or the Paradise Valley, Arizona, second home of empty nesters Tom and Sharon Zollo, “the idea was to bring a lighter, brighter feeling to the rural Mediterranean-style abode,” says interior designer Lissa Lee Hickman, adding that the Zollos were inspired by the residential architecture in the Italian countryside. “We wanted a home like those we saw there–elegant but still rustic and not too formal,” says Sharon.
The couple, based in Chicago, also wanted scale without sacrificing intimacy. In addition to large collections of books and wine, the house needed to accommodate dozens of relatives–more than 40 altogether at holidays–with ease and privacy. To meet both of their requirements, they called on residential designer Gary Wyant and builder Scott Edwards, who realized the residence. Its carefully sequenced rooms, says Wyant, “are adequate in scale but human-sized and lend a cozier feeling to such a big home.” A secluded office for the husband, a pair of two-bedroom casitas and numerous “little retreat spots” also make the compound perform well for crowds.
To devise the home’s Mediterranean aesthetic, Wyant and Edwards worked with Hickman from the outset to create the fluid indoor-outdoor layout and the integrated palette of pale limestone, creamy stucco and reclaimed brick and oak. “In the past, a lot of Tuscan-style houses were darker, with deeper stains and heavier fabrics,” notes Wyant. “This is a much cleaner version. The stucco is light and nothing is heavy.” Reclaimed materials blend seamlessly with the new, thanks to the meticulous craftsmanship of Edwards.
“It’s not easy to make something new look like an old Italian villa,” Edwards says, “but by blending weathered stone and wood with contemporary elements like steel-frame windows, we created a sense of authenticity, as if the house had stood the test of time already.”
Particularly beautiful is the barrel-brick ceiling in the kitchen, which provides warmth and texture above clean cabinetry that was stained in a custom light-gray hue. Neutral walls throughout feature crisp corner beads, and white French oak lines both the floor and ceiling in the living room. “Typically, we’ll do light ceilings with a darker floor,” Hickman notes, “but here the oak ceiling has a richer stain than the wood underfoot, creating visual contrast and more intimacy.”
Another notable characteristic is the complete absence of rugs. “We have two dogs,” explains Sharon. “Our elderly corgi, Phoenix, walks with the assistance of a wheel harness, so carpets would impede his mobility.” Hickman dialed up the warmth factor in other areas, notably her thoughtfully curated furnishings, upholstery and window treatments.
“I relied on interesting textures and plush fabrics like velvet on the ottoman, linen on throw pillows and a linen-wool blend for the sofa fabric to create depth and approachability,” she says. A peaceful color palette of soft rust, cream and navy blue–inspired by a favorite piece of china the wife brought to Hickman in their very first meeting–connects the rooms with varied tones and sparing use of pattern.
In the living room, multiple seating areas include an arrangement of oversize chairs and sofas that surround one of Hickman’s favorite custom pieces–a massive bronze-and-glass coffee table by Paul Ferrante. Sharon spends a lot of time in the space, noting, “It’s a big room, but even when I’m here alone, I never feel overwhelmed.” A striking sculptural bed takes center stage in the master bedroom while a crystal chandelier “adds a touch of sparkle,” Hickman says.
Pared back yet luxurious, the master bath features a hand-etched pattern on the floor beneath the soaking tub, which Hickman points out, “warms the all-marble space so it doesn’t feel too stark.”
And then there are the home’s enticing grounds by landscape designer Jeremy McVicars, who transformed the property with reclaimed-brick hardscaping. A welcoming courtyard continues into the back garden, framing a classical pool, linear water fountains and numerous outdoor living areas, each with a distinct personality. The native plantings, he says, “create a lush desert palette that’s elevated to the level of a resort experience.”
Do the Zollos’ beloved dogs approve of the final results? “Yes–there’s lots of stone and wood for them to sleep on,” says Sharon, who is equally pleased with the outcome. “It’s a beautiful place,” she says, noting that it easily accommodated their large extended family, who came to stay for two weeks. And that, says Wyant, is the key to its success. “You want a house that’s attractive and has curb appeal, but it’s important to me that we have a house that functions beautifully as well.”
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