A gracious villa returns to former glory
Retaining the original footprint, this 1920s italianate residence emerged from a total restoration with its old world charm intact.
It’s one thing to design a home in a regional style and fit it comfortably in another part of the world. It’s another challenge altogether to reimagine the interiors of that same home and make them feel like they’ve been there forever. That’s exactly the adventure aerobatic pilot, world traveler, and environmentalist Laurie McFarlin embarked on in 1999, when she bought a 1920s Italianate villa in Marin County that enjoys sweeping views of the area’s hilly landscape.
A Valentine to Classical European Design
From antique built-ins to the completely programmable fiber-optic lighting system to the saline swimming pool with underwater speakers, renovating the estate was a labor of love and a valentine to classical European design. Nothing in the house was there before, except for the beams in the living room, says McFarlin, who worked with interior designer Suzanne Tucker, of Tucker & Marks, and architect Andrew Skurman.
While careful to retain the house’s extraordinary exterior footprint, McFarlin gutted the structure down to its studs and had the floorplan reconfigured for better flow.
The house was given an earthquake retro-fit. Steel I-beams were sunk 21 feet into bedrock and a central AC and heating system and a state-of-the-art sound system were installed. Such technological amenities bring the villa comfortably into the 21st century, but built-in pieces from the past give the home its true character.
“I wish I could touch these pieces and see what they've seen, says McFarlin, because I know they have stories to tell.”
The journey back in time begins in the entrance hall, where the reclaimed French paver tiles are as old as Jerusalem stone. In an adjacent powder room, a fountain from a village center in Italy has been repurposed as a whimsical sink. At the entrance to the great room, two Italian gesso columns from the 1700s have the patina of the countless hands that passed by it for more than two centuries.
The great room, an expansive space anchored by ceiling trusses and dark mahogany doors and casings, is bathed in natural light that pours in through large arched windows. Adding further drama to the room is a majestic carved limestone mantel, purchased in a Paris flea market, that dates to the 16th century.
Commanding your attention at the end of the drive are the hand-selected aged Georgia granite exterior accents, the Spanish slate roof with copper flashings, and solid mahogany exterior doors. All the exterior shutters have been approved by the Charleston Historical Society and the entire exterior is a lightning-proof design modeled after a European copper perimeter system.
When just the right element couldn’t be found, it was created or recreated, as was the case with the vaulted beam ceiling in the master bedroom that was inspired by a ceiling in designer Hubert de Givenchy’s house in the South of France.
On an even grander scale, McFarlin added a new, colonnaded dining pavilion that enjoys views of Mount Tamalpais. With limestone floors, hand-painted terra cotta, and dramatic arches, it feels original to the villa, which itself seems a continent away. Completing the picture of a relaxing European country house are antique chandeliers, carved panels, mosaic floors, marble door surrounds, majestic fountains, and other touches. Such special elements contribute to the overall feeling that this house has been here, solidly, for centuries, and will be here for many centuries to come.