Glorious 
Gardens: French Country Style Meets California Cool

Posted on Sep 1 by SEASONS Magazine

Interior Designer Penny Bianchi, photograph by Amy Barnard.

Interior Designer Penny Bianchi, photograph by Amy Barnard.

By Cheryl Crabtree

Photographed by Amy Barnard

When Penny and Adam Bianchi bought a modest slice of undeveloped land off of East Valley Road 20 years ago, they had a golden opportunity to build a custom home in the heart of Montecito. The property sits at the entrance to the pristine 42-acre Ennisbrook Preserve, and Oprah’s vast estate borders the property on two other sides. A single home edges the property in the north. “The terrain and plants reminded me of France,” recalls Penny, “so we went to Provence and took thousands of pictures of roofs and crooked roofs and chimneys and floors and doorknobs.”

The Bianchi's worked with Grace Design Associates to create their own Shangri-La that sits lightly on the land blends in naturally with the surroundings. Photograph by Amy Barnard.

The Bianchi’s worked with Grace Design Associates to create their own Shangri-La that sits lightly on the land blends in naturally with the surroundings. Photograph by Amy Barnard.

Once home, they began to build a French country-style home and a guesthouse, surrounded by about 2.5 acres of magical gardens and wildlife habitat. The walls were washed with lime from pigment mined from the ground in Provence—no paint was applied at all. “Lime wash lets the mortar breathe,” explains Penny. “This is how stone and brick houses in Provence are traditionally treated.”

Penny has worked as an interior designer for nearly 50 years and has filled her home with antiques from all over the world. Much of her collection was inherited from her mother and grandmother, and Penny appears to have inherited her family’s amazing knack for finding one-of-a-kind treasures, as well. “I’ve been collecting things my whole life because I don’t like anything new,” she says. “I like everything old, weathered and used. Even my linens and light fixtures are mostly antiques.”

Generous use of color and texture spotlight Penny Bianchi’s great eye for detail. As an interior designer for nearly 50 years, she uses her own home to showcase her designs. Photograph by Amy Barnard.

High ceilings and plentiful windows fill the home with light throughout the day. The main entrance leads into a spacious hall, which leads to the bedroom (there’s only one) and master bath on one side, and kitchen, office and guest bathrooms on the other. Adam Bianchi works in the office—he sold his family’s poultry business 30 years ago and has run Penny’s business operations ever since. Penny changes the furniture slipcovers several times a year so the mood always reflects the season.

As an interior designer for nearly 50 years, Penny Bianchi uses her own home to showcase her eye for detail to charming effect. Photograph by Amy Barnard.

Treasures that appear at every turn include antique lace lampshades and oriental rugs, screens and other works by French artist Marcel Vertes, shower tiles from 17th-century France and an 1860s bathtub from Paris. The guest powder room features bird murals with bird figurines that hover over the walls. The kitchen has furniture pieces rather than built-in cabinets.

Views of the glorious gardens, designed by Grace Design Associates, are on gorgeous display from the Bianchi's breathtaking country kitchen, Photograph by Amy Barnard.

Views of the gardens—designed by Grace Design Associates—are always on display from the Bianchi’s breathtaking country kitchen, photograph by Amy Barnard.

The gardens, designed by Grace Design Associates, are a welcome haven for humans and wildlife alike. The National Wildlife Federation has named the Bianchi property as a Certified Backyard Wildlife Habitat, which means it provides the basics needs for wildlife: food, water, a roof over their heads and a place to raise their young. Carefully selected trees and shrubs nourish and protect ducklings and other creatures, and floating houses anchored in the middle of a pond allow nesting ducks and their offspring to escape from predators. Heirloom chickens roam free during the day and put themselves in the coop in the evening for protection.

Heirloom chickens happily roam free during the day, along with multitudes of other wildlife. The Bianchi property is a Certified Wildlife Habitat. Photograph by Amy Barnard.

 

Views of these glorious gardens (designed by Grace Design Associates) are on gorgeous display from Penny Bianchi’s indoor/outdoor office. Photograph by Amy Barnard.

All in all, the Bianchis have successfully created a haven in which every nook and cranny evokes coziness and a connection with the natural world. In Penny’s words, it’s “a cozy, collected and patina” home where they, their grown children and seven grandchildren thoroughly enjoy daily life in a remarkable Montecito setting.

Related Montecito Lifestyle Then & Now Stories:

Montecito Lifestyle Then & Now

Ranchito Bendito

Glorious Gardens

Modern Marvel

Historic Montecito Estates

Originally published in the Fall 2017 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.

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