With Great Tradition: Rotary Home Tour of The Blakeslee Brocato Estate

Special to The TribuneAugust 29, 2012 

  • THE ROTARY HOME TOUR

    The Rotary Homes of Distinction Tour will be from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 16. The tour benefits Rotary Club of San Luis Obispo charities.

    There will be five homes on this year’s tour including the Blakeslee Brocato home, a sustainably-enhanced historic home, a French country chateau, an ecofriendly modern home, and a contemporary country home. The self-guided tour allows guests to view homes in any order.

    Tickets for the tour are $25 per person and include refreshments. They may be purchased online at www.slorotary.org  , where you can download a brochure. Tickets are also available at the San Luis Obispo, Arroyo Grande and Atascadero chambers of commerce, or by calling 546-8806. They may also be bought the day of the tour at any of the homes on the tour. For home locations or information, call 546-8806 or email Wilda@charter.net .

Although Diane Blakeslee Brocato is a retired certified financial planner, she also has a well-explored creative side. In 1967, she designed her family home, a 4,500-square-foot ranch-style estate on 10 acres in the old Country C lub area of San Luis Obispo.

The house was intended to be timeless, right down to its classic architectural roots. It was heavily influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright and his preference for integrating structures into hillsides.

The structure was ahead of its time in terms of energy efficiency. Decades before solar energy became mainstream, Diane incorporated solar panels to power the water heater. An atrium at the center of the home is not only a quiet retreat, it floods the home with natural light and warms it in the winter months.

When Diane and her late husband, Earle Blakeslee, built their home, they had four young children. Diane’s design functioned well for the large family, with spaces dedicated for the children’s activities and others set apart for adults.

The kids’ bedrooms are to- gether on one wing, with its own water heater and furnace. “So that when the children were grown, we only had half the square footage to service,” Diane explained.

The generously sized foyer and living room are well-suited for entertaining. Diane and Earle, who was head of the Fine Arts Department at Cuesta College, frequently hosted small concerts, so their living room was designed to accommodate two grand pianos.

The children grew up and moved on and, in 2007, Diane married Joe Brocato. They were wed in the living room in a Quaker ceremony.

Today, the home has adapted to the next phase of the family’s life. The kids’ former bedrooms frequently house guest artists from Opera San Luis Obispo, San Luis Obispo Museum of Art and Cuesta Master Choral. One bedroom is now Joe’s office, and Diane, now retired from Blakeslee & Blakeslee, which she co-founded with Earle in 1971, has her own office space in the den/library.

The décor has evolved, too, reflecting Diane and Joe’s combined tastes. San Luis Kitchen Company recently headed up a major kitchen renovation. Also, the couple decided to part with the two large pianos, opting for a more petite baby grand. The Chickering antique piano inherited from Earle’s grandmother went to Diane’s son, state Sen. Sam Blakeslee. The Yamaha piano was donated to San Luis Obispo United Methodist Church.

“They left a large vacant space, so we added two large mirrors, and (designer) Jeannie McDougal helped with the fabrics and new furniture,” Diane noted.

Diane and Joe have a fondness for antiques and collectibles, which comple ment the traditional style of the home. Joe collects Scandinavian china, as did Diane’s late mother, so a collection of 46 plates lines the kitchen soffits. The collection includes Bing and Grondahl and Royal Copenhagen pieces, and the oldest is from 1917.

Joe was director of personnel for Chessie System Railroads, parent company of B&O Railroad. For their everyday dishes, Joe and Diane use a set of china from the early B&O dining cars.

Floors in the main living areas are cloaked in Persian rugs Joe brought back from business trips to the Middle East. Among the most prized are 150-year-old “twin rugs,” which are rare because they were woven simultaneously.

Diane has held on to several priceless family heirlooms, including a more than 200-year-old canopy four-poster bed she slept in as a child. A bench table in the hallway and a grandfather clock in the living room are also more than 200 years old.

Diane and Joe have an extensive collection of art and memorabilia from their travels. Treasures from closer to home include art by local artists, including several paintings in the living and dining rooms of early San Luis Obispo scenes.

Among the home’s newest additions is something Diane finally built just for herself. In a quiet, sunlit upstairs space, she now has her own studio, crowned by two stained glass windows salvaged from an old English church. It’s her space to further explore creative interests such as sewing, flower arranging and painting, proving that a nest that adapts over time never has to be empty.

Contact Rebecca Juretic at rajuretic@sbcglobal.net

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