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Italian-Style Villa in Florida
For a homeowner who has enjoyed a passionate affair with Italy for years, building a Neapolitan casa signorile is the ultimate love letter to his muse.
Vedi Napoli e morie—See Naples and die—is a common Italian idiom implying that once you have seen Naples, you will never see anything more beautiful. The saying may refer to the southern Italian city on the bay, but for one homeowner, the southern U.S. city of Naples, Florida, on the Gulf of Mexico, was the perfect place to build his own Italianate dimora.
Photography: Edmund Barr
Produced by Sandra L. Mohlmann
Architect: Ron Olbekson, Ocean Architecture, LLC, Ft. Myers, Florida; 239/939-3337; email@example.com.
Interior designer: Shelly Cipriani, SMC Design, Bay Village, Ohio; 216/347-2960; firstname.lastname@example.org; shellyciprianidesign.com.
Builder: Joe Beauchamp, The Williams Group, Inc., Naples, Florida; 239/643-1760; email@example.com; thewilliamsgroupinc.com.
Landscape architect: Arthur J. Neumann, Naples, Florida; 239/734-0550; firstname.lastname@example.org; artneumann.com.
Faux finisher: Pro Faux, Akron, Ohio; 330/773-1983; profaux.com.
Every aspect of the custom home—the barrel terra-cotta roof tiles, weathered beams, rustic plaster walls, and handmade floor tiles—is quintessentially Italian. The structure’s unique layout is also inspired by old-world archetypes: The front door isn’t really a door at all, but rather a gateway to a central courtyard with a raised koi pond, a swimming pool, and sheltered outdoor living areas that connect two independent structures, the main house and guesthouse. “When you enter the home through the huge arch-top wood gate, it just opens up into this other place,” builder Joe Beauchamp says.
A koi pond greets visitors just inside the front door—not really a door, but a gateway onto the courtyard. “The two wings [main house and guest house] are connected by a circular rotunda. The huge old wooden gates give you a peak at the wonderful courtyard, gardens, koi pond, and pool that stretches towards Naples Bay in the background,” Beauchamp says.
Inside, the home is just as much of a passageway to the Italian countryside. Large fireplaces, groin- and barrel-vault ceilings, wrought-iron chandeliers, and hand-applied stucco walls with rounded (rather than sharp) corners lend the home an unmatched authenticity. Interior designer Shelly Cipriani sourced many of the building materials from Europe. “Everything is completely custom,” she says. “Nothing came out of a box. We used real terra-cotta floors from Italy, real concrete, antique French limestone fireplaces, and distressed wood.”
In the entry of the main house, a collection of portraits of Italian emperors and a hand-crafted wrought iron stair rail usher the homeowner upstairs to the master suite. The walls are “custom rustic plaster,” builder Joe Beauchamp says. “There are no square corners anywhere, not at walls, not at the ceiling. All the walls are hand-applied, tinted plaster and finished to feel a hundred years old. The floors are hand-crafted terracotta shapes with an old-school wax finish.” An antique rug tops the tile floor and beyond the antique oak entry door, the matching entry door to the guest house (on the opposite side of the courtyard) can be seen.
Cipriani was just as resourceful when outfitting the home with authentic art and furnishings. “All of the rugs are antique, and a lot of the textiles used to make pillows and cushions are from old tapestries and fabrics,” she says. Furnishings, mostly custom-made to achieve appropriate scale in the voluminous rooms, lend spaces a sophisticated but welcoming air. “To me, the house is very casual,” Cipriani says. “Nothing is precious, even though there are priceless antiques and art.” Beauchamp concurs: “The house is large but so comfortably decorated that you feel at home in every room.”
The two-story living room has a vaulted ceiling with massive distressed wood beams and a walk-in fireplace. “It is huge! You have no idea!” interior designer Shelly Cipriani says. “I can stand in the firebox.” Furnishings custom-made by Kravet balance the room’s extra-large scale. “Two curved sofas sit back-to-back,” Cipriani says. “And a custom table made to fit the butterfly shape left by the curves is between them. One sofa faces the water and the other sofa faces the TV.” Twin chandeliers from Steve Handelman Studios light the space in timeless European style and oak French doors wrap the space with views and light.
