Home with a history and a bright future | TheUnion.com

Home with a history and a bright future

The pictures Roy and Johanna Harper showed me dated back to 1942 when their home was first built.

Frankly, it looked austere.

Today, it’s a very different picture – and their home on Banner Lava Cap combines nostalgia with drama and intrigue.

Originally, the property was the Wrigley family’s summer retreat, where they would come to enjoy the tranquility and the stunning panoramic views of the Sierra. Other historic owners include Nevada County’s Ghidotti family. In the 1960’s, it was used as a dormitory for the U.S. Forest Service.

Over the years, the house has experienced many influences and changes, certainly in terms of size. When constructed, it measured 1,500 sq. ft. To Johanna, it “looked like a salt box.” Today, after years of additions, the property offers 4,250 sq. ft. of stunning space on two scenic acres. The two-floor layout accommodates both business and family life.

Walk into the dramatic, new foyer and you can’t help but notice the Far East influence, an influence you’ll find throughout the house.

A legal-eagle view

Roy’s busy law office is downstairs. Formerly part of the world-famous Melvin Belli team, Roy has practiced in Nevada County for 15 years. “It’s great to run my business from home,” he says. As he showed me around, I couldn’t help but notice the impressive law library he has. “I’ve always wanted to display these fine volumes,” he adds, “now I can.”

The business area also includes his private office with a garden view, administration offices and a full-size kitchen. A guestroom and bath are also part of the downstairs floor plan. “At the end of the day, I simply go up the stairs and I’m home, where I unwind while I watch the sunset. No more commuting means more time to relax, and at this stage of life, that works perfectly.”

Upstairs, the atmosphere is different – clearly a place for pleasure.

The view is hypnotic, and the surroundings are full of surprises. Johanna tells me, “Although I liked the old-fashioned, single-pane windows that were here when we first saw the property in 2002, we took the practical route and replaced them with new, energy-efficient ones.”

Okay, the windows may have been replaced, and extensive new plastering, plumbing, roofing, interior and exterior painting and electrical work may have been done, yet you still see plenty of original 1940’s features, particularly in the upstairs kitchen and bathroom. Johanna’s flair with accessories, colors and plants (she has over 75 in the house), adds energy and unmistakable style to what might otherwise look ‘dated.’

“I knew restoring this old home would be a challenge,” she laughs, “but I had no idea what an epic it would be! The questions were endless about which features to save and which ones to replace, and the answers were never straightforward.”

An eclectic masterpiece

The result is an eclectic masterpiece. Beautiful room-divider screens and other Far East treasures live in perfect harmony with Turkish and Indian rugs, a large, old fireplace surrounded by Native American artifacts and other meaningful memorabilia. The dining area features two huge, turn-of-the-century pieces: an Austrian hunter’s hutch, as well as a solid-oak table formerly used in Melvin Belli’s legal library.

It’s impressive all right, but the Harper home has a casual, real-life feel, especially when you see their “elder-statesman” dog, Jake, napping under the table while his younger canine companion, Mia, reminds everyone it’s time for her walk.

The upstairs features a spacious, open floor plan that makes the most of the view, and comprises a parlor/reading room in the corner as well as an integral great room and dining room. But look around, there are satellite rooms of varying sizes and shapes. The master bedroom is large, with a small, inviting guestroom next to it. There’s also a small upstairs office where Johanna has plenty of privacy to do her bookkeeping and other important, behind-the-scenes administrative duties to keep Roy’s business running smoothly. Just like the varying ethnic influences in the furnishings and accessories, the floor plan presents unusual varieties that complement each other seamlessly.

The biggest challenge of all

To take this property from its Wrigley summer home days to its present state is a noteworthy achievement, and I couldn’t help but wonder what the biggest challenges were.

“That’s easy,” Roy answers, “finding artisans with the special skills we needed was really difficult. Many of the original, 1940s features needed attention to make them attractive and functional again, and often our decision to restore or replace was based on simply being able to find the right artisan.”

“As with any old-home restoration,” Johanna adds, “it always takes more time, costs more money, and causes more sleepless nights than we ever imagine.”

When asked if it was worth the effort, both smiled their answers and nodded enthusiastically. The Harpers’ respect for the past, their creativity and perseverance have given an old home a bright, new future.


Courtney Ferguson is an award winning writer who lived in London for nearly 30 years. She moved to Nevada County in 2002, and continues to write home-and-travel articles which appear in U.S. and British publications.

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