Story by Jane Ellison • Photographs by Patricia Houghton Clarke
“It’s my intent that every house I design appears to have occupied the site forever.” —Michael DeRose
Driving up the winding road to Nancy and Bill Kimsey’s home feels as through you’re being transported to another world, one where reaching out and touching the mountains seems entirely possible.
The expansive views of the Pacific Ocean and Santa Ynez Mountains offer endless opportunities for a peaceful retreat.
Discoveries begin as you step beyond the motor court and pass through large mahogany doors to the entry garden court. Arriving in the foyer, you’re greeted by a stunning focused ocean view through French doors that open onto a stone loggia overlooking the exquisite Mediterranean-style garden and ocean beyond.
“By focusing our guests’ attention directly toward the Pacific,” Bill Kimsey points out, “Designer Michael DeRose of MDR Designs reinforced the connection between ocean and mountain views that we so often experience.”
A gallerie with groin vault ceiling and columns topped by hand-carved capitals connects the villa’s public space with the private east wing, where the den/exercise room, master suite and library are located.
A coffered ceiling of bleached Douglas fir befitting the soft color palette makes the master suite, where arched windows provide a panoramic view from mountains to coastline, even more romantic. French doors open to a “Juliette” balcony revealing a stunning view of the extravagant gardens.
The library, a handsome work/study retreat, is enhanced by mountain views and access to the beautiful east garden. Its built-in cabinetry, fireplace and comfortable furnishings add to its appeal. The library’s location next to the entry garden also facilitates the arrival of business associates for occasional meetings.
While the villa’s resemblance to a monastery suggests tranquility—which it surely offers—the 9,000-square-foot home is also a welcoming center for family and friends.
Hand-carved corbels and column capitals, Italian marble mantels, and hand-built doors and windows all provide a patina that suggests a long history.
“It’s my intent that every house I design appears to have occupied the site forever,” DeRose explains. “By sustainability, I mean what can be achieved when a building is constructed in such a way that it will last— not just because it incorporates current ideas of sustainability.”
The living room welcomes guests to a light-filled space where arched windows frame a view of the Pacific and a beautifully carved Italian marble fireplace warms guests on cool evenings. Furnishings with remarkable detailing rendered in neutral tones add to the formality of this elegant setting. A walnut pitched ceiling and herringbone parquet floor provide finishing touches.
The adjacent formal dining room, with a groin vault ceiling and its own uniquely detailed fireplace, adds additional charm to an intimate evening at home with friends. Arched doors open to the dining terrace, bordered by gardens.
As a counterpoint to the more formal rooms, the spacious dine-in kitchen is a chef’s delight, replete with an AGA oven and range. Walnut cabinets and a pitched ceiling combined with French doors and windows providing ocean, lawn and pool views make this the spot where family and friends enjoy gathering around the marble-topped center island for breakfast.
If lingering on is an attractive alternative, the family room offers the perfect opportunity. The relaxed setting includes a Santa Barbara sandstone fireplace and adjacent terrace. Surrounded by gardens and endless views of the Pacific and Santa Cruz Island, it’s a perfect place to relax.
To focus only on the interior of this exceptional home would be to miss a tour of the elegant Mediterranean gardens found on much of the 21.5-acre site.
“They are designed to take full advantage of the site’s 360-degree vista,” DeRose explains. “Stone walls at ground level act as retaining walls and become a fence at the upper level, thereby retaining the spectacular views.”
Thus, these extremely graphic gardens can be enjoyed at any level—while dining outdoors or resting on a second-story loggia, they are mesmerizing.
Like the design of Mediterranean gardens—where plant selection moves from more structured in areas closer to the villa to more agrarian as the property extends toward wilder landscapes—at Villa Di Serenita, an avocado grove more than adequately plays that role.
The gardens are also perfect for the charitable organization gatherings that the Kimseys often host. “Most of our entertaining takes place outdoors. It’s interesting to note that our guests have chosen different garden locations—the south, east or west garden, which is adjacent to the pool and guest house—as the most appropriate for their activities,” Bill notes.
A range of domesticated plants—boxwood hedge, Italian cypress, Carolina cherry, stone pine trees, olive trees, lemon trees and espaliered lemons, Pittosporum, geraniums and roses, to name a few—are planted throughout the formal gardens, as part of the original design of the estate.
Shunning computer-aided drawings, DeRose rightly calls himself “old school.” His 30-year collaboration with Michael Noonan, whom DeRose describes as “a master builder with a knowledge of old-world trades,” has included six estates. Both men agree that theirs is a winning combination of ideas and skill that has prospered from the beginning. “We speak the same language,” Noonan notes.
DeRose explains he may spend two to three days on a vacant site with Noonan. “The project is in my head and the fact that we have such great communication between us provides clarity. As a result, I can call him and solve problems over the phone while working on a project.”
“Michael has always made it clear what he wants and expects to see in his projects, and consults with me before moving into a project,” Noonan adds. “His drawings leave no room for errors. How could anyone go wrong using those drawings?”
“Our subcontractors know that if they are working on a DeRose-designed home, he will be on site often and involved with every aspect of the project from cabinets to plaster, foundations to finish work.”
Asked what makes a successful project, DeRose replies, “A client with a desire to do something special is central to the success of a project, along with a crew you know and trust, a partner with whom you’ve developed a pattern of successful methods, a schedule that allows careful consideration of each challenge and a love for what you do.
“For me, shape and form come from a place of the heart. They are timeless, yet belong to the present.”
Award-winning international photographer Patricia Houghton Clarke is based in Santa Barbara. Her work has been featured in exhibitions and publications around the United States and Europe. With a background in painting and drawing, as a self-taught photographer she is particularly interested in culture, history and human nature. She recently won a Merit Award in BLACK & WHITE Magazine’s 2014 Portfolio Contest; her photographs can be seen in the fall issue. She is currently producing a black and white series titled Primal Wild. patriciahoughtonclarke.com.
Residential designer Michael DeRose specializes in designing residential homes, villas, and estates, performing the roles of residential designer, environmental designer and interior designer. DeRose earned his Master’s Degree from UCSB in fine arts and was a successful plein air landscape painter. For the past 30 years he has specialized in Mediterranean style villas, the hallmark of which is that all aspects of the projects are hand-drawn and designed, and then handmade by the best craftsmen. michaelderosedesigns.com.
Originally published in the Fall 2014 issue of Santa Barbara SEASONS Magazine.