On five sprawling acres on the edge of Sonoma, Peter and Louise Hassen live among sculptures and succulents, bees and birdhouses, wildflowers and herb gardens. Here, on a former poultry farm, the couple has built a life where art and business thrive together.
Louise is the founder of Sonoma Apothecary, a company that produces bath and body products made with organic herbs. She’s also the head gardener for the property, which they’ve named Terraplane Farm. Her husband, Peter, is a multidisciplinary artist, working with video, painting, sculpture, photography, and printmaking. Last summer, Peter displayed three sculptures on the nearby Sonoma Plaza, part of his “Cycles” series.
The works were designed to make both visitors and residents stop to consider the challenges and opportunities of the moment.
Peter explains that his art has connections to recurring themes of nature, science, and spirituality and attempts to connect the dots between people, ideas, and cultures. “I mine the icons and memes of history, looking for commonalities in ideas from the earliest of cultures to contemporary times,” he says. “My goal is to engage viewers in conversation about issues relevant in all of our lives.”
Louise and Peter met in San Francisco, then hopscotched their way northward to Sonoma. They purchased their current farm, a former poultry operation that once provided chicken, ducks, and eggs to sailors at a nearby Navy yard, in 2008. “We knew about this property from driving by it over the years and joking about walking up and making an offer.” Turns out, through lucky timing—or perhaps destiny—the Hassens were ready to move just as the farm came on the market. They made an offer immediately.
The Hassens now live in the original 1,500-square-foot, one-bedroom farmhouse, which was built in 1923. The home needed only a light touch with renovations. “Our goal then, and since, is to keep all the old charm of an original stick-built Craftsman style ‘kit house.’ It probably came off a railcar,” explains Peter. “All the 100-year-old double-hung windows still work and have the original wavy glass.”
At the time the couple moved in, very little landscaping existed. Sheets of plywood laid on bare ground formed the walkway up to the house. “The first thing we did was call Tony at Sonoma Materials and order 70 yards of half-inch crushed drain rock to get us off the mud.”
Louise, who studied garden design through UC Berkeley Extension (Sonoma landscape architect Nancy Roche was one of her instructors), saw the property as a perfect blank slate on which to create a vibrant and ever-evolving series of outdoor spaces. “I wanted to create enclosed garden ‘rooms’ that felt different from each other,” Louise says. To define and enclose the different spaces, she planted hedges of flowering cherry laurel, boxwood, and Grecian bay laurel.
Inside, the rooms were finished with drought tolerant and deer resistant plants. There’s also a separate agave garden, and another plot where Louise grows cut flowers for bouquets.
Recently, Louise added an apothecary garden of healing plants like lavender, clary sage, aloe, calendula, and lemongrass, many which she uses in her line of bath and body products. She grows other plants just for their fragrance—bergamot, cistus (rockrose) and a collection of scented geraniums.
Both Peter and Louise work the edible garden, which was expanded as part of the landscape remodel. This time of year, they’re harvesting plenty of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and squash, and every week in summer, they are able to donate 50 pounds or more of fresh produce to local nonprofit Friends in Sonoma Helping (FISH). And in a few of the beds, more fragrant herbs, like verbascum, lemon verbena, salvia, and myrtle are grown for their good friend Alison Kilmer, founder of Sonoma’s Uppercase Tea Company.
Beyond the garden, Peter says, “the property has outdoor living for days,” with sitting areas and gathering spaces tucked into the orchard and the apothecary garden. A series of smaller outbuildings includes a farm office, a dining shed in a former garage, a water tower remade into a beautiful library, and a small barn converted into a lounge for music, dancing, and hanging out in the evening, loaded with comfy sofas and seats the couple made from wooden pallets and cushions. And seven local artists of every stripe, from landscape to abstract to pop art, work on the property in studio spaces that have been built into one of the low-slung chicken barns.
As finicky Sonoma summer weather takes shape, the Hassens find the outdoor spaces offer flexibility for entertaining. One minute, the wind may be howling as it comes in over the Petaluma Gap, then suddenly it switches off. On calm nights, Louise and Peter will welcome guests at long picnic tables in the courtyard or in the garden shed and have dessert in the music lounge, which is often lit by candlelight. If it’s windy, they eat in the covered dining room. “Basically, it’s impossible to make the location call until about 15 minutes before we eat and we know what the weather is doing,” laughs Louise.
The Hassens say they’re continually inspired by the property and work to make it more resilient for the future, and more inviting to the friends and fellow artists they host. “In so many ways, we feel like caretakers for the next generation,” says Louise, “saving the traditional, rustic nature of the old chicken farm at the edge of town, but making it more livable for the 21st century.”
A Life in Art
“Sonoma is full of such incredibly creative people,” says Louise Hassen, noting how happy she and her husband are to find a network of fellow artists in town. A few favorites:
Louise Hassen points to the high-end interior designer’s work at Frog’s Leap Winery as the epitome of simple elegance. nedforrest.com
Roche + Roche Landscape Architecture
Louise studied landscape design with principal Nancy Roche and says she admires how the firm is able to integrate “a sense of the wild” into their designs. 1055 Broadway, Sonoma. 707-933-8302, rocheandroche.com
Sonoma Mission Gardens
The local nursery has a “friendly and knowledgeable staff,” says Louise. A strong selection not only of vegetables and ornamentals, but also succulents and drought-tolerant plants. 851 Craig Ave, Sonoma. 707-938-5775, sonomamissiongardens.com
Fineline Art & Frame
Their framing is high-quality and beautifully done, says Louise, and the owners are always interested in hearing about their customers’ art projects. A lovely place to buy gift wrap, too. 201 W. Napa St., Sonoma. 707-935-3199, finelineartandframe.com
Modern Art West Gallery
A landmark downtown gallery representing the work of Bay Area artists, with a focus on postwar abstract expressionism in California. The gallery will host a solo show of Peter Hassen’s work in the fall. 521 Broadway, Sonoma. 707-210-5275, modernartwest.com