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Enchanted Villa

A Friendship Heights couple took a hint from their home's Italianate roof and turned a 1930s Craftsman-style Colonial into a spacious Mediterranean retreat

By Jill Hudson Neal
Sunday, April 24, 2005; Page W40

The first time Sally and Paul Amoruso got a good look at the sprawling Friendship Heights house in 1996 that would become their home, only one of them actually liked it. The grand 1930s Craftsman-style Colonial with the distinctive Italianate roof had been vacant for two years, and "it required tremendous imagination to see what it could be," acknowledges Paul Amoruso. "Sally thought I was crazy to want to buy it."

His wife is much more blunt. "The house had absolutely no curb appeal whatsoever," says Sally. "The front of the house was completely overgrown. It looked like it belonged to a crazy old lady with 20 cats. You know, the kind of house where you'd be scared to go inside."

A slate-fronted fireplace, with an original drawing by Salvador Dali above the mantel
A slate-fronted fireplace, with an original drawing by Salvador Dali above the mantel
A slate-fronted fireplace, with an original drawing by Salvador Dali above the mantel, in the living room. A doorway leads to the family's music room. (Gross & Daley)

It was only after the couple visited the house repeatedly that Sally was able to see what Paul saw -- "that the house might be okay with a lot of work," she says. After a thorough inspection, the Amorusos, who met 14 years ago at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, realized that the house had everything they wanted: elegant bones, lots of space (at nearly 8,500 square feet, one of the largest houses in the neighborhood) and a great location in the city.

Now, nine years, two children, one talented yet untested interior designer and a supersized renovation later, the Amorusos' architectural project has blossomed into a welcoming family retreat. The result is a light-filled, color-dappled house with "really good karma," says Sally, who, with Paul, owns and operates Sona MedSpa and Laser Centers in Fairfax and Rockville, which offer laser hair removal and skin treatments. "It's really warm and inviting, which was important to us."

The home is also a happy gathering spot for frequent get-togethers. "We're really hard on the house now," laughs Sally, who says she often arranges impromptu Chinese dinners, engagement and holiday soirees, even singing parties where guests can belt out a few tunes.

The Amorusos also throw "great Halloween parties," for their children, 5-year-old Sebastian and 3-year-old Isabella, Sally says. "This past year, we had 65 kids and their parents over. It was crazy, but so much fun. Everyone wore their costumes -- my mother was a clown, and Paul's mother was the scarecrow from 'The Wizard of Oz.'"

The house's location was a big selling point for the couple. "We did not want to live in a homogeneous neighborhood," says Sally, who is of Japanese and Chinese heritage. "Being a person of color, I crave diversity."

That appreciation is evident throughout the house. Sally's mother, Sachiko Chang, lives in the spacious basement apartment filled with Japanese antiques and other Asian decor, while Renee Amoruso, Paul's mother, has a sumptuous bedroom on the upper floor that feels plucked from an old world Tuscan villa in the family's native Italy. Throughout the house, the couple has collected furniture, fabrics and art from their trips around the world, including signed Miro and Dali prints.

Before the 1997 renovation began, the Amorusos decided to model the architecture on a traditional Spanish villa, though "a little bit updated," Sally says.

Richard Crone of Chevy Chase-based Crone Associates Architects was hired to provide that contemporary polish. The first floor -- formerly a warren of small connected rooms -- was opened up to create a free-flowing space to house the family's cozy music room, a formal living room, a light-drenched sitting room, a full bath and a bright new kitchen.

The upper floor got a new, raised roof, and the master bedroom suite was also made over with high ceilings, a roomy clothes closet and a smaller cedar-lined closet built for the couple's often-used luggage.

Renovators widened doorways throughout the house, placed stained oak beams in the living room ceiling to resemble a coastal Mediterranean abode, and added doors leading from the oak-floored living room to a stone-walled porch so the rooms would flow easily into each other. A porch off the kitchen was converted into a mango-colored playroom with built-in storage for toys and games.

When it came time to put the final touches on the interior, "there were no really strict decorating guidelines," says Patrick J. Baglino Jr., a Washington-based interior designer, of his first residential project. "Sally and Paul wanted a comfortable yet sophisticated and stylish look."

The walls are painted with a glaze to give the rooms the sun-bleached color that the couple saw in Florence. Clay tiles were chosen for the floors in the sunroom and the master bath to best replicate a Mediterranean home.

At the end of the day, Paul says, "we didn't want the house to feel like a museum. It's not an Embassy Row house. People actually live here."

Jill Hudson Neal is the Magazine's design editor.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company