Richard and Laura Vorie had never been to Italy when they decided to build their Italian country manor in Avila Beach. Instead, their inspiration came from closer to home.
They had purchased their half-acre hilltop lot and were pondering what to build when they stayed a few nights at Villa Toscana in Paso Robles.
“We really liked the feel of it, and it turned out the architect had just built himself a home in Avila based on an Italian farmhouse theme,” said Laura.
The architect, Brian Starr of Studio Design Group, had traveled to Italy to research his design for the inn, as well as for his own home. The Vories were eager to discover his vision for their home.
“It was a very collaborative process, trying to come up with different features to make the house unique and visually fun,” said Laura, referring to Starr as well as general contractor Mark Sullivan.
The couple was relocating from Orange County. Richard, who is a retired network engineer, and Laura, who now works in the county court system, originally envisioned a much smaller house than the 4,200-square-foot estate they ended up with. But in order to take full advantage of the sweeping ocean, hill and valley views, they realized they would have to locate their primary living spaces on the second floor, reserving the lower level mostly for guest rooms, a studio, and a four-car garage.
Another goal was to experience Mediterranean indoor-outdoor living.
“The idea of an Italian country house was appealing because of its sensibility of making the outside space a part of your living context, including being able to walk a few steps from your kitchen and pick some herbs or a lemon for what you are cooking,” said Laura.
Nearly every room has direct access to the outdoors, via a patio or balcony. There are six covered balconies in total, as well as a rooftop deck. The couple likes to entertain outdoors frequently, so their rear patio is positioned for an optimal ocean view and has easy access to the kitchen.
The front of the house includes a sheltered courtyard where the couple grows grapefruit and guava trees. Other fruit trees, such as citrus, avocado, pomegranate and olive, flourish in the home’s mild microclimate.
The Vories wanted their house, although new, to have plenty of Old World character. They chose an exterior stucco treatment that retains dirt and develops a patina over time. Natural materials, including slate and travertine, give the home an earthy warmth and make it “grandchild-friendly,” according to Laura. Richard, a self-taught metal worker, hand forged 250 feet of wrought iron for stairwells and balconies, as well as decorative accents inside and out.
Local muralist Sue Jostes of EuroMex Designs created trompe l'oeil murals in the entryway and master suite. Sue’s husband and business partner, Ken Jostes, gave interior walls an antique glaze and revamped several pieces of furniture to better fit the style of the house. For instance, he gave an old mahogany drum table from the 1940s, inherited from Laura’s mother, the look of an Italian antique.
Every home the Vories have lived in has been different, but with some threads of continuity that help the couple feel instantly at home. For instance, in each home, Laura has decorated one guest room in a blue and white theme.
Laura defines her decorating style as “eclectic,” anchored by beloved family heirlooms. “I have the same couch my grandmother gave me when I first got married. We’ve had it re-covered three or four times,” said Laura. “Almost everything in the house has a story behind it. This seems to have helped the house seem more inviting, despite its capaciousness.”
The couple has also made it a tradition to give each house a name. They dubbed their Avila residence “Castello degli Uccelli” or “Castle of the Birds” in Italian, a tribute to the abundance of wildlife surrounding them. Bird motifs are scattered throughout the home in accessories and art.
Since their house was completed in 2005, the Vories have visited Italy twice. The experience has only made them more content with the outcome of their own Italian-style estate.
“We were surprised to see how much we were able to capture the feel of Italian country living, without having been there,” said Laura.