Home of the Week: Tuscan villa in Montecito

Internationally renowned architect and interior designer John Saladino says that when he first visited this property in 1985, he was “possessed and smitten” but, with a large house in Connecticut, unable to consider buying.

The Montecito villa came on the market 16 years later, and things were different: He had just sold his East Coast home and his circumstances had changed. But so had the villa. It had become a “total ruin” requiring a new roof, foundation and almost everything in between.

“We killed 250 rats here the first week after closing,” he recalls.

That was the start of a massive transformation of the Tuscan villa. Saladino spent the next four years and “millions and millions” of dollars designing, reconstructing and restoring the home and surrounding gardens.

He renewed the roof using 14,000 18th century Italian terracotta tiles; installed new doors and windows throughout; threaded wiring through the original massive stone walls for state-of-the-art communications, electrical equipment and security; and renewed the plumbing, heating and drainage.

The two-story villa was built in the late 1920s from locally quarried stone. Its quarter-mile driveway begins at 18th century Spanish wrought iron gates and winds through olive and eucalyptus trees to an entrance flanked by antique Venetian statues.

Downstairs, the villa includes an 800-square-foot living room, a dining room and a library/media room. The state-of-the-art kitchen has an adjoining breakfast room that opens to gardens with 30-foot Italian cypresses and a mature olive tree.

Immediately next to a massive stainless-steel refrigerator at one end of the kitchen, a matching metal door leads to the mezzanine floor of a split-level, high-tech office suite.

The master bedroom and bathroom — with under-floor heating — and a second en suite bedroom are also downstairs; while three more en suite bedrooms and a sitting room are upstairs. Bathroom fixtures include a Roman hand basin and an Italian neoclassical marble tub, dating from about 1720.

Saladino, who lives at the villa with his partner Betty Barrett, says he’s selling now because, at age 71, it’s time for him to downsize. He says he’ll be looking next for something “extremely modern,” on one level and with wooden floors that will be easier on his knees.

As for his other projects, Saladino recently finished a garden on a private Greek island and a palace in Kuwait that, he notes, looking around his opulent villa, “took less time than this.”

To submit a candidate for Home of the Week, send high-resolution photos on a CD, caption information, photographer’s name and a description of the house to Lauren Beale, Business, Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012. Questions may be sent to homeoftheweek@