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At Las Encinitas in Montecito, interior designer Michael S. Smith reimagined a Portuguese-style quinta.
Las Encinitas, a Portuguese-style manor, was built in Montecito on the oak tree-shaded grounds of the late nineteenth century Pillsbury family estate. With views of the ocean and the mountains, it is one of the classic properties of Montecito, although not yet a decade old.
The architecture, by Tichenor & Thorp and Ferguson & Shamamian, and interior design, by Los Angeles designer Michael S. Smith, were inspired by explorations of and research into the architecture of the interior of Portugal, and up-close views of the handsome centuries-old quintas (country manors) in the Portuguese hinterlands.
“The main house is quite formal, but with the outbuilding, including guest quarters and a pool house, I was able to be more eccentric,” said Smith.
Set among nearly eight acres of carefully tended mature gardens, the building draw characteristic architectural details from historic Portuguese quints, including stucco exteriors, terra-cotta tile roofs, mullioned windows with stone surrounds, blue and white tile wainscots, French terra-cotta tile floors, and limestone fireplaces.
“The plan was to give the residence and guest suites a very elegant rustic, handmade feeling, more country than city,” said Smith.
In the eighteenth century, the Portuguese, always great explorers and traders ruled an empire stretching from Brazil to Macau to Africa and beyond.
For the interiors, Smith selected a worldly collection of antiques, including Spanish chests, Italian villa table, Venetian paintings (acquired in London), French portraits, and Ditch and Chinese pottery and paintings. Understated architectural details and noble oaks billowing outside the windows prevail to make it feel very Old World.
Rooms of the residence and guest suites are orientated toward the verdant setting. French doors open onto sheltered courtyards overlooking lily ponds , rose gardens, and fountains. Covered porches in the pool house, and broad shaded loggias in the residence overlook the gardens.
The residence, fragrant with climbing roses and jasmine, includes superbly furnished living and dining rooms, and a media and game room. There are also a sitting room, a fully furnished library with a fitted cherrywood bookcase displaying a collection of signed first editions, his-and-hers dressing rooms and baths, and a light-filled bedroom with a balcony overlooking lily ponds and lawns. For the residents there is also a Portuguese-style country kitchen and an informal breakfast room.
The quinta and outbuildings were built partially on the original foundations, but in the end little of the original 1890s Mission Revival house was salvageable. It had been so aggressively remodeled in the 1970s that it was of little interest. It was also poorly sited, said Smith, and had little remaining character, though the centuries old foundation worked as a starting point for the new house.
“Each residence must have it’s own voice and its special character that are appropriate to the locate, the climate, and the reality of life and the times., ” said Smith. “For this house we were inspired by Portugal, but we were not intending a line-per-line copy. The enemy of personal style is conformity. People plan a full-on theme design, such as a line-per-line ‘French Country,’ and this can be a mistake. You have to end up with rooms that are bigger, more expansive in ideas and concept. The best design has no name-it’s your design, your house, your ideas.”
Smith and the architects drew up a rambling one-level house with views, quiet courtyards, and terraces.
“when you are translating traditional architecture, it is essential to borrow and be inspired in a way that is not tricky or museumlike, ” he said. “We wanted architecture that felt sophisticated and polished, somewhat understood and refined, not heavy-handed or picturesque or sentimental.It had to feel authentic and at home in California, and especially in the Montecito hills.”
Smith and the homeowners, who are longtime clients and close friends, traveled to London, Antwerp, Rome, Lisbon, and Paris as well as New York, to locate and find the extraordinary collection of paintings, antiques, lamps, handcrafted tile, and carpets for the estate’s residence and guest quarters.
“I’m always intrigued by the romantic idea of individuality, ” said Smith, about gathering the estate’s eclectic furniture collection. “I like each piece of furniture I design to have a very specific character and not be mere filler.”
His antiques acquisitions, selected with the owners, are grounded in more than two decades of observation, study, and constant curiosity. His purchases were driven by a deep understandings well as a pure, passionate love of antiques and art. Smith was spurred on by the cosmopolitain Portuguese, who mix Chinese export pottery with elaborately carved Brazilian beds in exotic woods, or Venetian paintings.
Like the finest connoisseurs. Smith has a fantastic eye for antiques and can appreciate craft and beauty and symmetry and perfection or imperfection in all it’s guises and forms. Like legendary dealers such as Carleton Hobbs in London, or Axel Vervoordt in Antwerp, he relishes oddity and eccentricity, and for the Montecito home his acquisitions were wide-ranging, from simple Indian cotton bedspreads or French garden chairs to a wildly rococo gilded Venetian mirror.
“I think people are often surprised to discover that i use low-key antiques a lot, ” he said. ” The general perception is that rooms with antiques can be very formal. Nothing could be further from the truth. Rooms with a mix of country and elegant antiques are personal, comfortable and above all individual. Carefully chosen, quality antiques give rooms character.”
The antique furniture at the quinta is not necessarily fragile or precious.
“If an antique has stood the test of time, you can continue to use that chair, table, or desk every day,” he said. ” I am never afraid to mix periods and styles of antiques. Mixing antique dining chairs with a newly commissioned table, for example, gives a room personality. In the dining room of the residence, ornate rococo chairs with gilded details are juxtaposed with Chinese export pottery plates made for the lisbon market, hung on the walls. It’s just this kind of detail you would see in a Portuguese house.”
The goal with every detail of the house and guest rooms was to make a weekend visit effortless, relaxing. Guests may play tennis, go hiking through the grounds, read and write on the shaded terrace, play billiards in the game room, or enjoy a salad on one of the many loggias and terraces. While a trip to Summerland to go antiquing might be a wintertime pursuit, in summer guests would hardly want to leave the property all weekend.
” I love houses that are truly lived in, with family and dogs and friends around,” said Smith. “Many of my clients-stars and highly accomplished people with busy lives-have children, and I know it is possible to have rooms with style that are also child- and pet-friendly. Just because you have young kids does not mean furniture has to be bulletproof.”
In the end, the project took almost three years, with the owners and Smith overseeing the minutest details, from carved mirrors and sisal carpets and footstools, to awnings, grout, gravel, faucets, kitchen tiles, carved stone mantels, and honed limestone floors, while landscape designer Mia Lehrer shaped. planted, and planned ponds, pathways, orange groves, rose arbors, and hidden bowers.
For all the talent involved, this new classic Montecito estate is simply a triumph.