By Don Martin
When local realtor Gary Belter called Antonia Valpredo to tell her the New Orleans-style house she had long admired was on the market, she had no intention of buying it. After all, she had reserves and planned to build a custom home in the hills of Northeast Bakersfield.
But, after just a few minutes of walking through the stately old home, her mind was made up. Shortly thereafter, she moved into the guest house and began the project of bringing new life to the 60-year-old property.
Antonia Valpredo, or Tonia as most call her, is known for her connection to Luigi's, the family-owned business that's been around for more than a century. Her roots here are deep, and the family atmosphere that is felt at Luigi's is certainly sensed in her home. As she gazes around her living room, her Italian eyes sparkle in delight as she discusses the various design pieces.
Tonia embraced the history of the house and started the yearlong renovation searching for ideas, saving design magazines and asking herself, "Would this light work here? Would this chair work there?"
She took her time slowly incorporating her existing furniture and accessories with new pieces. Her style, which she describes as "eclectic and fun," suits the house perfectly.
Most of her house is a very crisp white.
"The white walls make the art and other accessories in the room pop," she said.
And the art and accessories truly are the stars in this home. At one end is a colorful abstract painting of a cowboy by local artist Alberto Herrera, and on the other are beautifully displayed pieces of glass collected throughout many years.
With the remodel came stories for her choices of design. She had spotted a gorgeous, contemporary glass chandelier at House of Moseley, a local design studio, but she decided she could not spend the money on it. Shortly thereafter she was going through some of her late father's possessions and found a suitcase that contained old travelers checks.
"I cashed them and immediately went to House of Moseley and brought the chandelier home," she said. "Thanks dad!"
It now hangs in her office and is the perfect addition to the style of the room.
The kitchen was a focal point in the remodel, and it's where she spends most of her time. This, after all, is the kitchen where the Lemucchi-Valpredo family gathers to make some of their famous Italian dishes, and it was the room design and layout had to be perfect, Tonia said.
"We spent a lot of nights sitting in here with a glass of wine deciding where things should go," she said. "What the flow should be."
The result is fabulous and a mixture of formal and casual design. There are no upper cabinets in the kitchen -- everything was designed to make grabbing items easy. The countertops are marble even though she was advised against it.
"The marble is easy to keep clean and is exactly what I wanted," she said.
On one wall, a custom built display cabinet finished in light turquoise is filled with beautiful Italian pottery, cookbooks and family recipes collected throughout the years. The kitchen table is an old outdoor patio table that's the perfect contrast to the more formal parts of the room.
When asked about her design sense and philosophy, Tonia said, "I just do what I like. I find something I already have -- it may be a chair, or a painting, or even a piece of pottery -- and I build around it."
She continued: "You don't need to go out and spend thousands, or even hundreds of dollars on a look you may want. Just use some existing pieces and go to antique stores, shop around and design your room from there. When you find something and you love it, buy it."
Tonia has several such legacy pieces in her house, including her mom and dad's graceful old bed that has been restored, and is the centerpiece of the master bedroom. Another is the antique player piano in the living room that belonged to her grandmother, and still works today.
Though the house is complete, she is still adding new pieces and changing things to keep the home "fresh and exciting," she said.
Graceful, charming, colorful and unique: all words that can be used to describe this beautiful home and this lovely lady.
-- Don Martin is the owner of Metro Galleries at 1604 19th St., and occasionally writes a home design feature for Bakersfield Life Magazine. To reach him, email firstname.lastname@example.org or BakersfieldLife@bakersfield.com.