Riviera Russe

Posted online: December 2013

Victoria and Michael Imperioli are at home with grand style

by JOAN TAPPER  photographs by LISA ROMEREIN

A bust of Dante stonily greets visitors in the front hall.


In the living room, a statue adds a grace note over the sofa created by Victoria, an interior and theatrical designer.

Michael and Victoria Imperioli have filled their 19th-century residence with art and meaningful artifacts.

This is a generous house,” says Victoria Imperioli of the five-bedroom 1890s upper east side home she and her husband, Michael—think Christopher Moltisanti in The Sopranos—share with their two sons and daughter. “It’s beautifully built and architecturally very clean, with tall ceilings and light. The Victorians never built a box. I like houses with roots and character.”

For Victoria, who has made a career designing theatrical sets and residential interiors, the “bones” of the house provide the perfect backdrop for the couple’s longstanding collection of art, objets, furniture, and fabrics, while its close-to-downtown location suits everyone in the family.

Yet it wasn’t real estate that first brought the couple—who lived in New York City’s Tribeca and had a weekend house in Westchester—to town. “We came for the film festival in 2010,” remembers Michael, who had written and directed The Hungry Ghosts, which was shown that year. “We fell in love with Santa Barbara—its beauty, its culture.” Recognizing the glittery aspects of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival experience, they later returned to see if the place “was what we thought. We were looking for a change.”

“We looked at Montecito, the Riviera, and Hope Ranch,” says Victoria, “but we wanted a place that was cool for the kids so they could walk.” They bought the house—which had originally been built for an Episcopal parson—in April 2012 and moved in three months later. “It was a huge move,” says Michael. “The kids were preteens and teens. We were in the middle of our lives.” But Victoria is “like a tornado, a force of nature.”

“I didn’t touch the layout,” she says, “I don’t like to rip stuff apart,” though she did pull out the old bath-rooms and restore wood details like moldings and oak floors. Then she upholstered the walls with textured damasks and silks, swagged the ceilings, added rosettes to friezes, hung painted panels on doors, reshaped sofas, and arranged chandeliers, paintings, statues, and bibelots.

“Mostly the style of the house is Empire,” Victoria says. “I love neoclassical style, which has clean lines and layers.” She also loves color, for example, rich reds—“it’s a stimulating color, but only for certain spaces”—and elegant saffrons. And she uses Roman shades and drapes to dramatic effect. “Naked windows are not for me.”

Sunlight intensifies the warm golds of the master bedroom, with several antique Italian paintings on the damask-covered walls.
The family’s collection leans heavily on por-traits and landscapes, which are prized for their spiritual energy.

Victoria, who was born in the Ukraine, moved to New York with her family when she was 13, but frequent trips to Italy, Greece, France, and England accentuated her love of art and architecture, as did college in Europe and years spent living in Germany.

Her bold style is showcased at Metropolitan—the home design boutique she opened on State Street earlier this year—which includes room vignettes as well as a workshop where she fabricates and reupholsters furniture. Of course, “with clients, I work around their collection and what suits them,” she says. But at home, she turns to the furnishings that have filled the family’s residences for years.

A son’s bedroom takes its colorful cues from the hues of a replica Tiffany hanging lamp that has followed the family from house to house.

“I never discard anything,” says Victoria, even fabrics, which she’ll use and reuse. “Old art pieces are the root of a culture. I want my children to grow up with these things, but they have to carry an aesthetic and spiritual value.”
That’s obvious from the moment one steps into the formal entrance hall. At the base of a gracefully angled staircase, a bust of Dante rests on a pillar. The statue had its previous home at Studio Dante, the experimental theater space established by the Imperiolis in New York. Flanking the Italian poet is a 16th century oil entitled The Fall of Jerusalem. “Michael bought me three significant paintings when we got married,”
in 1996, remembers Victoria. “This was one of them.”

Off to one side, the library is lined, floor to ceiling, with books. The space serves as an office for Michael, who rents another—without phone or internet distractions—downtown, where he’s currently writing a script for a TV pilot. As for acting, he’s on movie screens in Spike Lee’s Oldboy and is part of the regular cast of Showtime’s Californication, whose seventh season airs in early 2014. “Having a consistent presence [near L.A.] has been good,” he says.

The house is designed for the family to relax. “The world moves fast,” says Victoria. “You come here, and things slow down. Michael likes to read in the living room,” which is decorated in her signature scarlet with black and gold accents. That room opens to a flamboyantly decorated dining room, but “we hang out in the kitchen,” she notes, where she added a marble floor to complement the cabinets and counters. There’s also a family room for TV upstairs. “That’s my most complicated room,” she says, pointing to screens, panels, and a color scheme modeled on a Pompeiian villa.

The master bedroom, with its walls and sofas upholstered in sunny yellow and a view of the ocean, is hung with antique Italian landscapes. But for Victoria—like Michael, a longtime Buddhist practitioner—the adjoining room, centered on a gilt Buddha she’s owned for two decades, “is the most important in the house. In the morning, we do meditation here and see the sunrise.”

Not surprisingly, the move to Santa Barbara has prompted plenty of interest by family and friends. “When you live in a place where everyone wants to go, you get a lot of visitors,” says Michael, an avid cook who enjoys having small dinners for two or three guests. The abundance of local and seasonal ingredients has added to the pleasure. “I’ll shop at the farmer’s market on Saturday. This is a paradise for vegetarians.”
“The house is meant for entertaining,” acknowledges Victoria. Yet “the environment is not for show but for family enjoyment. Our house is a private abode. What you see is what’s for us.”

For her bedroom, the daughter requested a Moulin Rouge theme that translated to scarlet walls and a luxurious
half-canopied bed.

[WINTER, 2014]

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