The design team created glass-front upper cabinets that hang over windows and bring natural light into the room. The ceiling is multiple barrels covered with custom tiles made piece-by-piece to fit the arches—an architectural feat accomplished by the job’s talented foreman.
“The first thing we bought was a La Corneau range in blue. Everything spun around that,” Cipriani says of the kitchen. She had backsplash tiles custom made and colored to match the range. Natural stone countertops in a color called Sand Dunes have a streak of color in a similar blue. Painted and distressed custom cabinets, a hutch, and a twelve-feet-long island with a copper sink give the showcase kitchen plenty of storage and work space.
The dining table is a custom piece made to look old. “The table is long and narrow with hand-painted tiles made to match the chair fabric inlaid on top,” Cipriani says. The room’s wainscot isn’t stone, but plaster faux-finished to match the room’s antique French limestone fireplace. “It is seamless!” Cipriani says. “You cannot tell the difference between the fireplace and the walls. The artisans did an amazing job.” A narrow door opens to reveal a closet built specifically for china storage.
“The homeowner loves Italian wine and it was very important to him to have a wine room,” Cipriani says. The space is tucked under the slope of the main staircase and custom-crafted bottle racks made from reclaimed thresher wood line the climate-controlled space. “A custom wood door and a few windows allow a peak at the sizable collection of the client’s favorite bottles,” Beauchamp says.
The master bedroom’s blue-painted groin-vault ceiling was inspired by one Cipriani saw and photographed while traveling in France; the custom-built bed was inspired by a Balinese one the homeowner saw. “We planned the room around the bed floating in the center,” Cipriani says. “There is a step up to the bed and lamps built into the nightstands.” The room’s French doors lead to a private balcony overlooking the courtyard, pool, and the open water beyond.
“The master bath is rustic stone-and-mosaic flooring with an open, walk-in shower and hand-carved stone tub,” Beauchamp says. Blue marble tile inlays accent the built-for-two shower’s twin sets of plumbing fixtures. “The homeowner loves advertising posters—this one is Italian,” Cipriani says of the framed art.
The showpiece bathtub is a true work of art—a hand-carved marble piece crafted specifically for the space. Marble also dresses the walls and floor. “We sandblasted the tiles before laying them because we wanted them to look worn,” Cipriani says of the bath’s herringbone floor and harlequin wall.
But perhaps the home’s best feature is its uninterrupted access to the courtyard and enviable views of the water. “Almost every room opens onto an outdoor balcony, veranda, or to the courtyard,” Cipriani says. From most rooms, and from the courtyard, the deep property allows views of yachts and sailboats on Naples Bay, but they are far enough away that they never disturb the owner’s private getaway.
Traditional building materials dress the exterior in Old World authenticity. “All the limestone pavers and terracotta roof tiles are from Italy,” Cipriani says. “We stacked the roof tiles like they had a few hundred years of layers.” Beauchamp adds, “The barrel tiles were installed with the original method of exposed mud and stacked-edge tile with aged copper gutters. The stone and brick and plaster used on the exterior was also very weather worn, rustic but carefully done.”
The views and privacy were by design, thanks to the homeowner’s input. “He lived in the old house that was on the property and got a feel for the location of the sun and the water,” Cipriani says. “He went through a few seasons before planning the new construction to see where he wanted everything to be located.” His patience paid off with an unquestionably Italian abode with a Florida ZIP code.
A dining table and café chairs nestle under a trellis crafted from rustic beams and a stone floor defines the dining space within the crushed limestone courtyard. “The trellis is overflowing with beautiful vines and an abundance of purple flowers,” Beauchamp says. “At the head of this table is a huge brick fireplace within a stone wall with barrel tile edging. The gardens flourish with imported olive trees and Italian cypress.”