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Homes you can tour in the coming weeks

Spring is the season to go peeping in other people’s homes and gardens with their permission. Here are the top home and garden tours in the area.

Garden Conservancy Open Garden Days: You can visit one garden or many during Open Garden Days, help throughut the country in the spring and fall. Cost is $7 per garden. On April 29 four gardens in Mendocino County will be open for visits, including Frog Song Farm in Point Arena, Wildwood, with kitchen gardens in Philo, Kate Frey’s sustainable garden in Hopland and Mullins Mendocino Stonezone in Gualala with handcrafted stoneworks by artisans from around the world. A second open gardens day in Mendocino County is slated for June 17. On June 3 gardens in the Ross Valley of Marin County will throw open their gates. Highlights include an English garden, a tranquil garden beside a 1920s cottage beneath oaks and redwoods and the gardens surrounding a 1910 summer cottage on a tree-lined street. For information visit gardenconservancy.org/open-days.

Eco-Friendly Garden Tour: A self-guided tour of landscapes that go easy on water and long on natural beauty. Pick and choose among 24 gardens in Sonoma and north Marin counties open to visitors on May 13 from 10 a.m to 4 p.m. Free. Sponsored by a consortium of water agencies working together to promote water conservation. Includes plant sales, workshops, talks and information on sustainable landscaping. To register and arrange for a ticket with a link to garden addresses visit savingwaterpartnership.org.

Soroptimists of Mendocino-Sonoma Coast Architectural Tour and Wine Tasting: A chance to get inside great homes in The Sea Ranch and along the North Coast. The tour includes newly remodeled and historically significant homes. 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 13, followed by a wine tasting and silent auction at the Gualala Arts Center. $60 if ordered in advance, $65 day of the tour. $35 for students. Tickets available by calling 800-838-3006, or brownpapertickets.com.

Sonoma County Medical Association Alliance Foundation Garden Tour: This annual event, celebrating its silver anniversary, is May 19 and 20 and includes a self-guided tour of eight gardens in Santa Rosa. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are $45 in purchased in April or $50 in May. Highlights include a French Norman cottage garden tended by a master gardener, a hilltop retreat and urban oasis carved into a neighborhood of tract homes. Food truck lunches, plant sales, live music and more. Benefits local charities. Scmaa.org.

Food for Thought Spring Home & Garden Tour: Highlights of this annual tour benefiting the HIV/AIDS food bank are an estate in Santa Rosa’s Montecito Heights with a Japanese garden and antique rose garden and a renovated 1905 home and garden featuring many succulents in and around a rock garden. Cost for the tour is $50 and includes a booklet with descriptions of the tour homes as well as a map. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 28. $15 for a pre-ordered box lunch that can be picked up on the day of the event at Food for Thought in Forestville. For information visit FFTfoodbank.org or call 707-887-1647.

Mendocino Art Center’s Coast Garden Tour: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 24. Behind the scenes look at coastal gardens, including a garden shop and plant sale and gourmet vegan lunch at Ravens Restaurant. 707-937-5818 or 800-653-3328. MendocinoArtCenter.org.

Camille Seghesio has lived all over the world, from New York to London to Buenos Aires. Home was merely a temporary landing and launch pad for a life centered around business travel. She never owned a home.

That changed when she came back to her hometown of Healdsburg in 2009 to care for her ailing mother, Rachel Seghesio Passalacqua. The small ag town had changed dramatically since she left for Georgetown University at age 17 some 30 years earlier. She had gone on to a career in international finance and investment banking, always living in apartments.

It took awhile to find her happy place again in Healdsburg. But when she did, it came within the solid walls of the home her great-grandfather Francesco Passalacqua had built in 1914.

Seghesio, with no home improvement experience — or even any experience as a homeowner — in 2012 took what to some would seem like a crazy leap. She bought the Greek revival house that had been passed down to her Passalacqua cousins through their mutual forefather. She then embarked on a top to bottom renovation that was completed just last October.

Seghesio is a product of two of Healdsburg’s bedrock Italian families. Her father, Ted Seghesio, was the youngest son of Edoardo and Angela, who planted the Seghesio family’s first vineyard in 1895. Her mother was the granddaughter of Francesco Passalacqua, who left Genoa with nothing, only to build a small fortune in land and agriculture in Northern California, starting in the 1860s.

The historic Passalacqua home still looks much the same as it did when Francesco and second wife, Rachele, moved in at the beginning of the first World War. There are the twin pairs of Ionic columns at the formal entry, a porte cochere for carriages, a fountain in the front yard and even the original iron horse hitches at the curb.

Inside it is a bit of a living museum, filled with artifacts, photos and furnishings handed down from both sides of her family as well as pieces she bought with the house, including the original dining room table, purchased for the house by great-grandfather Francesco and where four generations of Passalacquas had shared formal meals and celebrations.

