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Home Tour: Venetian Master

  • Chris Erric Maddox

Points of View
When Peter Becker set about creating for a married couple this 5,800-square-foot Italian-inspired home in the affluent enclave of Montecito, the Santa Barbara–based architect had the site’s sea and mountain views in mind. “Houses in Italy from the 16th and 17th centuries looked like Swiss cheese because they had a limited number of openings,” he says. So Becker, influenced by the modern designs of Frank Gehry and Charles Moore, specified large windows and doors accented with metal, to contemporize the home without diminishing its classic Italian style. A Palladian sense of symmetry was also paramount to the design and prevails in both the architecture and the interiors, the latter of which are the work of the Southern California firm SFA Design. Exemplifying that visual balance are the arches in the main hall and the main living space, where the chandeliers in both areas are made of handblown Murano glass. For outdoor living space, Becker created the courtyard, which is framed by landscaping and the walls of the guesthouse.

Open Minded
The homeowners wanted their palazzo to have a sense of flow—and they investigated the options for achieving that end. “For our research on the house, we traveled extensively in the Veneto region, visiting every Palladian villa we could get into,” says the wife. “But we also traveled all through the Lake District, Liguria, Toscana, and the Amalfi Coast.” Becker helped them attain the desired openness, employing, for example, arches rather than doors in the main hall and the courtyard. Airiness also predominates outside, where, at one end of the pool, a statue based on Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabine Women draws the eye. Art is a focus throughout the estate. In the living room hangs an antique tapestry from Paris. The scrollwork and the stone elements in the wood floors were handcrafted over the course of a year. The chandelier above the dining table is a replica of a 19th-century Lobmeyr piece. The table and chairs are made from hand-carved walnut and covered in hand-woven Italian damask. A painting by Frank Duveneck hangs over the fireplace.

Book Smart
In the French-polished, wood-paneled library, the pitched ceiling—decorated by Los Angeles–based Darren Franks of Darren Franks & Associates—immediately draws the eye upward. Rosie Feinberg, principal/senior designer at SFA Design, wanted something that “looked at least 100 years old,” Feinberg says. She ultimately asked Franks to hand-paint a mural in the style of the much older Raphael grotesques. “It was painted off-site on muslin, then hung in a way similar to a wallpaper installation,” Franks says. The inspiration for the ceiling’s shape comes from one of the homeowners’ favorite estates, the Villa Cornaro near Venice. The husband and wife enjoy reading their books—a collection started at their first home in Dearborn, Mich.—while sitting beside a crackling fire. The marble fireplace, as well as the six other fireplaces in the three-bedroom home and guesthouse, was hand-carved in Italy according to Feinberg’s sketches—and input from the homeowners. “The owner of the Frilli Gallery [in Florence], Enrico Marinelli, took us to the marble caves in Carrara and to visit the carvers in Pietrasanta,” says the wife.

In Good Taste
The homeowners refer to their wine room as a “jewel box,” and indeed it contains treasures beyond the wines themselves—including the original doors that came from the elevator at the Hotel George V, Paris. They were cut down to fit into their new home; above them is a vaulted brick ceiling. “This is the most highly detailed house I’ve ever built,” says Geoff Crane, cofounder of the Santa Barbara–based contractor Giffin & Crane. Such details include the wine room’s marble and the antique limestone tiles, which Crane’s team of builders expertly laid. In the kitchen, where the husband and wife spend much time cooking, bianca quartzite countertops and a sink with a white bronze patina are not only functional but also complementary to the couple’s white Richard Ginori china and their crystal from Venice. Most of the hand-painted pots and dishes are items that the homeowners purchased in the Italian coastal cities of Positano and Ravello. The hardwood floors are medium walnut, which gives the space a rustic feel.

Picture Perfect
The presence of walnut, as seen in the kitchen, continues in the master suite’s walk-in, double-sided closet. The master bedroom overlooks the home’s grotto and the Pacific Ocean, a vista Becker says is “the most spectacular view in Santa Barbara.” From their bed, the couple can gaze through windows, which are framed by imported Parisian drapes in a soft green and gold damask pattern, to the coast stretching north and south. If the scenery reminds them of their time on the Italian Riviera, then certainly the house they built is reminiscent of their travels and emblematic of their love of Italian art and culture. “We took about 200 pictures of grotesque frescoes, for the garage hall, loggia, and master bath ceilings,” says the wife. “My husband probably took 800 pictures altogether.” A picture-postcard property is the fruit of their research.

Peter Becker Architect, 805.682.3636, www.peterbeckerarchitect.com; SFA Design, 805.692.1948, www.sfadesign.com; Giffin & Crane, 805.966.6401, www.giffinandcrane.com; Darren Franks & Associates, 310.923.4242, www.dfafinishes.com

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