Architectural Design Magazine

A Fairytale Retreat – Tony Ashai’s Tuscan Villa Style

LA based Architect, Tony Ashai, is a native of Kashmir. Around 2 decades ago, Tony started his company as Ashai Design Corp., which is currently one of the most successful firms in California. Tony and his brother, Arthur Ashai, are the principal architects of this organization. Despite all the hardships, today Tony stands as one of the leading names, setting an example for young students and architects worldwide with his simple logic – that passion alone can take you to your desired point of success and all you need to have consistently is – DEDICATION and FAITH.

One fine day, I got a call from Tony saying he is in India and in Mumbai. This was more than a pleasant surprise for me. I had been waiting to go on a virtual tour to his villa for over a month and now I would actually do so. When I met him for the first time I realized that he was a very amicable man with a great sense of humor. It was clear from the way he spoke about his residence that this is indeed the building he has designed totally from the bottom of his heart because, as they say, home is where the heart is and it’s the home that defines your taste in many things. Tony, with a sparkle in his eyes and excitement in his Tone, took me on a pleasant virtual journey to his residence at Palos Verdes in Los Angeles.

The basic idea behind his design is taken from the Tuscan Villa. When Tony visited Italy, he was enthralled by the Florentine Architecture and mesmerized by the Tuscan Villa concept. The concept of developing and expanding the villa by adding on new wings and connecting the old and new wings by colonnades or breezeways fascinated him a lot. He also explained that Tuscan architecture involves fine Italian building materials that create beautiful marble fireplaces, wrought iron gates and amazing fountains; walls covered with vines; crumbling stone walls outlining patios and walkways along with beautiful travertine cobblestone driveways; brick or stone set garden paving. It also features tall and narrow wood-framed windows along with the use of window shutters. Tuscan Landscape includes lavender, rosemary and sage. The most telltale features of a Tuscan home are its plaster walls and russet-colored roof tiles. Blends of all these elements have been well planned and executed in this residence.

Tony’s residence combines modern and classic elements that make up pure and Old World of Europe. The beauty of Tuscan style architecture comes from the typical custom-crafted natural stone. The use of limestone, travertine and marble; blend of plaster, lime, cement and pigment instead of modern stucco; terracotta floor and anchored Spanish roof tiles plastered (instead of nailing or clipping) are used to give the antique feel. In Tuscan architecture, wooden beams are often refurbished from Tuscan farmhouses.

The house was built around a box shape structure that allowed Tony the flexibility to add spaces and follow his concept in planning the building with parts been added over generations, under Tuscan ideology. Another interesting aspect in this design was that the house has no dead ends. The villa has been built in 3 levels. The lowest part or the lower ground level comprises of the parking, gym, spa, sauna, swimming pool, home theatre, bed room and services zone. The mid level or the ground level comprises of the living area, dining, family room and kitchen with connecting passages, breezeways and courtyards. The upper level has 5 bed rooms with private gardens and beautiful view of the ocean at the rear side of the villa.

Spread over an area of 26,000 sq ft, the villa is placed almost centrally to an undulating terrain with a slope of almost 98 feet towards the ocean. The villa has 3 main entrances and a service entrance. The main pedestrian approach to the building is through a stepped pathway cut into the slope of the hill that leads to the main doorway, and through it, to the entrance compound. As Tony wanted each and every element of the house to have the traditional Tuscan touch, he got the doorway carved and fitted with antique Mexican hardware. The other entrance to the villa is at a lower level which enters directly into a dry and pebbled courtyard with a dry fountain in the middle and subsequently connects to the rest of the house through a small passage at the mid level.

The entrance compound overlooks a sunken courtyard. The idea behind this sunken courtyard was to have the living space, dining and other entertaining parts in the lower level and the bed rooms in the upper level for privacy as well as to obtain the amazingly calm view of the ocean. The most striking feature of this courtyard is its wall fountain with head of a lion, that suggests vestiges of ancient Roman artistry, and a mosaic wall surface patterned in Rosa and Beige marble. The flooring of this courtyard is finished with dry-set stone masonry. The other important element is the Spanish church grill along the flight of steps from the entrance platform. This grill was especially purchased from an auction to complete the ambience of the courtyard.

