Colossal houses get decked out for holidays

Perched on an oak-studded vista in El Dorado Hills, the distinctive pink mansion often piques curiosity. Styled after an Italian villa, the elaborate home looks like it was plucked out of Tuscany – or a Florentine fantasy. Stone-terraced gardens surround this dream house with vineyards, olive trees and a thousand rosebushes. In anticipation of the holidays, twinkling lights, wreaths and other decorations beckon visitors.

What must this house look like inside?

This weekend, people will get a chance to see during the fourth annual Homes for the Holidays tour, sponsored by the Assistance League of Sierra Foothills.

“We had this same house on our garden tour (in 2011),” said Crista Dixon, one of the committee members organizing the event. “All these people were pressing their noses on the windows, trying to get a peek inside.”

When homeowner Marie Mitchell volunteered her villa for the holiday tour, the league jumped at the chance. Added Dixon, “Everybody loves this house.”

Tour organizers face the same challenge each year: How can they attract patrons during the hectic holiday season? With an added hurdle, Homes for the Holidays is the same weekend as Sacramento’s well-established Sacred Heart Holiday Home Tour, now in its 40th year.

In an attempt to woo more patrons to the foothills, Homes for the Holidays went big with colossal homes and over-the-top decorations. Its raffle features such prizes as a 100-bottle sampler from foothill wineries and a complete holiday china place settings and table service for eight.

The Assistance League chapter uses tour proceeds to support its programs for children and seniors. About 1,200 guests are expected on this weekend’s tour.

“We have a chef making hors d’oeuvres and a wine tasting at one house, and a candy bar (serving an assortment of treats) in another,” Dixon said. “The tour is self-supporting, so all the proceeds go back to the community.”

For her home, Mitchell personally decorated three 12-foot trees, now adorned with such nontraditional ornaments as white peacock feathers and 8-inch fabric roses. In a breakfast room, 150 wooden nutcrackers stand at attention. Gorgeous holiday-themed flower arrangements spill over tables, intricately wrapped with fabric, netting and ribbon.

“As a designer, I’ve got to be designing something, or I’m miserable,” said Mitchell, president of Contract Interiors Inc.

Commuting from the Bay Area, Mitchell spent seven years building this home, a showcase for Italian treasures collected over more than 40 years. Hand-painted tiles and Murano chandeliers decorate the gigantic green-and-gold kitchen. In other rooms, original murals depicting Mitchell’s family and memories cover the ceilings and several walls. Marble, crystal and gilt catch the sun from large windows, overlooking the hills.

“What I love about the house are the gorgeous views,” Mitchell said. “At night with the twinkling lights of Serrano, you’d swear you were looking at Italy.”

Featured during the holiday tour will be a century-old dollhouse as palatial as her home. Using hundreds of miniatures, Mitchell recently restored and redecorated the antique dollhouse with her 13-year-old granddaughter, Alissa, who will serve as a hostess this weekend.

“This is my pride and joy,” Mitchell said of the dollhouse. “It’s a work in progress.”

Also a work in progress is another home on the tour.

Jeff McNaught and Romeo Manzano moved from Silicon Valley to Serrano Country Club in 2009. After buying one house, they fell in love with another – a 9,600-square-foot fixer-upper.

“We escaped Silicon Valley,” said McNaught, who helped create key components behind cloud computing technology. “We could get a lot more house for our money here. This house has seven bedrooms, eight bathrooms and a whole lot of specialty rooms. We have our own theater, playroom, fitness room, offices. We have a gift-wrapping room – that’s how silly it gets. But we wanted a blank canvas where we could put our own fingerprints, inch by inch.”

A neighbor suggested that with so much room, why not open their house for the holiday tour? Great idea, said McNaught.

Their house now boasts a dozen 12-foot trees, decorated with different themes for the holidays. Eleven were created by professional designers including Diana Westerberg, who also guided much of the home’s renovation. But the one tree that greets guests is personal: It’s covered with bears in a salute to Lake Tahoe, the homeowners’ favorite vacation spot. Among other highlights is a Scottish-themed game room with a Scottie terrier made of flowers and bow-tied tree featuring traditional plaids.

“We’re really excited about this charity event,” McNaught said. “It’s a little daunting having a thousand people walk through your house. But we figure it would be a great way to meet the neighbors.”

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