Seghesio undertook the renovation with the idea of making it available as a family gathering spot for a multitude of Passalacqua and Seghesio relatives who remain in the area. She will open it up to visitors on May 7 as part of the annual Healdsburg Homes Tour. The tour features six homes that represent the span of 150 years of Healdsburg architecture, from an 1868 Victorian cottage and 1870s mansion to a contemporary hilltop estate with sweeping views and an art studio.

Seghesio’s goal was to make the house function for life in the 21st century while preserving as much of the original layout and as many of the vintage details as possible.

The three-story house — four if you include the finished basement — was ultra-modern for its time, with sinks and running water in each bedroom and a servant’s call system. Seghesio kept all of it.

At the time she bought the place she had been contemplating a move back to London. Her mother died in 2010 and the Seghesio winery, for which she had managed exports out of London, had just been sold. It was her brother, Pete, who had been CEO of the family winery, who suggested she take a look at the old Passalacqua home, which had been passed down to Francesco’s son Francis, an attorney, and his wife, Elsie, who had raised their children there. Francis died in 2005. Elsie died two years later.

“I remember when I walked in I got goosebumps. It was the same. It was exactly the way Francis and Elsie had left it,” she said. “I remember thinking I can go anywhere in the world but there is only going to be one house built by my great-grandparents. It was certainly not to have a big house or to engage in this big remodel. I was just drawn to the history and the idea of keeping it in the family.”

Sandi Passalacqua, whose husband, Ted, is also a local attorney, grew up in the house and oversaw the trust into which the house was held after his parents died. She said it had been a grand residence. Her mother-in-law was a skilled decorator and respected hostess in the Healdsburg social scene. She was renowned for her homemade ravioli.

“We were absolutely thrilled when Camille expressed an interest in the house,” she said, calling it “serendipity” that Seghesio came along at the same time the family had reached the bittersweet decision to sell the house after 100 years in the family.

The house was designed by Brainerd Jones, the prolific architect responsible for many of Petaluma’s beautiful old homes. The original architectural renderings are framed and hung on an upper story wall.

Seghesio kept the original footprint of the house but made some major changes for modern living. She remodeled the kitchen, which already had been altered years earlier. She knocked out some walls to create a master bedroom suite upstairs with a big bathroom and a walk-in dressing room tucked into the eaves. The most modernized space is the attic, where Seghesio found antique steamer trunks and a “forlorn” little maid’s room that had been replaced decades earlier with nicer quarters on the main floor. She decided to open it up and turn it into a high-tech home theater complete with a professional screen, automatic shades and even a snack bar with an old-fashioned popcorn machine and glass case stocked with candy bars. It’s a popular spot with the kids in the extended family.

The basement, where meat had been prepared in the old days, has been turned into a second kitchen for canning, a wine cellar and a casual game room. Seghesio found ways to re-purpose everything she could find, like turning old tin containers into a side table, a bunch of empty liquor bottles into a display for the theater. A stack of National Geographics from the 1920s are spread out in the basement. Small vintage details were preserved, including the original sink fixtures, an old clawfoot bathtub and all the glass door knobs. And even though it makes the house a bit cold, she kept many of the original windows and lathe and plaster walls.

The Passalacqua family history has been preserved in a large bound book filled with photos. Seghesio has pored over it and is fascinated by their stories, particularly her great-grandfather Francesco, who had no formal education, started picking olives in Italy at 6 years of age, and left home as soon as he could afford his first pair of shoes, at the age of 13. He arrived in the U.S. right after Lincoln’s assassination. He worked as a cook in the mines, fished, grew produce and invested in land.

Her grandfather, Emil, lived in the house as a boy and it was the home he returned to after World War I.

“It was a rags to riches story. It’s just remarkable that someone with no education would be so successful,” said Seghesio, who is carrying on their Italian food traditions with a new custom meat business, she said.

Seghesio is now partnering with her brother, Pete, on a new venture, Journeyman Meat Co, offering handcrafted sausages and salami in the true Italian style. She has also been restoring the old 1930s farmhouse just north of town where her mother grew up. The original ranch has been split up among a handful of family members and Camille owns a chunk of it along the Russian River, where she has fond memories of big family barbecues on the Fourth of July.

She plants to keep up the tradition, making both homes available for family gatherings, just as they have for generations.

“I feel in some ways that this was all part of a bigger plan. To come back and find out that of all the places in the world I could live, and all the places in the world where I have lived, this is now home. Sometimes I have to remind myself I live here. That my refrigerator is filled with food. I loved my career. But I like being home now.”

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at meg.mcconahey@pressdemocra.com or 707-521-5204.

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