A Force of Nature

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Where most people zig, others zag. Ryan Vanni has been going his own way virtually his entire life: He got married at 18, started a business at 21 and had four kids by the time he was 28. So when he and his wife Melissa decided to build their dream home in Newcastle, Ryan turned to a young architect who’d worked on large commercial projects such as hospitals but had never designed a house.

Ryan, the 36-year-old co-founder of digital marketing firm BKWLD, found a kindred spirit in 34-year-old designer Matthew Lechowick. “He’s an up-and-comer,” Ryan says. “I’m self-made, so I liked the fact that he was new.”

Ryan and Melissa had already purchased the 6-acre property when Lechowick came onboard. The plan was to build a warm yet modern family home, big enough for their four boys and for the large parties the couple likes to host. The Vannis agreed that Ryan would take the lead on the project, working closely with Lechowick and making most of the design choices. Ryan and Lechowick met weekly for more than a year at a downtown Peet’s to sweat the countless details involved in building a 4,300-square-foot custom home.


The house is nestled into the hillside. When the pocket doors slide away it’s like being in nature.

To start, Lechowick came out to the property to learn how Ryan and Melissa wanted to live in the house. They didn’t want something showoff-y. So the first decision was siting the two-story house at the bottom of the hillside, with a driveway that curves downward first one way, then another, so that the house reveals its pleasures slowly as visitors approach. The front door opens onto a grand, double-height space that includes the open-concept kitchen, dining room and living room—big enough for a lively house full of boys. The palette is soothing: white walls, dark floors, a black metal stair railing, black ceiling beams.

Views were paramount in Lechowick’s design. In the living room, 12-foot-tall pocket doors disappear into the wall to reveal an unimpeded vista of the lush hillside that rears up behind the house. Ryan and Lechowick fussed over the location of a pair of corner windows in order to get perfect sightlines of the Sutter Buttes at sunset.


In the kitchen, open shelving is efficient. “Cooking for four boys is like working in a restaurant kitchen,” says Melissa Vanni. “I wanted to be quick with the plates and cups.”

The kitchen is modern and sleek. There’s a quartz-topped island with stools, and open shelving for dishes and glassware. Behind the kitchen, a butler’s pantry houses a second sink, two side-by-side refrigerators and small appliances like a coffeemaker, panini press and slow cooker.

The master suite is upstairs, off the great room. Downstairs are two bedrooms and two baths for the boys (they share, two to a room), a guest bedroom and a hangout space with a TV, sofa and long, built-in desk designed to get the kids out of their rooms. The furnishings are simple and modern: a reclaimed-hickory dining table by local artisan Steven Tiller, a large sectional sofa from Room & Board, pendant lighting by Brian Schmitt over the kitchen island.

Since moving in last July, the Vannis have hosted several large parties, including a gathering for their 8-year-old’s soccer team and 50 people at Thanksgiving. “The house held up and did its job,” says Melissa.

Ryan compares building the house to being an entrepreneur: “It was an incredibly creative exercise to put something on the planet that didn’t exist before.”

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