History and Places
A Christmas wonderland
Kimo Cochran takes Guerneville home to next level of holiday decoration
By MEG McCONAHEY
If you find yourself heading through Guerneville at night between now and New Year’s, slow down once you pass through town and gaze across the river. You might for a moment think you’ve stumbled across a fairyland twinkling amid the darkened redwoods.
That would be Kimo’s place, a joyous explosion of Christmas where seemingly no surface save the floors is spared a holiday dressing.
Leave it to Kimo Cochran to mount a holiday production right in his own home. A former sword dancer, fire swallower, actor, model and San Francisco entertainment impresario, his eponymous nightclub on Polk Street was a favorite hangout for some 34 years.
“It’s a huge undertaking. But I love organizing things and I like producing and directing shows,” says Cochran, whose efforts culminate in a dazzling Christmas party for 125 of his closest friends, with catered food, an open bar and an endless feast. One room is devoted to desserts alone.
The decorations start coming out on Oct. 1, which is none too early considering the sheer volume of stuff he has accumulated over some 30 years. And each year he hits the after-Christmas sales to add more.
“I don’t want to be decorating up to Christmas day,” he explains of the pre-Halloween Christmas kick-off.
Then the real fun begins. For the next two months, the man who prefers to be known simply as Kimo strings lights and hangs bells, wreaths, reindeer, poinsettias and Santas throughout every room of the vintage 1400-square-foot cottage he and his partner Russell Burt bought in 1998. Even the chandeliers and the outside deck get the holiday treatment with poinsettias and hanging balls and lights strung from the redwoods.
The centerpiece is an 18-foot, floor-to-ceiling artificial Christmas tree ablaze with some 5,000 lights of every type available and topped with a 3-foot tall angel. It takes a team of four or five people several hours to assemble it. It takes another five days to deck the tree until seemingly every needle is adorned.
Cochran was born in Alabama at the end of The Depression, the baby in a family of six.
“I didn’t have hardly anything at Christmas as a kid,” he confesses, explaining his yuletide obsession. “It’s nice now to have a little money and be able to enjoy it.”
Cochran and Burt, who manages Santa Rosa’s Third Street Cinemas, moved up to the riverside cabin with its own sandy beach full-time about three years ago, after years as weekend visitors. They hired local contractor Tom Lynch to make the 77-year-old cabin into a comfortable home for entertaining that capitalizes on their beautiful river views.
A tiny window out to the water was replaced with a ceiling-high arched window now encircled in Christmas lights. French doors open out to a new multi-level deck. Crews spent a year refinishing the spectacular redwood interior walls and building a massive fireplace out of river rock.
He usually hires a couple of kids to help bring it all down from the attic, a job that takes an entire day. Boxes are labeled by room, however, to streamline the process.
Their open-door form of entertaining has enlivened the old Guernewood Road neighborhood, where people may swing by any day of the week with nibbles and wine for pop-up parties in his little Mardi Gras-themed courtyard in front, complete with century-old wrought-iron fence, masks on the trees and an old-fashioned street lamp from New Orleans. Or they can gather around the firepit near a bar he installed on their new and sweeping deck.
In San Francisco, Cochran kept reinventing his San Francisco nightclub, running the gamut from disco to sports bar, always staying one step ahead of the game as trends changed. But he gave it up in late 2011 and now is the principal partner in Guerneville’s R3 Hotel, the former Triple R resort newly reinvented as a 23-room resort with an outdoor stage for comics and singers. After all those years in hospitality and entertainment, Cochran now stays at arm’s length, preferring to manage entertainment on the homefront.
“I’m happy and contented here. I used to come up for vacations,” he said with a sigh. “Now it’s like being on vacation every day.”
Newly built Tuscan farmhouse is a classic in Wilchester
Italian Cyprus trees frame the exterior of this 2009 Tuscan-style farmhouse.
by Mark DeHaven
Built in 2009, this Slaney Designs home has countless modern amenities in a classic, Tuscan-style home. The home’s exterior showcases antique St. Louis brick and a well-manicured yard, including Italian Cyprus trees for a grand first impression.
Continuing with the Tuscan farmhouse ambiance inside the home, hickory hardwood floors provide a pleasant, natural appeal throughout the home. The two-story foyer opens to charming, formal living and dining rooms.
The kitchen features a porcelain sink and a large center island overlooking the breakfast room, which connects to the cozy family room with a two-sided fireplace.
A screened porch overlooks the custom pool with spa and is adorned with a wrought-iron fence.
The private master suite is situated on the first floor of the home and features a marble bath, whirlpool tub and a nearby study. The upper floor hosts three secondary bedrooms, each with private bathroom suites that include marble countertops.
