La Dolce Vita

Savoring the sweet life in historic Santa Barbara

WRITTEN BY Cathy Austin
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Jim Bartsch, Alina de Albergaria, and Bernardo de Albergaria

Gisella and Tessalina de Albergaria frolic in the rose garden which includes 140 species.

Gisella and Tessalina de Albergaria frolic in the rose garden which includes 140 species.

Nestled in the halcyon hills of historic Santa Barbara lies Casa Ventalia, a Mediterranean-like oasis where the de Albergaria family has created their own version of la dolce vita. Terraced gardens, 35 fruit-bearing trees and 140 varieties of roses enhance the grounds providing a picturesque atmosphere for year-round outdoor living.

Casa Ventalia is named after Venezuela and Italy (Italia). Jewelry designer Alina de Albergaria spent her childhood in Venezuela, and her husband Bernardo grew up in Rome. Together with their three beautiful children and two precious poodles, the family entertains frequently in a house filled with extended family and friends. On any given weekend, children can be found meandering in the garden picking fruit, playing hide and seek, swimming and playing flashlight tag after sundown.

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A sitting area outside the dining room provides the family’s favorite place to entertain overlooking the rose garden, fountain, terraced lavender, fruit orchard and bocce court. The black and white striped awnings punctuate the exterior while lending an air of being on vacation year-round.

dolcevita05The fountain provides a focal point from the kitchen window and is surrounded by two varieties of mint used for cooking and cocktails. It is also a welcome bathing spot for hummingbirds and finches during the warmer months.

The relaxed lifestyle centers on mealtimes where much of family life unfolds with a beautifully set table and produce from the garden. Sunday mornings begin with children gathering fruit for fresh squeezed orange juice and smoothies or used in persimmon bread, apple muffins and peach and plum tarts. After brunch the family lingers to watch the children play soccer, bocce, hula hoop, train the dogs to do tricks or put on a show. These “golden hours” are the family’s fondest memories at Casa Ventalia. Their home charmingly tells the story of their past and present, while displaying their strong family values.

The 3,500 square foot home was built in 1931 by renowned Southern California architect Carlton Winslow, best known for the Bel Air Country Club, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, the Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, Montecito’s Casa Dorinda, the Los Angeles Public Library and the Carthay Circle Theatre in Los Angeles.

dolcevita06The micro-climate of Santa Barbara is ideal for the orchard. The de Albergarias enjoy an abundance of fruit including apples, pears, oranges, peaches, persimmons and plums to make Alina’s renowned plumcello. The family shares their surplus of fruit with friends and local charities.

Due to Casa Ventalia’s architectural importance, the de Albergarias turned to longtime family friend and acclaimed interior designer Alessandra Branca of Chicago. Alessandra and Bernardo grew up together in Rome and have been like siblings for the past 40 years. As any doting sister would do, Alessandra encouraged Bernardo and Alina to devise a long-term plan and assisted with the architectural drawings for the home, specifically the kitchen which was completely gutted. They made sure the bones of the house were properly renovated with respect to the original grandeur while adding modern amenities to the historic structure. Once the bones of the house are in place, the interiors are a work in progress that evolve over time. Alessandra stressed the importance of only buying what they loved for the house. She elaborates, “If that takes time, then all the better because the journey is frankly just as important and wonderful as the destination.”

Alina and Bernardo relax poolside with children Dario, Gisella and Tessalina and poodles Caprice and Timber.

Alina and Bernardo relax poolside with children Dario, Gisella and Tessalina and poodles Caprice and Timber.

dolcevita04Following the groundwork laid by Alessandra, Alina worked to follow in the designer’s footsteps as she set out to furnish and decorate the rest of the space. Alina praises Alessandra: “Her intoxicating spirit and can-do attitude is as noteworthy as her awe-inspiring sense of design…We are both obsessed with details and love to infuse modern with classic and vice versa.”

