As an artist, Laurel Davar has an attention to detail that lends itself to stunning realism. As an interior designer, she uses that same quality to help her create astrong sense of place.
In 1999, Laurel and her husband, Saeed, began preparing for partial retirement by purchasing a 1.3-acre lot amidst vineyards southeast of San Luis Obispo.
While they continued to live in southern California, they took their time dreaming up plans for acustom home.
"We came up and visited the grass for several years, sitting on a rock and imagining where our house would be," Laurel said.
Beginning in 2004, Laurel created a basic design for the home, then collaborated with San Luis Obispo architect Randy Dettmer, Blair Ballard Architects of Laguna Beach and Irwin Construction of San Luis Obispo to bring her design into tangible form. Saeed, a mechanical engineer, assisted with mechanical design and equipment selection.
The 3,996-square-foot home was inspired by the Palladian Villas in Italy where the couple had traveled. These palatial country homes used features of classical Roman architecture. From them, Laurel took her home’s sense of symmetry, as well as its graceful columns and arches.
As an artist, Laurel is keenly aware of light and recognizes that people are drawn to sunlit spaces. She situated the floor plan of the house so that natural light flows in from two sides of each room.
The materials that Laurel chose are opulent yet livable. For instance, she wanted marble for most of the flooring, but selected a honed finish to make it seem as if it had been tread upon for decades. In more formal spaces, such as the dining room and guest powder room, a border of black granite creates a distinctive look.
Consistency in the design scheme brings a sense of flow to the space. For instance, Laurel selected the same paint color for walls throughout the house: “Kansas Grain” by Benjamin Moore.
"If I changed colors from room to room, it would end up looking very chopped," she said. "I also didn’t want to take away from architectural details."
She maintained a similar tile design in each bathroom, with slight variations in color. It offers both continuity and a subtle message to guests.
"Each bathroom, including the master bath, has the same importance because I want guests to feel they are equally important, but each a little different or special," she explained.
After two years of construction, the home was complete. While the couple finalized the sale of their business, they took 14 months to prepare the space, purchasing furniture and moving their belongings one carload at a time.
Laurel took this opportunity to paint two large murals in the house. She reproduced Botticelli’s "Birth of Venus" in three panels over the master bathroom pedestal tub. The 14-foot-long mural took approximately nine weeks to paint over the period of a year.
The dining room proved more problematic. She wanted a Pompeii-themed mural on the long wall opposite a bank of windows so that all diners would have something lovely to look at. Her first attempt was a garden theme with a blue background, which turned out too cold. The second was a garden theme with columns and brick work.
"It was looking too garish and hard-lined — too Vegas kitschy," she said.
As she began to sand down the mural to remove ridge lines, the solution dawned on her: the sanding itself gave the mural a time-worn softness. She painted the scene a third time with a warm, golden background, sanding between layers of paint.
Laurel was such a stickler for detail that the only birds she included in her mural were those that would have lived in Pompeii at the time Vesuvius erupted. This preoccupation with detail influenced many features of the home, such as its custom moldings, cabinetry and doors. Laurel herself painted several pieces of furniture to coordinate with the Italian theme of the home, such as the dining chairs, which required stain, several layers of paint and a steel wool technique to achieve just the right patina.
When accessorizing a home, Laurel prefers to use items that are meaningful.
"A lot of people go to an interior designer to create a style for them, and the home ends up looking like something from a Pottery Barn catalog," she said. "What people really want to see in a home are things that represent you."
Naturally, the walls showcase Laurel’s art. Niches display special artifacts from the couple’s marriage and travels. Persian rugs inherited from Saeed’s family bring warmth to the marble floors.
After eight years of dreaming, planning and building, the Davars finally moved in to their Italian villa— and it did not disappoint.
"It is the culmination of all that we have worked toward, and at the same time it represents new beginnings," Laurel said. “So many elements of design have appealed to us over the years, and now we get to live in the middle of them and share them with others."
Rebecca Juretic is a freelance writer who lives in San Luis Obispo.