$50 Holiday Decorating for the Truly Craft-Challenged
by Julie Ryan Evans
The challenge was simple: Spend $50 and decorate your house for Christmas. Being as how I have a mother-in-law who has gifted me enough Christmas decorations for 10 houses, I was a little stumped as to where to start. Then (after about 2 million hours on Pinterest) I thought about the one place that has been too overwhelming for me to go in Christmases past — this huge wrought-iron railing that leads upstairs.
For years, I’ve imagined the greenery and glitz that would make a picturesque pop in the middle of our home. But that’s as far as I have ever gotten. This year, however, I was determined to do it … and off to Michael’s I went. Then I went back again. And again. And again.
I’m a tad indecisive when it comes to matters of the home, as I’ve told you before, and I’m NOT a crafty person at all. So this was a matter of trial and (lots of) error, and multiple returns for me. But in the end, I’m thrilled with the results. Here’s what I did.
I knew I wanted greenery, but I wasn’t about to spring for the fresh kind and have to throw it away. That railing is simply too long. How long? I have no idea, and I’m apparently a terrible judge of things like that as I somehow thought that two 9-foot stands of lighted fake greenery would be plenty to do the job. Ha. That didn’t even get me up the stairs.
So back I went again with receipt in hand to return them since at $17.99 a piece buying more was definitely not in my budget. However, with the help of a nice saleslady there, I found some 18-foot ropes of greenery (with no lights) on sale for just $3.49 each. Score! So I bought five ($17.50), and even had a little leftover.
I also bought some huge glittery lime green bows ($5.99 x 3 = $18) to put on the posts, and alternated them with large red ones plus (3 x $1.99 = $6). (Red came after some polka dot ones I bought and returned because they didn’t look right.)
But there were no lights, and it really needed lights.So back I went and bought lights (Twice. You would think I would just figure out how to measure things first.) I needed four to do the job (4x $3.49 = $14). But when I plugged them in, I was pleased.
In the end, I went over my budget slightly (total just over $55, not counting gas for my bazillion trips to Michael’s). If I was a craftier type of person I could have saved a lot of money on those bows, by making them myself. But I’m not.
Overall I love the effect of the railing in my house. I’m sure some of you could have done something much more exciting, but for this craft-challenged person, I feel good about it. It really makes things festive and brings everything together. I wish I’d done it years ago.
A new chapter for Nairobi’s Westlands as new buildings sprout
By JOHN NJIRU
Described as Kenya’s social and entertainment centre for expatriates and the wealthy, Nairobi’s Westlands day time activities fade compared to its nightlife.
By midnight, the area located 3.1 kilometres northwest of Nairobi central business district, starts to dress long queues of traffic jams as partygoers make their way to their favourite restaurants, bars and nightclubs.
The morning sun finds little, other than litter in evidence of the night merry. This trait is, however, fast giving way to a fast day life as commercial banks, telecommunication, and other corporates move their headquarters to the zone.
“The high appetite is driven by penetration of donor communities and NGOs in the country who need good working offices that are less crowded and highly well maintained. Westlands is such a good address,” says Mr Kariithi Muriithi, a risk analyst who has been involved in advising investors in property development.
Known landmarks such as the Sarit Centre, The Mall and Unga House, and a cluster of shops, restaurants, bars and nightclubs are slowly being replaced by skyscrapers as investors move to meet the growing demand for rental spaces.
And in this, a new skyline is taking shape at Westlands, as new buildings come up. Looming as one approaches the roundabout is Twin towers, a combination of a great deal of concrete and glass rendering the left side of the residential-cum-commercial centre a sophisticated touch of architectural finesse, the latest from the Seyani Brothers.
The Delta Towers, as the structure has been named, will rise 18 floors above the Westlands grounds. It is being built for Jaydev Mody, the Delta Corp Indian honcho, an entrepreneur with interests in real estate and gaming industry.
“The Kenyan real estate market is rapidly growing, and is getting to a point where there is a rising demand for what can only be described as a wholly higher level of design and delivery,” said Mark Properties managing director Ravi Vasta.
As the project gets its final touches, the Delta Towers will have some imposing neighbours.
On the other side of the road, Symbion Architects are putting up a 10-storey Villa Rosa Kempinski, a Mediterranean-styled work complete with fountains, porches, corbels and wrought iron details that preserve the views of entire Chiromo surroundings.
Across Ring road, facing the Westlands matatu stage terminal, Park Plaza limited is building a 10-storey office structure named Sky Park, an arc of an edifice. Take a little walk further and get acquainted with more of these budding high-rise structures.
The 9 West, an 11-floor structure of sleek glass at the junction of Ring road Parklands and Lower Kabete road, just around Maasai Market and opposite Sarit Centre has reshaped the skyline in the western side of Westlands.
Fedha Group of Companies owns the 11-floor Fedha Plaza on the Parklands—Mpaka Road junction, opposite the Holiday Inn, while Pacis Insurance has built Pacis Centre around the same locality.