The courtyard leads to a breezeway through an arched doorway simply crafted in wood and glass. The breezeway is the connecting bridge of the villa which connects the old wing to the new wing. Simple elements like the Tuscan columns make the area appear breezy and the groin-vault ceilings contribute to the appearance of an old passage for the Villa.

To the left of the breezeway is the living room which is designed like a parlor with a huge fireplace as the centerpiece. The ceiling is designed with 9 coffers and the walls are finished with Venetian plaster. The big arched window from this room opens to the incredible view of the garden with the Pacific Ocean in the background, the sunset change the color of the Venetian plaster and turns the room a Golden color creating the ambience of autumn

To the right of the breezeway is the dining, kitchen and family area. With dramatic arrangements of wooden cabinets on one side and brocaded chairs surrounding the glass topped dining table, the dining room completes its Italian appearance and the diagonally designed coffered ceiling with wrought iron lamps compliments it.

The dining leads to the kitchen through a marble archway. The kitchen comprises of wall mounted cabinets of uneven size on one side and a central platform area surrounded by wrought iron chairs, appropriately following the Tuscan ideology as that of the rest of the house. The kitchen houses every modern amenity that may be required by a chef, whether professional or amateur. The kitchen further leads to a private space designed as a family zone in the Villa. The earthy tone continues here and provides a soothing and enigmatic view of the ocean.

Opposite the dining area is an internal staircase that leads to the upper breezeway of the house. The monotony of the Tuscan columns is broken by use of Solomonic stone columns overlooking the central courtyard.

Keeping in mind the reading habit of Mrs. Ashai, Tony affectionately created a cozy bed space with simple wall treatment in the second breezeway on the first floor of the villa. The ceiling of the space has been elegantly treated with ornamented motif in further leads to the Master bed room. The bed room includes antique looking cabinets, comfortable sit out space with impregnation of gold leaf that appears to be worn off over time. The Tuscan interior continues further with usage of elements like the wooden beams to provide a rustic feel to the Old World style home, at required interval with cove lighting arrangement. The wooden flooring compliments the décor of the room creating an ideal romantic environment. The master bathroom has beautiful Tuscan columns demarcating the bath tub area distinctively from the rest of the spaces. The regality of the Roman Bath can be noticed in the grandeur of the interior with amenities like Jacuzzi, steam shower etc.

The breezeway at the entrance level, which is actually a beautifully planned connective courtyard and a breakout lounge space, was created due to sloping terrain towards the rear of the villa. A graveled courtyard with Ivy creepers clinging on to the walls on one side and elegantly standing Tuscan columns supporting the breezeway on the other end compose the quietness of this zone by making it appear rustic yet meditative. The backyard of the house was designed and executed in steps and levels which receive its support from the retaining wall below. Landscaping elements like bougainvilleas, cypress trees, Boston ivy serve to confine the view of the street below. The backyard is designed in levels at intermediate intervals. The mid level of the terrace has a barbeque corner with a casual intimacy zone that has been planned with sectional seating spaces around the fire pit. The main consideration while planning the space of this backyard was to accommodate a couple of hundred people on occasion, such that the enigmatic view of the ocean can be enjoyed.

A flight of stairs leads to the lower level of the residence. This part comprises of swimming pool, sauna, spa, gym. The other part of the lower level has the private home theatre. This part was initially a left out space which Tony remodeled into a mini theatre room. The interior of this room comprises of a 10’ long screen, reclining chairs and Martin Logan speakers. The walls are fauxed for acoustic purpose in such a way that the aesthetics could be further enhanced. The illumination of the room is kept subtle by use of cove lighting arrangement. Diverting your focus towards the gym and spa area one can observe that the ceiling design has been continued with groin vaults. The entire area gets enclosed with an arched doorway in iron and glass that acts as a screen to the pool area.

The tour to Ashai Villa would be considered incomplete if a small visit is not paid to the top-most part of the house – the Tower. Boston ivy creepers on the wall get highlighted with wrought iron lamps and this entire place provides an enticing view of the entire Palos Verdes stretch.

Tony created a miniature feel of the environment of Italy in this Palos Verdes region of California in LA. A residence, nestled in the terrain, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, creating a solace miles away from Italy. The villa is a soulful structure built like a fairytale by one of the most charismatic architects.

Architect Pameli Kayal is a correspondent of ARCHI TIMES & ARCHITECTURE + INTERIORS (A+I) from Mumbai.