Montecito Italian Palazzo: SFA Design

Today’s design inspiration comes from a classical-inspired Italian Palazzo that sits high atop a hill in affluent Montecito, California with stunning views over Santa Barbara and beyond to the Pacific Ocean. The home’s owners, who are lovers of Italian art and culture, wanted to build a home that would be truly emblematic of that love. They wanted to create a Venetian style Palazzo and were happy to go and research the real thing for design inspiration personally. The couple traveled extensively throughout the Veneto region, visiting every Palladian villa they could get into while collecting hundreds of photos and design ideas to perfect their vision.

To translate their historically inspired ideas into a home for today, they turned to Santa Barbara architect Peter Becker. With the sea and mountain views in mind, the architect designed the residence with large windows and doors accented with metal for a contemporary note that balances the classical design elements. Why sacrifice one for the other when you can have both? The interiors display a great dedication to the finer points of historical accuracy. Classical scale and proportions combine with a Palladian sense of symmetry and rhythm creating perfect harmony. Ornate architectural details lavish the home with exquisite detail.

sfa Italian palazzo living room tapestry

The interiors of the 5,800 square-foot home were completed by the interior design firm Smith/Firestone and Associates (SFA Design), a globally successful boutique firm with offices on both coasts. At the owner’s request, the designers made no compromises on authenticity or quality. SFA took pride in selecting the very best finishes and furnishings for the luxurious interiors. Countless bespoke designed details painstakingly layer through the home fully articulating the couple’s vision for their Italian palazzo. Art is a focus throughout the estate. Custom Murano glass chandeliers shine beneath hand-painted grotesque frescoes on the ceilings. Antique tapestries and 19th-century paintings adorn the walls while Florentine statues accent the homes architectural features. In the end, the entire estate is a collaborative work of art.

sfa italian palazzo living room b

The great thing about this estate is that even with all the incredible architectural detail, the grand scale chandeliers, and the period antiques throughout, it never feels overly formal or unlivable. I love details and ornamentation when handled with discipline in this classical way.  The home doesn’t look period even though it is “historically accurate.”  The owners desired their version of an Italian palazzo. The designers helped them to achieve their vision in a balanced and thoroughly contemporary way. The home’s design perfectly reflects the refined lifestyle lived by the owners.

SFA Italian Palazzo entrance hall

sfa Italian palazzo entry hall window

Custom, hand-blown Murano glass chandeliers from the oldest Murano factory in Italy hang here in the main entrance hall. All the lighting in the home is quite spectacular as you will see. The inlaid patterns of the marble floors echo the rhythms created with the walls and ceilings. Classical design recognizes a formal system governing the interrelations of the parts and the whole.

sfa italian palazzo dining room

The custom mill-work used here and throughout the home is remarkable. Ceilings are not treated as blank voids. Instead, they are adorned with as much detail as the room beneath them. In the dining room, a hand-carved walnut table and chairs upholstered in hand-woven damask gather beneath a glittering chandelier. A painting by Frank Duveneck hangs over the fireplace.

sfa italian palazzo kitchen

In the kitchen is where the couple spends most of their time. Beautiful walnut cabinetry surrounds much of the room. Bianca quartzite forms the counter-tops. The wood floors are also a medium walnut. The glass front cabinets allow for the display of their white Richard Ginori china and crystal from Venice. Most of the hand painted pots and dishes came from the Italian coastal cities they visited while researching for the house. The elaborate ceiling ornamentation continues in this room as well. The family of bronze lighting fixtures is some of my personal favorites in the home.

SFA Italian Palazzo wine storage

The couple refers to their wine room as a “jewel box,” and it is indeed ornate. Expertly laid marble and limestone cover the floor while brick makes up the vaulted ceilings. The door originally came from the elevator of the Hotel George V in Paris. The wine stores in custom wood shelves. Antique bronze chandeliers provide the lighting. Everywhere one looks the details are in keeping with the notable quality found in the rest of the home.

SFA Italian Palazzo library

Here in the polished wood-paneled library, hand-painted grotesque frescoes adorn the pitched ceiling. The principal designer commissioned the work by Darren Franks of Darren Franks & Associates. The designs, painted off-site on muslin, mimic the style of those found in the older Raphael grotesques. Are they not interesting? They certainly make for good conversation as the couple tells about their adventures. These designs inspire me to take another look at my ceilings. The grand bronze chandeliers suspended beneath the frescoes perfectly complete this room. The designers tempered the formality of the space with plump traditional sofas making the room welcoming and comfortable.

SFA Italian Palazzo master bedroom

The master bedroom overlooks the home’s grotto and has the most spectacular views in the house. From their bed, the couple can gaze out through their glass windows and doors and see the coast stretching far north and south. Custom draperies made with specially imported Parisian Damask frame those views.

sfa italian palazzo master bath hers

The master bathroom features painted ceiling designs based on photos taken of grotesque frescoes. A stylized mosaic design decorates the floor. Gold plated faucets adorn the marble counter-tops and tub surround. Antique Italian gilt-wood framed mirrors and the Murano glass chandelier complete the room on just the right note.

SFA Italian Palazzo closet

The master closet features walnut custom built-ins and antique chandeliers.

SFA Italian Palazzo family room

The monumental marble fireplace surround here in the family room, as well as the six others throughout the home, were hand carved in Italy according to the principal designer’s sketches created with input from the owners who personally visited the marble caves in Carrara and the carvers in Pietrasanta.

SFA Italian Palazzo terrace bronze

SFA Italian Palazzo terrace

SFA Italian Palazzo pool side exit

SFA Italian Palazzo exterior pool

SFA Italian Palazzo outdoor living

SFA Italian Palazzo full exterior

This Italian Palazzo is an exquisite masterpiece combining the best of both traditional design principals and modern day luxury and technology. The home serves as a testament to the fundamental values of incredible vision and meticulous execution.

If you would like to see more Classical inspired homes be sure to see my post:

Classical Inspired Surrey Mansion

Fifth Avenue Classical Design

SFA Design’s Italian Palazzo Conclusion

That concludes our design inspiration for today, my friend. I hope you enjoyed Montecito Italian Palazzo: SFA Design. Thank you so much for reading along with me.

Architecture: Peter Becker Architect

Principal Interior Design: SFA Design

This home featured in Robb Report.

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What do you think? I look forward to hearing from you in the comments.

Have a great day!


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  • […] home’s interior architecture includes many classic design details derived from centuries old techniques; stone carving, gilding, […]

  • […] paneled library comes from an Italian style palazzo in Montecito, CA created by Santa Barbara based SFA Design. (see entire post) The pitched ceiling is decorated with hand painted grotesque frescoes. The […]

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