On the other side of Safaricom House is the just-completed West End Tower, which has taken four years after Dreamcatchers Limited and Camelot Estate sold it.
Previously known as Camelot House, the 8-floor 150,000 square feet worth of edifice located on 1.5 acre plot is a creation of Shamla Fernandes and actualised by Laxmanbhai Constructors.
At a time when speculation of real-estate glut is rife after a decade of property boom in the Kenyan market, Westlands is experiencing a confident cadre of developers pressing on with the ambitious structures designed to impress and bring in income.
“The investment environment in the construction market is favourable at the moment; both in terms of financiers and length of approval processes by the authority,” says the City Council of Nairobi’s (CCN) director of city planning Rose Muema.
Real estate developer Mark Properties unveiled Le ‘Mac, a 22-storey high-rise apartment and commercial tower on Waiyaki Way on October this year. The building, expected to be complete in 2015, is set to be among the tallest in the area.
First Look at Ba Mien Bistro in North Houston
By Joshua Justice
Vietnamese pho shops are nothing new to even the far reaches of Houston — including the North Bammel and Klein areas of Houston, where no shortage of small, family-owned shops dot the strip centers along Veterans Memorial north of Beltway 8. For over 20 years, these small noodle and sandwich stores have enjoyed streaks of success and a constant customer base in the large Southeast Asian communities in and around Klein Forest and Aldine.
The challenge for small restaurant owners just north continues to be attracting the crush of traffic that buzzes up and down FM 1960 (I’m not calling it Cypress Creek Parkway, dammit). Families and lunchtime workers seem content to patronize fast food and fast casual chains while a steady stream of smaller restaurants of all shapes and sizes come and go seemingly unnoticed. Reasons abound for the continued failures, from poor marketing and bad locations to flat-out crummy food.
I’m as much to blame as anyone else. Having worked in and around the area for years, I was content to blindly pass small delis and barbecue joints for a fast meal at a chain down the street. Ba Mien Bistro, however, found a way — or ways, rather — to catch my interest well before they opened.
Driving by on my way to work last month, I noticed a bright stucco exterior along 1960 just East of Champion Forest Drive, a renovation of a former ramshackle barbecue joint. With a wrought iron fence, street lamp-style lights and a simple front awning out front, Ba Mien is a stark contrast from its previous incarnation and stands out from the adjacent strip center, which houses three different strip mall-style houses of worship (is this a new start-up business thing I’m not aware of? DIY church?), a barber shop and a tattoo joint.
Before long, banners hung on the newly-added patio area announced the impending restaurant along with something else that few small restaurants out here seem to bother with: Ba Mien has a dedicated, professional billboard front. Call me a sucker, but when business owners bother with the small yet important and often pricey details that present a complete product, I’m sold. It seems I’m not the only one, either: One week before I even noticed the place, a regular reader tipped off Eating Our Words to Ba Mien’s impending opening as well.
I visited Ba Mien a few days ago during their second full week of business to see what they had to offer. I was pleased to find that he attention to detail and upscale touches seen outside continue inside as well.
The husband and wife team — along with help from their children — have fully renovated the interior. A pristine marble counter complete with pastry case and small menu board greets you as you enter. The walls and trim have all been painted a glossy gray, offering an austere match to the stripped raw concrete floors. An arrangement of small gold frames softens the metal seating in the main dining room. The hard-meets-soft aesthetic is welcoming and light in its simplicity, something often missing in even professionally designed dining rooms at multi-million dollar restaurants — much less at a mom-and-pop pho shop.
Despite being a lifelong Houstonian, I won’t claim to be a banh mi expert and I’m not versed in the top 100 pho spots in Bellaire. I have, however, been eating the stuff since I was a teenager, so I do know what I like. Simple, fresh and well-seasoned are my keys to Vietnamese casual and Ba Mien is spot-on across the board. The vermicelli, served with two excellent egg rolls, was plenty for lunch (while probably small in comparision to some of the monster sized plates I’ve seen around town), leaving me to take my bánh patê sô to go.
Knowing I wouldn’t be back in the area for sometime, and having enjoyed my French patê pastry at home the night before, I visited Ba Mien again the next day to grab a quick banh mi. I found the sandwich every bit as enjoyable as the previous day’s lunch, served on a large, fresh, crusty French roll with massive hunks of chargrilled pork. My added fried egg was overeasy, its yolk streaming perfectly throughout my sandwich.
“Keep it simple, stupid” reigns supreme when dealing with banh mi sandwiches and this one was a textbook example of a genre in which “textbook” is a high compliment.
All in all, it’s a clever little cafe looking to spread away from the dozens of other shops just down the road. Clever touches on the outside hint at the care and attention to detail in the food. It’s nothing new, but it’s certainly something different.