"Traditional" design, for many people, means Queen Anne wingbacks or country French sideboards. For Polly Coleman, the owner of a villa in Montecito, the word has more long-lasting implications. Every house has its own history,she insists,and you can’t just come in and gut it. She says of her redone home, “You have to honor who lived here and who designed here before you.”
In fact, one thing that particularly appealed to the Colemans was how the original designer had respected the land and its layout. The site was the entrance of a ranch near Santa Barbara. Behind the gate lay a long alle´e of Italian stone pine trees leading to a small knoll. For the redesign, architect Bob Ray Offenhauser, AIA, used the rows of trees to focus views onto the front entry. And he reached back in time for his inspiration. “Everything led us to the great Italian master Andrea Palladio,” he says. “The land is visible from all around. There are lines of trees and the original owner loved Italian design by way of the American South.”
Offenhauser devised a textbook house straight out of Palladio’s Veneto creations: Classic proportions, axial layout and hand-carved limestone columns, balusters and details, along with layer upon layer of ochre- tinted stucco to achieve exactly the correct coloring. Roofs are mostly flat but sport classic slopes where appropriate. Expansive entablatures top the colonnades. Inside he arranged the rooms to look out over both the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains, and he wrapped the rooms with graciously deep verandas. He coffered the high ceilings, made certain that each room had multiple doorways (allowing for ease of flow while entertaining, he says), and sheathed the floors in marble and reclaimed woods.
Bruce Giffin and Geoff Crane built the house. They say their biggest challenge was to keep the craftsmanship at the highest level. For instance, rather than have the stone carved near the out-of-state quarry, they shipped it in and had local technicians do the more demanding work. “All together, we created and built a very serene hilltop sanctuary,” Offenhauser says, “much like Palladio’s.”
Owner Polly Coleman loves what they did, and adds, “I wanted to blend their old and my new to make a perfect place.” When the Colemans moved in, she evaluated what already existed then developed strategies to expand on it to suit her own taste. “I studied a lot of Italian design to do what would be best for both the house and for us,” she explains.
The kitchen had great cabinetry but was small, so she combined it with a butler’s pantry and added to the family room, using existing colors and materials. She liked the coffering in the living room but found the fin- ishes bland, so she had a painter enhance the graining on the ceiling beams and added moldings. The color in the dining room was wonderful but lacked sparkle, so she added trim and gilding. The entry layout felt appropriately formal, but its marble floor and solid doors were fussy; so she installed tile and had the doors replaced with ironwork grills with operable glass.
Polly Coleman and husband Tom do not simply look back in time; they look at tradition from the present and extend it into the future. When he proposed—and she accepted—the pair went out and bought the very best dining room table, chairs and breakfront they could afford. “It was a commitment to our family being together now and in the future,” she says, “and it creates a heritage from us as a couple to our children’s children.”