By Alyson Baumach
When a lighting designer becomes the owner of a Victorian inspiration near Carbondale, she illuminates the home with a blend of European sophistication and casual charm.
All it took was one visit. She was instantly enamored. The sweeping views from Independence Pass to the Flattops. The end-of-the-road privacy. The majestic Victorian-inspired estate, about 30 miles outside of Aspen, seemed almost tailor-made for her large extended family.
"The bones were fantastic," remembers Laura Lee DiPietro, whose namesake firm Laura Lee Designs has supplied custom hand-made lighting to some of the nation's most beautiful homes since 1991. "The scale was perfect for entertaining family and friends. We could easily fit 14 to 16 people in the house at one time and be comfortable. Everything about it -- from the top-of-the-hill setting to the views -- struck my fancy. I live in L.A., and I didn't want to have an address in Aspen. I wanted something completely rural and pastoral."
Inspired by the panoramas and the ever-present views of Mt. Sopris, DiPietro and her husband, Dario, purchased the 9,132-square-foot house on the hill and immediately embarked on a globally inspired refresh. Because the scope of the remodeling project was so large, the DiPietros worked in stages. Ironically, their first order of business was not the lighting, and not even the interiors. Rather, they turned their focus to the home's exterior, updating the siding, roof and decks. Once inside, they tackled the main living areas first.
"There was wallpaper everywhere," DiPietro recalls. "The whole house was rendered in this shocking pink. We removed the wallpaper in many rooms, along with the carpets. I chose to leave the wallpaper in some rooms, like the white canopy bedroom, for example. The wallpaper gave it a romantic feel. For the rest, I just worked around it. We ended up liking it!"
A kitchen makeover was an "absolute must," says DiPietro, who added Viking appliances and new cabinetry that blended with the existing cabinetry. Naturally, she eventually changed out the lighting in the entire house, including a unique antique antler chandelier in the foyer and a whimsical chandelier in the master bedroom with curving wrought iron arms.
"Being a lighting designer, I chose lights that I thought would fit the house best," she says of her design process, which often unfolds organically. "I added a few antique fixtures befitting the house and then the rest of the house is filled with our line of lighting from Laura Lee Designs. I used quite a few of our hand-blown Italian fixtures that we design in Venice, Italy in the living room to give the space a warm glow. All of the other lighting in the house was carefully chosen, depending on size and the style of the room. When working on design projects and Laura Lee Designs has been specified, it is essential that there is a flow with style and finishes to complete any room. Lighting is an essential component to any successful design project."
Taking cues from old European country houses, DiPietro thoughtfully layered art, rugs and Italian antiques from estate sales with her own lighting and over-sized furniture to give it a worn-in "comfortable" feeling without sacrificing refinement. DiPietro, who spends a lot of time in London and finds aesthetic inspiration through her travels, "pulled items together from everywhere," she says. The result is an eclectic collection of old and new, an evolving and thoughtfully pieced-together assemblage, curated over the DiPietros' five-year Colorado residency. The effect also subtly pays tribute to the Victorian style, which often mixed interpretations and revivals of historic styles with Middle Eastern and Asian influences.
"I wanted each room to have a look of permanence, a depth of feeling," says DiPietro. "I tried to create rooms that are timeless yet livable, grand yet friendly. I believe decorating is creating an interior that appears 'undecorated.' Layering gives you that lived-in forever feeling."
The lived-in feeling applies to the open floor plan. Designed for entertaining, the large kitchen opens to grand public spaces featuring views of the Elk Range through the solarium windonws. There's also a theater for viewing movies together on the big screen, complete with wet bar and wine room. The sumptuous en suite bedrooms each have their own style. The master suite, with its tufted headboard, fireplace and ornate chandelier, oozes romance. The kids' bedroom has a touch of whimsy. The room with a white canopy bed offers both romance and sex appeal with its unexpected chintz-meets-leopard-print ambiance.
"There is this feeling of a grand country house with room for guest to read or relax in privacy, and then we can all come together for meals," says DiPietro. "Everyone has his or her own space. It could almost be a bed and breakfast."
"It's a rural lifestyle, with views and privacy that can't be beat," she says. "You have this feeling of being away from the madding crowd, yet the propertry is just 45 minutes from the valley floor, all of the restaurants and shops in Aspen and several ski areas."
For DiPietro, it's the quiet, rural setting that is most awe inspiring. Her favorite moments in the Victorian retreat are often captured from her window: the sight of a deer meandering along the hillside or a rabbit bouncing through the shrubs. The beauty of nature is omnipresent. One visit, and you'll see.
Originally published in SOURCEBOOK