us that Bob had passed away but not before leaving an extraordinary legacy of architectural gems throughout Napa Valley. A student of Frank Lloyd Wright, Lois stated, Bob, was of the Modernist school. Although rooted in classic architecture Bob’s buildings reflect the vision of an innovator and the touch of timelessness.
His life work includes wineries, restaurants and a host of other commercial structures, even car washes and like Villa Murialdo, both multifamily and single family residences. All with a distinctive design flair. “Bob frequently said he designed commercial buildings,” said Lois, “to support his love of residential.” Curiously, as we discovered Bob was the architect of our building, we began to notice his name credited to other projects. When the residence 51 Syar was listed for sale this past summer, unusually Bob’s name was cited as the designer in the property description. Naturally we couldn’t resist taking a tour. We discovered then that 81 Syar sold in 2016 was also designed by Bob, as was 273 Stonecrest sold in 2018. Each time the listings mentioned his name. Toyon Farms, an 80 acre vineyard and equestrian ranch designed by Bob was for sale this year listed at $18M. He was the original designer for Hotel Yountville, Don Giovanni restaurant and had a hand in the design for the Persian influence Darioush off the Silverado Trail. Signorello Winery was also a Robert Keenan design. Lois took us on a downtown Napa tour and pointed out other properties Bob designed including the very Modernist Windemere Real Estate offices on 3rd and Main. His influence appears throughout the Valley in countless projects.
We are very thankful to Lois for bringing Bob’s work out of the shadows for us and are very proud to have discovered our building was designed by one of Napa Valley’s best.