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OUTINGS: in and around the Valley

Mountaintop Make-Over

Hundreds work on redecorating home, now a showcase for fund-raiser tours.

September 18, 1997|JANE HULSE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It can be the stuff of either nightmares or dreams. You move out of your house for several months as 42 hotsy-totsy designers--all, of course, with their own ideas--make the place over.

When you return, voila. . .

That was the plan for Frank and Alisa Barbarino of Westlake Village, and at this point, it looks like more dream than nightmare.

To begin with, their 10,000-square-foot mountaintop home was no fixer-upper. Even before this giant make-over, the Mediterranean-style mansion, called Villa Montagna, was the backdrop for the television series "High Tide," as well as for commercials, rap music videos and a Priscilla Presley infomercial.

Now that the transformation is complete, people can tour the refurbished home through Oct. 12 and ogle everything from the powder room's elegant glass washstand to the cabana's chubby tan-suede easy chair with its special compartments for cigars.

The Westlake Village-based Wellness Community is showcasing the home to raise money for its programs to assist people with cancer. The organization covers a broad area from the San Fernando Valley to Santa Barbara, and money raised by the house tours is earmarked for a new satellite facility planned for the western part of the Valley.

This is the third annual home make-over the charity has sponsored, and it's the most extensive so far. The house is open Wednesdays through Sundays. Buses shuttle visitors from Kanan and Lindero Canyon roads in Westlake Village up to the Barbarino home, on three acres in Upper North Ranch. (Tickets are $18.)

There's more to see than the house. The garage has been transformed into a cafe where visitors can sip cappuccino or wine and fill up on pasta salad, sandwiches, croissants and eclairs.

The long driveway, lined with palm trees, is set up like a marketplace where vendors in tents sell household accessories, jewelry, clothing, and even those CDs with soothing music. The entertainment lineup includes pianists, fashion shows, artist appearances, gardening and decorating programs.

Nearly a year in the making from the initial planning stage, the home's overhaul took monumental coordination that could have blown apart during the recent UPS strike when deliveries for the designers were delayed.

"Everyone was in pure panic," said Lois Curran-Klein, chairwoman of the event. But things have fallen into place. "It was all a team effort." More than 400 people worked on the project--50 on the master bedroom alone.

Why this particular house? The Barbarinos were already contributors to the charity, and their home had been used previously for a fund-raiser. They were willing to shoulder some of the cost, as well as pack up and move out.

"We try to find someone willing to give up the home for five or six months for the charity to come in and take over," Curran-Klein said.

So in June, the couple stored most of their belongings and squeezed into a 900-square foot condo with their two cats and dog. They can't move back until Nov. 1.

"The whole house is completely different," said Alisa Barbarino, 32, who grew up in Thousand Oaks. "Not one thing is the same."

The designers, who donated their time on the project, each took responsibility for a certain area of the house. They worked with a lead interior designer, James Blakeley III of Santa Barbara. They didn't move walls, but they gutted rooms, redesigned the home's many fireplaces, changed furniture and added murals.

"We were involved in the whole process," Barbarino said. "We had approval on everything that was a permanent change." If the labor and much of the materials hadn't been donated, the retail value of the job would be about $500,000.

The Barbarinos had just finished decorating and landscaping the house, with its 360-degree views and 112 windows, after moving in four years ago. They bought the place, their first home together, for $1.55 million after spotting it during a casual house-hunting drive.

"The pillars, the Mediterranean look--it struck me," said Frank Barbarino, 39, who said it reminded him of his native Sicily. He and his family lived in a tiny ocean-side village until he was 12 when they moved to the Monterey area. About 10 years ago, he moved to Los Angeles and started his own printing company, F.B. Productions in Chatsworth, handling packaging for the cosmetic, electronic and entertainment industries.

The Barbarinos are avid travelers and wanted their make-over house to look like some of the places they had visited; the end result is that it does have a resort feel. "We wanted to make our own little getaway here," he said.

After they first moved in, the Barbarinos had 160 palm trees trucked in. They added two waterfalls, bringing the total to four. He started collecting bronze animal statues by Westlake Village's David Spellerberg, which dot the property--dolphins, a lion, cheetah, panther, parrots. A life-size tiger majestically graces a waterfall along the driveway.

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