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After years of exhibiting her work in galleries from New York to Nashville, Healdsburg painter Sargam Griffen decided to build her own gallery — and live in it.

The home she first sketched out on a napkin at the Flying Goat coffeehouse evokes an art gallery, with long, flat walls, open floors and high ceilings to accommodate her large-scale abstract paintings.

“This is my gallery house,” said the German-born artist, standing in the middle of an open living room and kitchen where her paintings, layers of complex colors and dreamy imagery make a bold statement against white walls.

Turning traditional design ideas on their end, Griffen sought trim and detail that would not draw attention away from her art. The light fixtures are subtle and simple, the window frames and door handles minimalist.

“I want the art to create the details, the story and the feeling and the color,” she explained.

Of the decision to turn her home into a habitable gallery, she added, “I had to make these decisions about the studio and the house and the size and how I will interact with people. I just had this guiding light saying I want people to experience contemporary art. I finally got to a point where I said, ‘I’m not going to deal with galleries anymore,’” she said. “People have to find me. And it’s been really wonderful.”

Now Griffin, who does much of her work by commission, can invite clients to her gallery home to see her work in its best light. She also built a 650-square-foot guest house and home work space that she calls her Art Shed. It, too, is designed with large walls, an identically sloped shed roof and unobtrusive details so it can serve as a showcase for art.

Her Art House and Shed will be open to visitors today and Saturday during the ArtTrails weekend. Griffen is one of 173 artists and studios participating in the event, which is a chance for the public to visit and talk with artists in their work spaces.

Griffen does most of her messiest work that involves more toxic materials in an outbuilding in Geyserville. But she does do a lot of work at home in her Art Shed, a small shotgun style cottage only steps from the main house, with an easy-wash Pergo floor.

The main house is only 1650 square feet but feels spacious, with a high shed ceiling that slopes from 15 to 9 feet. The front wall facing the road is all glass, 10- by 10-foot sliders with a 3-foot glass transom above. The view through the glass is the canopy of a copse of oak trees, and is itself like a painting. The light that filters in through the branches is bright but not harsh or glaring.

Griffen lived for many years in a hill property just outside Healdsburg off Dry Creek Road. An older house built in the early 1950s, it didn’t led itself to her gallery house vision. So she sold that property and set to work building her new house on an adjoining parcel a bit further downhill.

“I had only five months to rent back, so I was definitely pushing it to get in here. I also needed the money to build. I didn’t realize what a big deal this all has been. But now that I’m settled here, it really works,” she said. The finished home was ready to move in last Thanksgiving.

She hired a home designer to draw up professional, working plans and get them through the formal permit process. After interviewing 11 different contractors, she settled on MKB Construction in Cloverdale. She had a good working relationship with the crew, checking in with them on her way down up the driveway so that any questions that came up got quickly handled.

The kitchen is minimalist, with plain white cabinetry, some custom mixed with IKea. The back splash is chalk paint on which she records messages and imagery. The prep island is Carrara marble on a concrete pedestal. What pops out to the eye in this space are the two doors bookending the open gallery on opposite sides.

One outstanding feature of the home is the “ArtDoors,” vertical paintings hung on cables that slide like barn doors. She has one art door over the pantry, painted shiny silver with the word “Toast” written graffiti style. On the other end of the kitchen is a painting echoing the colors of the marble, with smudges of gold and rust. The ArtDoors are one of Griffen’s specialties, representative of her devotion to a marriage between art and architecture.

Griffen is now experimenting with ArtDoors durable enough to serve as a front entry door. Some 40 layers of oil paint and a finish of clear epoxy resin, the same kind used on surfboards, should allow them to withstand wind and rain.

“Most people say don’t touch art. Well, you can touch my art. I want people to touch my art,” she said. “It’s all very durable.”

Griffen came to fine art later in life. For 17 years she worked as a faux finisher, doing high end work in hotels in Silicon Valley and San Francisco. Her clients included the late actor Robin Williams.

In her youth, Griffen traveled all over the world and found herself always drawn to art and architecture wherever she landed. So it became a natural transition to marry the two when she turned to fine art.

The shift happened nine years ago, after she experienced an epiphany at the Vatican.

While surging toward the Sistine Chapel, which was jammed elbow to elbow with sightseers, she experienced a wave of claustrophobia. She dove into a little stairwell that led up to a ballroom-sized space filled with contemporary sculptures and paintings.

“It was absolutely amazing. As I was walking through there, I was so moved. I realized I need to spend my life doing fine art that has a quality of life to it,” she said.

Back home, she turned her garden shed into an art studio.

“I locked myself in for two years, and just painted,” she recalled. “The economy was going down. I thought, ‘I’m not going down with it. I’m going to paint. I’ve going to develop myself.’ I did not go to museums. I did not go to art shows. I did not look online. I just wanted to see what I have in me without reference points.”

Griffen emerged with a small body of work with which to begin her professional journey as a fine artist.

“Art for me is really an expression of what I feel,” she explained. “It’s really about going from darkness to light. Every painting has a story, and it is always unpredictable for me because I have to be empty when I work. I don’t have a preconceived idea when I work. I work from a feeling.”

The Art Shed is her getaway space and a place where she can meet with clients and work, but also, she said, to “find peace in the creative process, an undisturbed space to day dream.”

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5204. On Twitter @megmcconahey.

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