A honeymoon on Lake Como was the inspiration for a Summerland, California home.
By Abby Deering
Robin and Robert Fell are lucky enough to have fallen in love twice. Their first date in 1989 sent sparks flying on Abbott Kinney Drive in Santa Monica. A year later, on their honeymoon, they fell in love again, this time with the sumptuous villas of Lake Como in northern Italy.
The beautiful vistas from the grand arched porticos of the palazzos overlooking Lago di Como were not just a passing fancy for the couple; the remembrance of these views became the motivation for an architectural project that would become an all-consuming passion and produce a lifetime of pleasure for the couple, their growing family, and friends.
Returning from their honeymoon to Summerland, California, the seaside town south of Montecito, the Fells teamed up with Santa Barbara architect Don Nulty to begin building their dream home. Tuscany Oaks Farm — the name given to the Italianate equestrian estate — was built with painstaking love and devotion to forging an equestrian paradise to be shared with the Santa Barbara polo community.
“We believe this beautiful land should be used to its full vitality. It’s time for Bob and me to pass the gavel to someone new who will bring this home to its next glory.”
The entry galleria features limestone floors with black marble cabochon inlay. Each room flows into the next—library into dining room into living room and out to an expansive stone terrace, and beyond to the pool, open-air loggia, pool house, and cabana. Built as a single story, all rooms open out to the gardens giving an indoor/outdoor living experience. High ceilings and galleries throughout the home allow the family to display their favorite pieces of art and, as Robin explains, to live with them.
When laying out the plans for the house, Robin shared her husband’s playful reaction to such a commodious abode: “Robin, you’re building this home for a party!” To which she cheerfully yet wryly replied, “A home can have fabulous party flow as well as family flow—the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive.”
The materials for the home were hand-selected and imported from France. As a young woman, Robin lived in Paris. After graduating from U.C. Berkeley, she went on to have a career in international sales and traveled extensively throughout Europe, leading to a deep appreciation for the exquisite materials of the region. “I was comfortable working and sourcing products from Europe,” Robin explains. The materials list reads like a masterclass in European fine art: Limestone trumeau fireplaces from Burgundy; Jerusalem limestone countertops; French-oak doors custom-carved on site in Paris by Boiseries et décorations; bath and cabinet hardware by H. Phanstiel; faucets by Herbeau; reclaimed French terracotta tiling; Versailles-pattern French-oak parquet floors.
Robert (or Bob, as he’s usually known) is an entrepreneur, investor and equestrian enthusiast. He played polo for 31 years, sponsoring (and captaining) the Aloha Polo Team, which won the U.S. Open in 1987. He later changed the name to Tuscany Oaks after the family home. “Our ranch has been able to provide Bob with the opportunity to keep his team’s horses right here in our backyard, just a stone’s throw away from the Santa Barbara Polo and Racquet Club,” explains Robin. “It’s quite an extended family,” she says of the 48 horses they housed during Bob’s polo years. “It’s always been beautiful to wake up and see horses in the pasture.”
The Fells became the epicenter of a tight-knit community dedicated to polo and all things equine. When not traveling to the Santa Barbara Polo Club for professional high-goal matches, their neighbors—top polo player Sarah Magness lives just across the way—have polo fields for informal matches. The Fells regularly hosted Argentine Asados, a longstanding tradition in the sport. Tuscany Oaks Farm is the perfect setting for these get-togethers, convivial celebrations of seared meat and flame that features slow-roasting an animal whole over an open spit. Communally prepared, the meal feeds riders, spectators, stable hands—any and all—following a polo match. Robin explains, “It becomes one big family. It’s a lot of fun being able to enjoy the competing teams coming together.”
Robin and Robert Fell accomplished the vision of Tuscany Oaks Farm as a sanctuary for family and friends, acting as devoted custodians of this heart in the Santa Barbara equestrian community. With the children in college and Robert’s retirement from polo, Tuscany Oaks Farm is now on the market, ready for a new owner to enjoy this gorgeous estate, an awe-inspiring space designed to complement any expression of passion-driven living.
The 10,000-square-foot barn, complete with 18 stalls and a two-bedroom manager’s apartment, is a dream feature that can be tailored to a future owner’s appetite. There is room enough to store up to 40 cars, or, as Robin suggests, the space is beautifully suited for transformation into a unique art gallery. Located at a comfortable distance from the main house, it could also be converted into office space
It’s important to The Fells that the home continue to showcase someone’s passions. In Robin’s words: “We believe this beautiful land should be used to its full vitality. It’s time for Bob and me to pass the gavel to someone new who will bring this home to its next glory.”
A gracious and beautiful sentiment indeed. E