Project: Ramekins Culinary School, Events Center and Inn courtyard renovation

Address: 450 West Spain St., Sonoma, CA.

Owners: Sarah and Darius Anderson

Description: Construction of 3,500-square-foot courtyard including a 180-foot wall, three gates, fireplace, pizza oven, trough fountain, and the installation of a 18th century limestone window frame.

Conceptual Artist: Keith Wicks

Landscaping: Landscape architect Michael A. Cook, Firma Design Group; and Landscape contractor Franciscan Landscape

Stone: Sonoma Materials Inc. and Western Green Build

Textured stucco artisan: Pascal Faivre,

Metal Work: Kevin Cherry

SONOMA -- When Sarah and Darius Anderson bought the Ramekins Culinary School in 2008 at 450 W. Spain St., they saw an opportunity to transform the facility into an elegant European-style learning center, event locale and inn.

“We have a 150- seat hall within the 12,000-square-foot, two-story main building, but our vision was to create a special outdoor event center for parties, weddings conferences, alfresco dining as well as culinary education,” Sarah Anderson said. 

Ms. Anderson also owns a French import store in Sonoma and has traveled extensively in France where she gathered ideas for the project. Her goal was to make the courtyard appear centuries old.

With 55 feet between the building and the street, there was ample room for a cloistered 3,500-square-foot courtyard with old world charm surrounded by 180 linear feet of antiqued stone walls eight feet high.

“When working with the Andersons and conceptual artist Keith Wicks, I felt that this project would be one of a kind,” said Michael Cook, vice president, planning and landscape architecture, with the Firma Design Group of Petaluma.

The courtyard features a natural gas stone fireplace, a wood-fired pizza oven, a limestone trough fountain imported from France, an outdoor bar and a 10-foot tall, 18th century limestone window -- covered with a metal arbor filled with climbing roses -- that serves as a backdrop for weddings. A retractable fabric awning shields the courtyard from the summer sun.

Pervious pavers were used as flooring along with decomposed granite to allow rainwater to penetrate the soil.

An innovative construction system was deployed in building the walls. IntegraSpec styrofoam forms were used to cast concrete poured around rebar forming a strong, insulated core.

Mr. Cook worked closely with Erik Garcia, vice president with Sonoma Materials Inc., to create the antique look. Some 2,000 square feet of Oakfield Weather Edge thin veneer stone was used to cover the concrete walls.   

Mr. Garcia’s other firm, Western Green Build, installed the stone.  Texas limestone was used for the caps above the fireplace and walls.  The masonry was finished in about three months.

Sonoma Artisan Pascal Faivre applied textured stucco on wall surfaces and joints to create the weathered look of an ancient French Chateau.

Wall capstones are recycled 100-year-old terra cotta roof tiles from France.

The courtyard has three entrances with distinctive gates.  One is a centuries old wooden door from a French castle. The other two are antique replica metal doors fabricated in Sonoma by Kevin Cherry.

“The courtyard combines strong elements, including ornamental steel, aged wood and acid-washed stone, giving visitors and guests a sense that it has been there for many years,” according to Robert Garant with Sonoma Valley Engineering.

Landscape architect Mr. Cook consulted with Ramekin chefs in planting an edible garden including herbs and vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale and chard that can be harvested for use in cooking classes -- and look great in the ornamental garden.

Newly introduced drought-tolerant manzanita and olive trees, as well as existing shade trees, beautify the courtyard, along with native plants such as rosemary, New Zealand flax and oregano installed by Franciscan Landscape.

"When people come to Sonoma, they are looking for an indoor and outdoor experience.  Ramekins gives them both in a classic continental setting,” Sarah Anderson said.