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Villa di Amici

In the hills of Ventura, a Tuscan-style abode—all rustic stucco and graceful arches, with room for a fleet of friends—redefines the term open house

By Leslie A. Westbrook

Photo by Gaszton Gal

Ask anyone involved in the Ventura arts, garden, or philanthropic community why Doug Halter and Randy Encinas, a couple who have been together for more than 20 years, would build a sprawling 6,000-square-foot villa and their answer will most likely be, “They love to entertain!” This quickly became evident, not only by the gracious welcome I received upon my arrival, but by the bevy of events they have hosted for Ventura non-profits just this past year in their new home.

Not only does the soon-to-be married couple throw lively dinner parties and an annual Christmas bash for good friends, but the house swells for events benefiting various charities and arts organizations they support.

One of the numerous arts non-profits that have benefitted from the couple’s largesse is the Rubicon Theatre. In 1998, Doug and Randy bought a former church and converted it to the Laurel Theatre space, then helped launch the resident Rubicon Theatre Group with Karyl Lynn Burns, eventually renaming the building The Rubicon. Then there is the Ventura Music Festival (Doug was president for three years), Rotary, and, most recently, Rainbow Bridge, a non-profit created to support gay youth. Not surprisingly, considering that Doug is also the owner of a landscaping company, another benefactor is the Ventura Botanical Gardens.

I felt as though I’d been transported to Ravello, Italy when I arrived at the rustic Tuscan-style stucco retreat with graceful arches, concrete cast balustrades, and incredible views. Completed in October 2012, the three-story house has three bedrooms, two offices, and “four or five fireplaces” and “four or five baths”—not to mention an elevator, favored by Sadie, one of a trio of beasties that also call the house home.

Pocket doors open up the living room to panoramic views and a gracious dining patio replete with an outdoor fireplace. A grand player piano, circa 1866, that “Clark Gable used to sing at” is programmed by Randy’s iPhone. The sleek, modern kitchen boasts rainforest marble countertops and backsplash, as well as a massive refrigerator. A large dining table fills with lively conversation during dinner parties, and the warmth of the fireplace in the den provides a spot for cozy reflection or debate.

There’s a pool, a Jacuzzi, and a wood-burning pizza oven for outdoor entertaining and leisure. Doug’s office is a circular “lookout tower” with ocean views, while the garden off Randy’s workspace boasts flowers, fruit trees, a fountain, and daily visits from “a little yellow bird that flutters at the window.” Photos of Milan, Florence, and Cinque Terra, taken by Randy on their many visits to Italy, adorn the walls, as do romantic paintings and furnishings gleaned from various sources. One of their favorite finds was a dinosaur bone discovered on the property: a vertebrae reputed to be 20 million years old.

Doug designed all the gardens and hardscaping throughout, as well as the balustrades and magnificent wrought iron railings forged by his firm. The groin-vaulted ceilings are a noteworthy architectural feature, both inside and out (in the covered patios). In the interior hallways, hanging lanterns cast lovely shadows on these ceilings. Randy was in charge of the interiors, as well as the couple’s retail garden business, Villa Tasca Gardens in Ventura (villatascagardens.com).

Though they are still putting in a few finishing touches—including fireplace mantles and surrounds, as well as a home theater on the ground floor—the couple hasn’t shied away from entertaining; some 500 revelers showed up for their all-night Christmas bash.

And where did this penchant for entertaining and charity come from? Randy’s family was always involved with non-profits, particularly those dealing with mental illness (his identical twin brothers both developed schizophrenia when they were 17). Doug was deeply affected by the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and lost his former partner to the disease, which fuels his passion for helping others. He was diagnosed HIV positive in 1987 and given one year to live. Clearly, he has beaten the odds.

Halter helped create the Downtown Community Council, which led to the creation of many social justice funds and social services. He also helped create the cultural district for Ventura. “Ventura is a community that has a tremendous amount of assets and a great quality of life,” he noted, “but we need to make sure we leave it better for future generations.”

Indeed, Doug and Randy are doing just that. In spite of their gardening and landscape businesses, no grass is growing under their busy feet.

Traditional vaulted ceilings and views from city to sea through the colonnade.

Backyard with poolside pizza oven and the obligatory barbecue off the living room.

Formal Italian-style garden and fountain in the upper section of the backyard.

Old World elegance in the dining room at Villa di Amici, or House of Friends, the scene of lively dinner parties and charity fundraisers.

Doug Halter (l.) and Randy Encinas (r.) with Charlie and Sophie, two of their trio of pets.

04-01-14

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