George Googins’ home appears like a hacienda perched up in the vast brown landscape of Andalusia. But in fact, the Spanish-Moorish style house that George built — parts of it with his own hands — is nestled among the grassy folds above Chileno Valley on ranchland that has been in his family for generations.
He spent 25 years planning and envisioning it in his mind, all the while collecting architectural salvage, ideas and pictures from his many travel adventures around the globe, storing it for the time when he would eventually build his dream hacienda.
The result is a house that is singularly his own, filled with unexpected surprises, and designed not to impress anyone, but only to please his own eyes and stir memories of places he’s been and people he has known.
“It was truly an art project and I really enjoyed the whole process,” said Googins, who acted as his own general contractor, working closely with a talented carpenter, Johnny McCulloch of Windsor, who figured out how to make Googins’ designs and ideas work.
“I couldn’t have done it without him,” he said.
The beauty of the house is in the details — the rounded iron grills over the windows that he had admired in Tunisia and that cast ornate shadows on ochre walls, the timeworn doors layered with flaking patina brought from Mexico and the half circular metal arches tucked above doorways. There are the pendant light fixtures from Morocco with delicate cut-out designs that make the light pour through like diamonds and the giant Talavera ceramic pot he bought and trucked up from Dolores Hidalgo near San Miguel de Allende.
“I had this file that went back 25 years, where I collected various stuff. So I knew what I wanted,” said Googins, a tall, lean man of 72, who favors his Irish side, with a light and slightly freckled complexion and blue eyes. A former bond department manager for a global financial services firm, he retired at the young age of 39 and hit the road, traveling the world, from the Amazon to Southeast Asia.
While he didn’t grow up in Chileno Valley –– his father, Paul, was a civil engineer for the U.S. Forest Service and the family moved around — it had been his ancestral home since the mid 19th century.
He made his way back in later years, living for 14 years in a small Victorian farmhouse on the hilly land he inherited that straddles the border of Sonoma and Marin counties. It came down to him through his mother, Anita Dolcini Googins. She was descended from Carlo Martinoia, a Swiss immigrant who came to Chileno Valley in 1852 and bought his first ranch in 1856. It was another great-great grandfather, John Gallagher, an Irish immigrant, who bought the ranch in 1862 where Googins now lives. He sold it 10 years later. But then, in 1918, Googins’ great-grandfather Peter Dolcini, who had married Anita Martin, a granddaughter of Carlo Martinaoia, bought the ranch, bringing it back into the family, where it has remained for a century.
Googins’ sister, Sally Gale, lives nearby on Chileno Valley Ranch in a valley where the name Dolcini is still common. Their mother died at her daughter’s home in 2015 at age 99.