It’s not every interior designer whose first official job turns out to be four houses for a Hollywood film star that’s just part of the serendipitous path Christina Blakeney to her present work in Napa Valley.
First, there was the ski trip to Austria that turned into a 12-year sojourn in Vienna, where Blakeney worked as a film editor for Austrian television. This led to film projects that included working with Princess Grace of Monaco on “The Children of Theatre Street,” which was nominated for an Academy Award.
Returning to the U.S., she was working in Hollywood when her mother, St. Helena designer Marianne Wheeler, fell ill. Blakeney came north to help her. Impressed with her daughter’s work, Wheeler said, “You should be doing this.” So, back in Hollywood, she tried it out, when Danny DeVito needed someone to work on a few houses.
After another extended stay in Europe — this time for four years in Barcelona, Spain — Blakeney returned to make her home in Napa. After serving as an interim director at the Napa Valley Museum, she is concentrating full-time on her design business.
“It’s not like I’m trying to get a look,” said Blakeney. “I have an eclectic design sensibility. It’s about helping clients figure out what they need.”
A current project, for example, is helping an 84-year-old retired scientist sort through “a lifetime of accumulated stuff. She wanted serenity,” Blakeney explained, “but it’s hard for people to do this by themselves. It’s so easy to become complacent but it’s possible at any stage in life to recreate a home to sort through and put everything into a fresh context.”
It’s an approach she uses in her own Napa home as well, where she “edited” her collections from her years of traveling the globe.
“I’ve been lucky. I’ve been able to travel, to live in other cultures,” she said. “My house is an amalgam of impressions but everything tells a story.”
“I’m always finding things,” she added. “I don’t think I’ve ever bought a piece of furniture in a store. I like rethinking things, giving them new life.
Candles, illuminating a mirror that was a gift from a friend, sit on a small table with an assortment of schnapps glasses bought at an auction in Vienna, and silver pieces from her mother as well as Spain and Austria.
In her dining room is an old refectory table was her mother’s, with dining chairs bought on Craigslist, a chandelier from an consignment, a set of antlers from her landlord’s garage, and pillars from Abell’s, “an old L.A. auction house. They seemed so, sort of, swell and grand (and, of course, such a bargain) that I found my hand raising involuntarily during the auction. Then I had to figure out what to do with them and how to get them home.
“It’s the thrill of discovery, whether it’s in an auction house, junk store,” said Blakeney as she described her adventures pulling off a Spanish highway to find for sale the original artwork.
Another Spanish treasure she brought back from Spain was a collection of Spanish linens, some of which she will be selling at Frill at Ferrini in Napa. “I bought hundreds of linens — sheets, pillowcases and nightgowns, from Spanish Gypsies - they brought them to me in plastic bags. And I thought about all the stories they told, of someone embroidering a trousseau for a wedding. No two are alike.”
An open house at Frill showing the linens is June 2, 2-5 p.m. Ferrini is at 2007 Main St., Napa, 255-7511. More information about the collection is at christinablakeney.com under the section “Favorite Things.”
As for advice for other’s collections?
“Pick the things that are the most meaningful,” Blakeney said. “When you walk into a space your should feel good, relaxed comfortable. You should be able to think ‘This is lovely, a refuge, a haven. Your house should be a reflection of all that’s best about you.”