Alessandra suggested using a red door to symbolize prosperity and positive energy welcoming friends to the home. The pergola softens the front elevation by bringing an infusion of green around the entry.

dolcevita07The bench is the first place guests see as they enter the house and sets the tone for the rest of the interior. The Portuguese family heirloom reminds Alina of her childhood years in Venezuela. She added a vibrant deep coral cushion and scoured the market for a hat rack and pillows that display their relaxed lifestyle.

Like every space in Casa Ventalia, this one also serves more than one purpose. In addition to being an entry hall, it is also a quiet nook from which to view the rose garden or a place to unwind and read a good book.

The botanical drawing was a wedding gift from the artist, Anna Chiara Branca, Alessandra’s mother. Details such as 10-inch mahogany baseboards built flush with the plaster walls captured Alina’s attention when she first saw the house.

dolcevita08The dining room is designed around antique Italian embroidered silk wall tapestries that are family heirlooms. Crimson red walls highlight the details in the works, and a geometric light fixture lends a modern touch to the interior. A rustic table and bamboo chairs relax the space.

In the kitchen, Alessandra designed a cerused oak island and lacquered cabinetry with iron hardware and stainless appliances to update the space. A sleek red banquette offers a gathering spot for the family to dine, and for the children to do homework and school projects. A ledge above the sink draws the eye upward to prints collected from their family travels to Argentina, Marrakech and Mallorca.dolcevita09

dolcevita11Alina and Bernardo retreat to the living room for quiet moments inside, to enjoy the fire, read a book or have cocktails and conversation with friends. On weekend afternoons, it becomes the family movie theater. The interior also showcases many important family pieces inherited from Bernardo’s mother, who was known for her impeccable eye and style.

dolcevita10The palette of acid green and grey was derived from the 18th century tapestry. The settee between the windows and matching chairs in front of the tapestry are 18th century Roman antiques. Demure, the small statue on the mantle, is the first work the couple acquired together from a gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The charcoal nude drawings above the settee are by Alina. The chairs at the corner table are Portuguese family heirlooms. Linens and touches of velvet adorn the room along with a hide rug and more casual jute matting. This combination of materials is indicative of the relaxed yet sophisticated lifestyle of Southern California.

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Daughters Gisella and Tessalina share a colorful bedroom. The turquoise swing adds a playful touch that is always in high demand.

Dario’s room (above) doubles as a children’s room by day and bedroom at night. Alina added whimsical movie reels as a wall decoration to break up the straight lines. Black and white stripes with red accents continue the color scheme used elsewhere in the interior.

The intimate and romantic master bedroom is actually the smallest bedroom in the house, yet it provides some of the loveliest views through the large bay window and terrace doors. A blue and white palette offers a serene backdrop for the views outside that overlook the pool, sky and ocean in the distance. The chaise in the bay window is another favorite reading alcove.

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A stairwell reveals a charming niche to share family words of wisdom. The visible location allows the family to be reminded of them often.

A stairwell reveals a charming niche to share family words of wisdom. The visible location allows the family to be reminded of them often.

Alina’s incredible eye for detail was very useful in overseeing the seven month construction and renovation process. Her creativity sparked at an early age making purses, scarves and dresses on her mother’s sewing machine and in her uncle’s atelier. Prior to starting her jewelry business, Designs by Alina, Alina worked in several creative industries in Europe, Asia and Latin America including working as a draftsman, in fashion and in television as a host, writer and producer. She has also taken several painting and figure drawing classes. Her creative fingerprints are evident throughout the house and gardens as Casa Ventalia.

Casa Ventalia draws Alina’s mother to visit each summer from Spain. She refers to the house as “Villa Alegria” because, she says, “all those who are in it are happy!” It has a beautiful soul that is a perfect reflection of the loving family that resides there. Joy abounds and laughter is everywhere…la dolce vita indeed!

In the bar off of the kitchen, Bernardo and Tessalina share a moment espousing two family mottos: “mangia e bevi con amici” and “laugh out loud,” also noted on the two bottom stairs in the adjacent kitchen.

In the bar off of the kitchen, Bernardo and Tessalina share a moment espousing two family mottos: “mangia e bevi con amici” and “laugh out loud,” also noted on the two bottom stairs in the adjacent kitchen.

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