Speed is an inexorable part of life in the 21st century. Breaking news travels around the world in a matter of minutes, aided by the myriad technological wonders that now dictate the pace of our quotidian rituals. Instagram, for better or worse, instantaneously broadcasts the food people are eating and the sights they’re seeing. Amazon continues to collapse the space between desire and fulfillment. And even in the arena of residential design, one cannot escape the cantankerous creed of Veruca Salt: “I want it now!”
Mercifully, there are exceptions. A stately and soulful home in Northern California offers a compelling counter-narrative to the virtue of velocity. Lovingly crafted over decades, the house draws strength from the many caring hands that have shaped its conception and evolution. The story begins in the mid-1980s, when one of the current homeowners, then married to his first wife, embarked on a two-month voyage of discovery to study some of Italy’s most important palazzi and villas. Joining him were architect Ned Forrest and designer Rory McCarthy, both longtime friends.
“We essentially devised the footprint of the house while we were in Italy,” the husband recalls. “We found inspiration in a variety of building types, including classic Palladian villas. But I was particularly drawn to the simple, elemental forms of the pre-Renaissance farmhouses and estates we visited. We spent our days looking at architectural details and measuring rooms to determine why they felt so right. Even in the grandest homes, the scale felt perfectly human,” he says.
After returning to Northern California, the homeowner and his collaborators—including Ed Clay, a fine-furniture maker and craftsman—set about the task of designing a house equal in grace and nobility to those of its Italian forebears. Later in the four-year process of constructing the home, the legendary decorator Mark Hampton entered the picture. “Mark came in when we were starting to get into finishes and architectural details. His expertise and knowledge of history are written across every room,” the husband observes.
Fast-forward roughly two decades, to 2010. The husband, divorced a decade earlier, had just remarried. “We were starting a new chapter in our lives, and we wanted to refresh the house to express our joint vision,” his wife recalls. “I’d been following the work of Commune for some time, and I was eager to work with them.” Her husband was less certain. “The Commune style was quite a departure for me. I honestly wasn’t certain they were the right people,” he confesses. “But I was impressed by the originality and eclecticism of their approach, as well as their respect for the original Mark Hampton design.”
Working in tandem, Pamela Shamshiri, then a principal at Commune, and Roman Alonso, a cofounder of the firm, devised a plan to imbue the residence with a rejuvenated spirit, keyed to the unique personalities of their clients, while maintaining the home’s patrician mien and Old World charm. “It really felt like the house of a bachelor. It needed a center, a heart,” Alonso explains, referring to the design team’s initial focus on the voluminous great room. “We tried to temper the scale of the room and give it a much more comfortable, intimate feeling for the family,” Shamshiri continues. That effort included the installation of a waxed wainscot in an earthy shade of tobacco as well as the integration of cozy upholstered seating and contemporary designs that tweak the aesthetic rectitude of the existing antiques. Alonso and Shamshiri also goosed the color scheme with tall yellow curtains and a luminous ombré of blue and lavender on the lofty ceiling. A single, massive Hechizoo carpet unifies the room’s dining and seating areas.
The remainder of this first design phase focused on the home’s upper-floor bedrooms, including the eminently serene master suite, with its polyglot mix of 1940s Italian glass lamps, an antique Venetian bed (one of the husband’s family heirlooms), a Gustavian console, and a monumental Serge Roche mirrored screen. “The bedroom, of course, is where two people come together, so it was especially important to make it new and upbeat to celebrate their union,” Shamshiri notes. “Other rooms, like the kitchen, we didn’t touch. They were perfect,” Alonso adds.
Tour the Full Redesign of the California Villa
More recently, the team at Studio Shamshiri, the firm founded by the brother-and-sister duo of Pamela and Ramin Shamshiri, has continued to refine the home’s spaces, including the wife’s office, the guest quarters, and the red dining room, now crowned with a sculptural contemporary candelabra by Sam Orlando Miller. In the green sitting room, where the homeowners retire for postprandial drinks and conversation, Shamshiri made light changes to the upholstery treatments while preserving the basic art and furnishings scheme from the Hampton era. “Mark’s curtains puddled on the floor, while Pam’s treatment floats a bit. It’s like the difference between bell-bottoms and skinny jeans,” the husband muses.
Surveying their domain, the homeowners seem content with the scene of domestic bliss they’ve conjured. “We were just newlyweds, still getting to know each other, when this redesign process started. As we’ve become more confident in our relationship, the house has evolved to reflect the life we’ve created as a family,” the wife declares. “You can feel the presence of everyone who has contributed to making our home such a warm and hospitable space. There are talismans of good luck and love everywhere.”
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest