Importing The flavor of Italy into California homes


Walk through the front doors of Great Rooms Design in Camarillo and you will feel as if you’ve stepped into an Italian villa.
Hand-painted tiles are displayed above richly upholstered couches. A wall of large clocks, each uniquely painted, looks like an art installation. Accent pieces feel as if they were shipped from a craftsman’s workshop in Tuscany.
Everything sold at the warehouse is handpicked by owners Ann Mulligan and Carol Ascione-Hilton, both interior designers, who opened their store in 2001 with the idea of offering Italian style at reasonable prices.

The warm earthy tones of the Tuscan landscape inspire much of Italian home design.

“We would find high-end items or (affordable) pieces at large box stores, but we thought there’s really no middle-ground place to go,” Ascione-Hilton says.
The designers buy most of their items from independent artisans, or they shop flea markets for pieces that fit their most popular interior design theme: the Tuscan look.
The look is warm with colors taken from the earth. Ascione-Hilton and Mulligan mastered the aesthetic during six weeks traveling through Italy in 2008. They toured private homes, small hotels and historic houses, compiling the material they needed to complete their coffee-table book, “Sapori d’ Italia” which translates to “Flavors of Italy.”
Carol Ascione-Hilton and Ann Mulligan in their Camarillo showroom.The designers—who have decorated homes, restaurants and wineries for more than a dozen years—say their goal was to figure out how the Tuscan look can be integrated into Southern California homes.
“People love the look of Italy and think you can’t get that here, but you can get this look in a tract home,” says Ascione-Hilton, who lives in Moorpark.
While visiting the iconic white homes sprinkled along the Amalfi Coast and the villas in the Tuscan hills, the designers found organic materials, unique items and an effortless style.
“Italians work with what they have,” says Mulligan, who lives in Camarillo. “Everything is organic from their land. . . . They use wood from their trees or stone they can excavate from their yard.”
Italians also treasure pieces handed down through generations of family. Many inherit much of their furniture, dishes and decorative pieces and rarely buy a lamp or pottery piece that’s mass-produced.
“Italians don’t shop with the same zeal as us Westerners,” Mulligan says. “A lot of them like to have their treasures from the past.”
While in Italy, the designers visited an 82-year-old man’s penthouse and were surprised to find a contemporary white couch with silk pillows in the same room as a 16th century tapestry and a wood-carved statue of Mary Magdalene.
“But it all works,” Ascione-Hilton says. “You have these very heavy, dark, ornate, almost Germanic pieces that could’ve been in the family for generations, but they lighten it up with a gallery of lighthearted paintings above the piece.”
The designers also suggest taking a cue from Italians’ love of one-of-a-kind items. They recently picked up a dozen used crate boxes and paired the worn wood with glass vases. The decorative piece sold out in a month.
“Decor is the icing on the cake,” Mulligan says. “You can have nice furniture, but it can look barren until you bring in those special elements.”
Great Rooms Home Furnishings, 651 Via Alondra, No. 703, Camarillo. Open Wednesday, Thursday and Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. (805) 445-9057,

Written by Stephanie Guzman   Photography by Richard Gillard