Set in Stone

With a nod to history and an eye for detail, Little Rock’s Taggart Design Group creates a mediterranean villa that feels old but lives new

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call Vic Jacuzzi the memory keeper of the Jacuzzi clan. Sit down with him, and he’ll tell you stories about his grandfather’s family’s emigration from Northern Italy to America at the turn of the 20th century, and the 800-some descendants (himself included) who now trace their roots back to those 13 first-generation siblings. He might tell you about his grandfather’s “genius of a brother,” who patented a laminated wooden airplane propeller in the early days of the aeronautical industry, or how that great-uncle’s jet pump invention led to the whirlpool bath for which his family is known today.

“I’m sort of the family genealogist,” he says.

0114HabJacuzzi1Upon learning of Vic’s affinity for his family’s history, it might be tempting to peg his Mediterranean-inspired villa just west of Chenal Parkway as a nod to the Jacuzzi family’s home in Casarsa, Italy. But although he admits the stone-and-plaster homes dotting the northern Italian landscape were definitely an inspiration for the home he shares with his wife, Sandy Taylor, he’s quick to say that the end result was more specific to their own personal vision rather than something borrowed from his Jacuzzi family roots.

A dream home, if you will, that was years in the making.

It all started when he and Sandy found the lot, a wooded, 5-acre parcel in Western Edge Estates. They were living in west Little Rock, just off of Hinson Road—ground zero for westward expansion—at the time. “We had trees surrounding us,” he says, “and then one day, it was just barren, and houses were going up everywhere.” For nature lovers who value privacy, it soon became clear that they’d have to leave the city limits. “It seemed far out to us at the time, but now it doesn’t seem so at all,” he says, noting that it only takes a few minutes to drive to the shops and restaurants on Chenal.

As soon as they found their lot, Vic and Sandy started collecting inspiration. Photos from vacations and tear-outs from magazines were filed away in a binder until it was three inches thick and bursting at the seams. Upon seeing architect Burt Taggart, Sr.’s work—particularly the stone work he’d designed for a house in a nearby neighborhood—they were interested in discussing their ideas with him. Upon meeting Taggart, they knew they’d found the man who could help bring their vision to fruition.

“Sandy and Vic had some strong preconceptions of what they wanted, but were pretty flexible with how we interpreted things,” Taggart says. “Honoring the things that were important to them, the house began to take form.”

0114HabJacuzzi3High on that list of what they valued most was an exterior that paid homage to the charming country villas they’d seen on vacation along the Mediterranean. “They are usually a mix of dry-stack stone, and newer expansions that are cast in plaster,” Vic says, “and that’s the look we wanted—that mix of old and new.” They also wanted a tile roof, and a single-story layout that was filled with light throughout the day, with windows that looked out onto the woods beyond. To accomplish their wish list, Taggart researched how homes would have been built in old-world Italy—a challenge the architect gladly accepted.

“When I was in architecture school, I was one of those guys that loved architectural history because it let me understand why we do things,” Taggart says. “All cultures have been limited by technology and material availability, and all we see is the end product, not knowing the whys and where fores. It gave me a chance to kind of crawl into the head of someone who would have had a different palette to work with.”

That palette—a vernacular common to traditional Italian architecture—extended into the interior of the home as well. A series of arcades separates the room, with pitted concrete columns serving as partitions, and Italian tiles inlaid with Italian marble in intricate patterns adorning the floor. To capture the light Vic and Sandy desired for their home, a clerestory—a line of windows extending beyond the roofline—was constructed to filter in light from all directions. With each design decision, Taggart tried to remain faithful to the couple’s original inspiration.

0114HabJacuzzi5“A lot of the house is built traditionally, but in order for it to read in a vernacular that was common to what we were trying to replicate, I used thicker walls, I scaled up the doors and the massive trim—in other words, everything had to be mutated in order for the vernacular not to break down,” Taggart says. “We were very faithful in not exposing modern building techniques. We tried to make it visually authentic.”

Standing in the main room, admiring the details, it’s immediately apparent how successful they were in reaching that level of authenticity. As you leave through the home’s oversized wooden door, you can make out an Italian-tile nameplate, engraved “Villa Jacuzzi, circa 2002.” If the date of the home’s completion hadn’t been included, you might just believe yourself transported back to Casarsa.0114HabJacuzzi6

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