Decor purveyors Kathleen and Maurizio Almanza combine the best of Italy and Southern California in a charming L.A. abode
By Andrea Stanford
Photographed By Lisa Romerein
“Timing is everything,” says Kathleen White Almanza, explaining the serendipitous way she met her husband, Maurizio Almanza. “We were walking our pets in a dog park within the gardens of Rome’s Villa Borghese. He looked so proper in his Italian suit and loafers, carrying his briefcase in one hand and a leash in the other,” she laughs. Three weeks later, the couple was engaged.
At the time, Maurizio was working for the Ministry of Public Works, approving permits for the restoration of Rome’s monuments. Kathleen was a set decorator from Los Angeles who had left the U.S. four years prior to work on Italian films. During the design of their city flat and weekend home in southern Tuscany, they began to accumulate an excess of Italian pieces—and their next career was born. The couple had planned to open a shop in Rome, but after the birth of their daughter Zoë, now 10, the Almanzas considered a move back to Kathleen’s home state of California.
And they did it. First, they operated a warehouse in Culver City and wholesaled exclusively with dealers. Then, in 2005, they opened their store, Eccola, on La Brea Avenue. Specializing in Italian furniture and architectural elements, “the shop carried things we couldn’t find anywhere on the West Coast, like the larger items,” says Maurizio. Eccola (which means “here it is” in his native language) quickly cornered the market on Italian decor. The Almanzas shifted later to a collection of mid-century items, and that remains the emphasis of their business today.
This year, the duo moved the store into a 4,500-square-foot 1916 garage space on Beverly Boulevard—one with soaring ceilings, original brick walls and sleek cement floors. In addition to pieces by the likes of Paolo Buffa and Gio Ponti, the merchandise includes their own designs—such as Tavolo Ottico, a line of magnifying glass-like tables based on a 1940s design, and their collection of oversized woven-rubber basket lights.
With all the growth at Eccola, there was little time to focus on the family’s home. They hopped around Southern California, renting in Hermosa Beach, Venice and Pacific Palisades. “Our life was so portable. It wasn’t just that we moved every few years. We changed out complete rooms of furniture every few months,” says Kathleen. “We never got too attached to anything. But one morning, when 7-year-old Zoë came downstairs and asked where the Ponti had gone, we decided we needed some stability,” she laughs.
After all the relocations, they found a dwelling reminiscent of Maurizio’s European roots—and just a stone’s throw from their new L.A. shop. Working with architect William Hefner, they created a barn-like structure that still preserved original details like giant windows and vintage oak-plank flooring. They finished the project with several dark blue-gray exterior coats of Benjamin Moore’s “Raccoon Fur,” and glossy black trim and detail.
“Hefner was amazing to work with. He allowed us to realize our vision, including literally raising the roof to more closely mimic the 25-foot ceilings of our first Tuscan home,” says Kathleen.
She knew she needed a “throw it out if you don’t need it” approach to create a space where every item could breathe, so she also brought in Kingsbery Baldwin, a home and closet organizer extraordinaire who works under the radar with a high-profile clientele. (Acquainted for 20 years, the two had collaborated on a writer’s flat in Santa Monica the year prior.)
The end result is a true reflection of the people who live there. It has the kind of kitchen where Maurizio can whip up pasta carbonara while friends lounge about drinking wine and sneaking pieces of fresh parmesan (with Italian Retriever Norma and French Mastiff Figaro snoozing underfoot); there’s a courtyard with a wood-burning fireplace and cozy sofas perfect for morning espresso before zipping off on a vintage Vespa to the nearby farmers’ market; then there’s Zoë’s room, where a 10-year-old who knows her antiques can sit in a Buffa desk chair while surfing the Net.
Every room boasts an eye-catching design mix: a 1930s marble-topped pharmacy cabinet in the master bedroom shares space with Girolamo Balistreri artworks and Stilnovo ceiling fixtures; Ponti lounge chairs rest beneath a 1960s Sciolari chandelier in the front room. And the colors of Italian Sierra armchairs by Giampiero Vitelli play off a refurbished 1950s foosball table in the guest house.
When not plucking things from their own shop to decorate the house, the Almanzas love Obsolete, Blackman Cruz and J.F. Chen for vintage finds; Voila! for art; and Brentwood’s Turpan for household objects. And Maurizio visits Santa Monica’s Guidi Marcello for Italian pantry essentials.
As a family that has it all in L.A., what do they miss most about Italy? “The pace,” explains Maurizio, “or, rather, the lack of it. That is why we love this house. It has its own.” •