Saad S. Hallak

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Anything’s possible when you have clients with a vision and the right designer to guide them—especially when you add some tight deadlines into the mix. Just ask Charmean Neithart, interior designer and owner of Charmean Neithart Interiors in San Marino, California, who made the magic happen for a soon-to-be-wed couple who needed their home refurbished in a hurry.
“They were motivated,” explains Neithart. “Their goal was to get everything done because they were getting married.” The designer was brought on in August of 2011 to have the main level finished in time for her clients to host Thanksgiving dinner later that year. The next phase required the second floor to be ready for overnight guests that would attend the couple’s spring wedding.
The three-story, roughly 6,000-square-foot Colonial was rather grand. “We wanted to ‘deformalize’ the house,” says Neithart, who lives in the same neighborhood as her clients, Ezra and Marisa Callahan. “They literally had nothing. Some people say that and really have some furniture. [But] we had to fill it up and take away the formality.”

 Neithart prefers contents that look like they were acquired over time. “There’s a sophistication to acquiring, but with a new couple that can be a bit tricky,” says the designer. “When a house is done, I like to step back, take a look, and see things that mean something to [the homeowners].” Here, she incorporated some pieces from their childhood homes along with art from their travels.

 Despite their youth, the Callahans (who met when they worked at Facebook) were drawn to more traditional trappings, which came as a bit of a surprise to the designer who opted for a less form

al interpretation with a British Colonial aesthetic. “We took out the formality of the Federal Colonial with fabrics, color, even furniture,” she says. For instance, the faux bamboo bed in the master bedroom and an antique British Colonial bench that punctuates the staircase landing. Sophisticated but fun palettes like blush, plum, and tu
The designer turned a blank wall between the family room and the kitchen into a wine wall. “Both are avid wine drinkers,” says Neithart. She covered the wall with burlap paper and wine racks made from old wine barrels, and added a ledge to make it feel like a tasting bar. Because the homeowners love to entertain, they wanted the dining room to be special and more formal than the rest of the home; hand-painted, custom-cut wallpaper from Gracie sets the elegant tone in that space.rquoise were paired with traditional furnishings. “We really ended up in the middle,” says Neithart.

Except for the sideboard, all of the dining room furniture is custom, including the table and chairs that were designed by Neithart. “I have wonderful craftsmen. I will go and watch them carve,” says the designer, who added a new mahogany top to antique carved legs from another table for a look she calls semi-antique. The reflection of the Italian crystal chandelier in the antique gold-leaf mirror was no easy feat. “It was really tricky to get the placement right with the existing fireplace. I had to do a little bit of hocus pocus, but we made it work and everybody was happy,” says Neithart. The designer prides herself on being able to find unique pieces for her clients, like she did here with the distressed mirror on the wall and the amethyst lamp on the sideboard. Silk draperies compl
ement a vegetable-dyed Persian rug. “I love colors that are sort of in-between, like a plum tone with a bit of gray in it,” says Neithart, who threw a bridal shower for Marisa at the house and gave her the tabletop items as gifts. “They were fabulous clients. I wanted to do something special for them. We also wanted to break-in the dining room.” 

Although this project was jumpstarted by one joyous occasion, the celebrations seem to keep coming for the Callahans. “It was a really fun year [with] a whole bunch of landmarks [and] we made it,” says Neithart. “We did all of it and then she got pregnant on their honeymoon and they had a baby. They were so much fun and the easiest clients. [They] were open and agreeable and made decisions really fast.” 

And considering their rapport, it’s no surprise that Neithart credits the couple with the success of the project. “[My design] can only be as good as my client allows it to be,” she says. “Somebody has to approve everything and trust the process. These were clients that trusted the process. That’s when magical things happen.” 

As Featured in Home By Design 
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 “Wine should never be influenced by trends because wine is a long process . . . like life,” a Montepulciano, Italy vintner told me, explaining why he refuses to irrigate his vines even during a drought. Traditions are important in this Tuscan hill town that’s built on a limestone ridge. Located a couple of hours southeast of Siena, there is evidence Montepulciano was known for its wine dating back to the 700s, when it was dubbed Vino Nobile or wine for nobles.

Wine is such an intrinsic part of life here that the Renaissance-era buildings in the Piazza Grande (the town square) represent what could be deemed the city’s holy trinity: government, the Catholic Church, and wine! Known as the Pearl of the Sixteenth Century, Montepulciano earned this nickname largely because its piazza looks the same as it did during the Medici dynasty. And it has a remarkable number of other architectural riches. The piazza is banked by several major treasures: the Nobili-Tarugi Palace, designed by the renowned Italian architect Sangallo the Elder; The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, or the Duomo of Montepulciano; and the Palazzo Comunale (the town hall), where you can climb to the top for a panoramic view of red-tile roofs leading to rolling hills of vineyards.

 If the photos look familiar to you, they probably are. The area has been immortalized in films such as The English PatientUnder the Tuscan Sun, and most recently, The Twilight Saga: New Moon. Directors like the fact that this walled city remains virtually unchanged since medieval times.
 Most people enter the piazza by walking up the winding main corso (street), because cars are not allowed in the historic city center. Fortunately, there are plenty of places to stop and rest along the way, including the Maledetti Toscani leather shop, which is touted as the oldest shop in Montepulciano. Wandering along the cobblestone street is like visiting a living museum. You can see a mother and son hand weaving scarves, a jeweler welding a fleur-de-lis (the Florentine symbol), and venture through centuries-old underground wine cellars that once connected to the main palace.

To protect and promote the city’s wine culture, local winemakers formed a consortium, Consorzio del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (, and opened a tasting room in the piazza. The consortium has also been a sponsor for the annual Bravio celebration of—what else? —wine. The Bravio is a competition and a showcase for the eight Contradae (districts or neighborhoods). Every August, the event culminates with the barrel race where young men, each sporting jogging shorts in the colors of their district, roll heavy wooden wine barrels up steep cobblestone streets, past cheering fans.

Montepulciano has only about 14,000 residents, but surprisingly there is enough to see and do for several days. Stay a few days in town at a hotel and then escape from the crowds to a villa. Don’t worry about being in the countryside—most everyone speaks English. Staying in a villa provides a great opportunity to make friends with locals, who often have vineyards on their properties. If you ask, they’ll be happy to teach you how to make pici. Similar to thick spaghetti, pici is made with just flour and water (and occasionally an egg depending on the family recipe), rolled with the palm of your hand on a wooden table, and served with a spicy tomato garlic sauce. They will be sure to have olives plucked off the trees in their backyard. And if you’re lucky, they may be serving salami or pastrami made from the Cinta senese, a local wild boar that is considered a delicacy.

You can visit Napa, France, Spain, South Africa, and other notable wine regions around the globe and you will taste some great wine. But if you want to experience the rich history of people who have lived with their terroir, you must visit Montepulciano. “Wine is like life,” one vintner told me. “You make a bad decision and you have to live with it for years to come.” Instead, make a good decision and visit Montepulciano, Italy. 

As Featured In Home By Design
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I have listed a new property at 63 3259 Dehesa Road in El Cajon.
Golf Course and Mountain Views! Top floor unit. Enjoy the breathtaking views of Sycuan Golf course from your large balcony. BRAND NEW carpet was installed on 5/7/14. All appliances convey including washer and dryer. One of the cleanest units in this gated community. Large island in the kitchen that opens up to family and dining room. This unit comes with 2 dedicated parking spaces and a separate storage unit! Master Bedroom walk in closet and bathroom are bigger than most single family homes!
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