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Old look, new technique for this barbecue center.

BARBECUING'S ROOTS go deep into Western history. This barbecue center in Napa, California, looks as if it could have been used by Father Serra himself. Viewed from the downhill neighbor's side, its gently curving back wall appears to be the eroded remains of a centuries-old adobe building, though in fact it's only 2 years old.

The wall and barbecue edge a flagstone patio near the rural home of Marissa Carlisle and Lawrence Mills. Like true adobe, the wall and barbecue were constructed largely of soil, although cement replaced the traditional hay as a binding agent. The mixture was lightly moistened and then compacted with a pneumatic tamper between sturdy wooden forms--the same technique used to construct rammed-earth houses.

Sculpting the top of the 20-foot-long curving wall gave it the look of weathered adobe, helping it blend unobtrusively into a landscape dominated by native oaks and wild grasses. Its texture adds to the illusion of age; the wall was made rough and pitted in some areas and plaster-smooth in others by varying the degree of compaction.

The mix of reddish soil, cement, and sand blends with the flagstone patio. Bands of gray and tan soil, like strata exposed in a rocky cliff, were also layered in during construction.

From the wall, the 3- by 6-foot barbecue extends into the patio. A rectangular firebox was set into the top of the peninsula, and an air vent extended from the bottom of the firebox through the rear wall. An adjustable-height grill frame rises above the waist-high counter, which has plenty of room for food preparation and display.

The barbecue center was designed by Jeffrey Reed of Rammed Earth Works.
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Author:Whiteley, Peter O.
Date:May 1, 1993
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