Bella Villa


Visit the 1998 Philharmonic House of Design, an Italian-style villa awash in warm terra-cotta hues with a grand view of the surrounding hillside, and you might feel like you’re “Standing Under the Tuscan Sun.”

That’s the title of Frances Mayes’ best-selling account of how she restored a villa in the scenic Italian countryside.

Under the Tustin sun is an apt description of the 7,500-square-foot manor in Lemon Heights transformed--from high ceilings to floorboards--into a Tuscany-style villa by 22 members of the American Society of Interior Designers/Orange County (ASID). Villa Toscana is open to the public for tours Sunday through May 17 as a benefit for the Philharmonic Society of Orange County.

Choosing the theme was a natural: The anonymous owner of the newly completed home is Italian and wanted his home to have the warmth and light of a Tuscany villa. Plus, Tuscan’s a hot trend in interior design, thanks in part to Mayes’ book.


“Tuscany is upscale country,” said Mona Clark, ASID chairwoman of the design house. “It’s not rustic. It’s country elegant. There’s a lot of wrought iron, rough stone and faux walls.”

All of the designers worked from a palette of terra cotta, mellow gold, deep rust and a medium blue the color of a clear Tuscany sky. Each brought in materials, artisans and furnishings (on loan during the tours) to create a vision of Tuscany.

In the dining room, Costa Mesa designer Nancie Lowe had the arched walls painted with a crackled gold-toned finish to make the room glow with sunlight or candlelight. Beneath a weathered iron Italian chandelier, she placed a table with an iron-forged base surrounded by extra-wide armchairs upholstered in deep eggplant and gold Florentine fabric. The focal point: a massive 17th century reproduction credenza, imported from Italy and made of walnut with decorative inlay.

“I wanted that Old World feeling,” Lowe said. “When you think of Tuscany, you think of romance.”


Tuscan villas typically invite natural light, so designer Mark Levine created window coverings that frame the dining room’s sweeping view to Santa Catalina. Using pieces of gold silk, he created an arch-topped unstructured valance that drapes to the floor.

“In the old days of Tuscany, they used short-weaved cloths. They didn’t have long yardage, so they put pieces together and made incredible swags,” Levine said.

In Tuscan tradition, faux painting has been used extensively. A mural of the Tuscan hillside covers the foyer walls. One hall features an Old World map.

Designer Lisa Danovich of Mission Viejo turned the pool pavilion into an ancient Roman bathhouse by having the walls painted like crumbling ruins with open sky on the ceiling.



In the kitchen, a brick pizza oven from Milan has been adorned with the words “warm bread, good wine and best friends” in Italian.

Wine will be found in abundance in the private cellar, which features wood doors with scenes of winemaking hand-carved by an 80-year-old Austrian craftsman.

Visitors--even those without a villa, or a wine cellar, in the hills of Tuscany or Tustin--can nevertheless borrow many of the designer features.


Stairwells are often overlooked when redecorating, yet designer Jamie Namanny of Fountain Valley simply transformed a back hall and stairwell into one of the home’s most charming features.

Even a modest budget affords materials comparable to those used in the stairwell--with the exception of a pair of carved wood doors from a 17th century Italian monastery. They’re worth about $40,000.

Namanny filled display areas alongside the stairs with baskets of bread, jars of olive oil, bottles of wine and other items one might find in an outdoor market. On the wall are weathered-looking green shutters with an awning and a geranium-filled flower box. She wants people to feel as if they are passing under an archway in an Italian village.

Visitors can also study the importance of proportion in making a room work. In the salon, designers Pat Sullivan, Dawn Piel and Donna Howe of Mission Viejo wanted to make the narrow area in front of a massive limestone fireplace both practical and inviting.


“The ceilings are high, but the floor space is small, so the dimensions had to be big,” Sullivan said.

Their solution: Plant two massive, 44-inch-by-40-inch easy chairs opposite each other directly in front of the fireplace, creating a cozy nook. Walls covered in antique gold- and rust-colored raw silk, chenille chair upholstery and cushy carpeting add to the comfort.


To draw the eye toward the high ceiling and to create the illusion of more space, the designers had a persimmon-colored medallion painted on the ceiling above a chandelier.


Of course, most any Tuscan villa boasts lush landscaping, and eight local design firms have filled the Tustin grounds with greenery, choosing flowers in the same warm palette used for the interior. Herb gardens, a cobblestone courtyard and portico plantings adorn the exterior, and there’s a secret garden created for one of the home’s young inhabitants.


Tour Details

Philharmonic House of Design tours begin Sunday and run through May 17. A 7,500-square-foot Lemon Heights manse has been transformed into a Tuscan villa.


* Tours Tuesdays through Fridays, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; gourmet food service and boutique will be available

* Meet-the-designers evenings will be May 7 and May 14, 5-8 p.m.

* Garden tours will be Sundays and Wednesdays at 1:30 p.m.

* Admission is $20


* More information, call (714) 840-7542