A Montecito Residence Blends Italian Influence with Modern Sensibility


Maurice Singer, a former Hollywood producer and entertainment industry executive who now runs a real estate investment fund, remembers being spellbound by Pantelleria, a volcanic island on a continental rift in the Mediterranean. Though officially part of Sicily, Pantelleria is closer to Tunisia and, says Singer, “I was very influenced by its mixed Italian and North African aesthetic.” He decided to transport this unique blend to another site of considerable seismic activity—his Montecito home overlooking the Santa Ynez Mountains.

Singer knew what he wanted, but it would take some doing to realize his vision. Built in 1959, the house was basically a nondescript ranch, to which he sought to add a two-car garage, more outdoor living areas and a healthy dollop of personality. He required someone skilled at translating his needs into workable drawings that would win approval from the county’s exacting Montecito Board of Architectural Review. Enter residential designer Sophie Calvin, who was able to map out the addition and a basic floor plan, along with restrained architectural flourishes such as contemporary steel-and-glass French doors. Singer also engaged designer Elizabeth Vallino to, he says, “really tweak the architectural details.”

What that involved, explains Vallino—who completed her interior design degree in Rome and had been to Pantelleria—was “steering it toward a more indoor-outdoor, modern version of an Italian island house.” Hints of this concept begin outside, she continues, with “very clean, hand-troweled stucco walls and garage openings that are completely rectilinear and without detailing. By the time you reach the front door, which is steel-framed glass, you pretty much know you’re leaving traditional behind.”

Inside, Vallino removed a wall to create a graciously proportioned living room and then designed a floating fireplace to produce more intimate gathering spaces without closing things in. She also lifted the drop ceiling, which, she says, “became an invitation to make the existing French doors higher and wider,” flooding spaces throughout with natural light. As far as interior surfaces, Vallino had the original oak floors “whitewashed to an almost perfect whiteness” to play off hand-stuccoed walls.

To “keep the Mediterranean vocabulary but within a modern context,” Vallino installed archways in a hallway leading to the master suite. She also added a side terrace and a modern fireplace that “carries the simplicity and finish of the interior fireplace” outside to the existing terrace. Of course, as the architectural changes were being made, the region’s tectonics had to be taken into account as well. “In order to withstand seismic activity and avoid sinking into the clay soil,” recalls builder Troy Franckowiak, “we had to drill 30 feet down to reach bedrock for the pylons.”

For the interior design, Singer turned to Hyon Chough, owner of the Los Angeles furniture shop Blueprint, which started life as a supplier for Hollywood sets. Singer was familiar with the store from his producing days, and he asked Chough to help him incorporate his antiques into a more modern aesthetic. “A lot of people have old furnishings and love modern furniture,” says Chough, who brought in contemporary pieces from her shop, “but they’re afraid of mixing them up. Doing so adds layers of depth and more personality.” So a 19th-century Venetian library table now shares space with an Oggetti coffee table in the living room, and a steel pendant hovers above an Art Deco dining set.