The Sciacca Home: Designing Christmas from the Heart
Tucked in a nondescript Visalia neighborhood, surrounded by a family grove of walnut trees, stands a home that has nurtured four children into adulthood, hosted elegant holiday gatherings, and nourished generations of family members all year long.
For more than 33 years, the home of Sam and Marlene Sciacca has served many purposes, from a place for teens to hang out and play baseball in the backyard diamond to welcoming new babies into the family. As their family grew and changed over the years, the Sciaccas, like many empty nest couples, felt a need to refresh and update their home for this new stage of life.
They got the push a little sooner than anticipated, though, thanks to a waterbed that sprang a leak and flooded a portion of the home. Without changing the footprint of the 3,200 sq. ft. house, the Sciaccas embarked on a major overhaul of their cherished home, which sits on land that has been in the family for more than 100 years. And this Christmas, they have allowed Lifestyle across the threshold for a deeper look at, not only the renovation, but also Marlene’s elaborate and detailed Christmas décor.
Entering the front door, not only is one enveloped in rich, warm hues of brown and stunning wooden accents, the spirit of Christmas is evident throughout the entire home. It is only fitting that year-round, a focal point of the home’s entrance is a print depicting “The Last Supper.” The family heirloom was brought from Sicily and this season, is framed by the deep green boughs of an artfully decorated Christmas tree. It is indeed one of the home’s most treasured heirlooms, and blends magnificently with the updated interior.
Marlene Sciacca, who operates two downtown Visalia clothing boutiques, said the home was built with a strong foundation of love and family tradition more than 30 years ago. It seems appropriate that in the expansive remodel, the footprint of the home did not change, which is testament to its original design and the couple residing in it.
Decorating the home for Christmas is a chance for Marlene to use her creativity and express her joy for the season. With Christmas trees in every room decorated in colors that complement the home’s year-round décor, Marlene’s timeless eye for design is displayed in every corner. Beginning the decorating process in October, it’s clear that Marlene puts a lot of heart into her Christmas routine to make it special for both family and friends.
At a stately dining room table set for 10 with golden chargers, china, and her collectible Avon Cape Cod ruby glasses, Marlene shows she is ready for her growing family, which includes eight grandchildren, to visit for the holidays.
“My mother had a small collection of these dishes,” said Marlene. “When I found them at an antique store, it made me think of her.” Marlene expanded upon her mother’s collection, and now the eye-catching dishes fill a recessed hutch that she is proud to exhibit. The dark-stained built-in gives her additional space to accommodate guests, and is flanked with corbels that were intended for a fireplace.
Throughout a tour of the home, Marlene gives credit to Mike Fistolera of Fistolera Construction and its subcontractors who patiently worked with her to bring her visions to reality. Drawers on the hutch feature soft-close hardware and are neatly filled with silver place settings. Topped with granite that matches the kitchen counters, the piece elevates the elegance of the room, while an east-facing picture window brings in dappled afternoon sunlight that makes the chandelier sparkle.
Anyone with a large family knows that the kitchen is the hub of activity, and the Sciacca home is no exception. With a double refrigerator, a gorgeous copper farmhouse sink, large granite-topped island, six-burner stove, and warming drawers, Marlene is prepared to feed the large crowd she is expecting on Christmas Eve.
“Even though we’re of Italian and Portuguese descent, we enjoy Mexican food on Christmas Eve,” she said with a laugh. Enchiladas, rice, and beans with all the delicious side dishes are on the menu, this year and every year.
It’s safe to say Marlene loves coffee. In the remodel, she decided to eliminate a wet bar that was rarely used to make room for a built-in coffee nook. With plumbing already done, she was able to supply a direct feed to a Keurig machine, making coffee available at a moment’s notice. On a shelf just above the machine is a sign that reads: “Nothing Makes Sense Before Coffee.”
Marlene’s personal favorite room in the house is her study. It is the spot where she can tend to bookwork or relax in the evenings. A small electric fireplace adjacent to a cozy loveseat makes for a quiet spot for reading the Bible or a new book. Animal prints dominate the furniture and rug, and in the corner, Marlene’s love for fashion is on display — a dress-frame mannequin with a sleeveless leopard-print bust has been transformed into a fashionable Christmas tree dress. Taking branches from an old tree, she and her employees at Chelsea Street Boutique designed an exquisite and fitting complement for the room.
The study is also a favorite for a more sentimental reason. It features the only original light fixture from the home’s previous days, as well as a Casablanca fan that was a gift from her husband that formerly hung in the dining room.
“He surprised me with this fan when we moved in to the home,” she explained with a heart-warming smile, pointing out its mahogany blades and collectible status. Sam, her husband of 38 years, had originally told her the item was too expensive to put in the home.
Sam is a well-known real estate developer, entrepreneur, and farmer in Tulare County. He recently acquired Moody Hydrator in Farmersville, and on the day of this interview, was knee-deep in the walnut harvest. Appearing momentarily, he shared the significance of keeping his father’s legacy alive by continuing to farm the original 20-acre block of walnuts where the home is situated. He also was sure to point out that the couple’s two Great Danes – Hartley and Chandler – are named after the variety of walnuts planted on the property. While Sam spoke of the home’s rich history, it became clear how important the property’s legacy is to both him and his family.
Nooks and Crannies
Overnight guests often sleep in two rooms that are illuminated by the rising sun each morning. The first guest room is filled with family heirlooms, wedding photographs, and plenty of photos of the Sciacca’s grandchildren. An antique bed with soft, plump linens awaits guests and beside it, an antique Prohibition chest that is one of Marlene’s favorite pieces in the home.
In the grandchildren’s bedroom, plenty of play space and toys are available to keep little hands and minds busy. When the Sciacca’s children were growing up, Marlene began a tradition of placing a Christmas tree in their bedrooms, decorated with ornaments that showed their interests. That tradition remains today, as an adorable Mickey Mouse-themed Christmas tree illuminates the room and reminds all that Christmas is a magical time for children.
Moving down the hallway, which is lined with family photographs, Marlene shares that fixtures in the home came from a variety of sources – online retailers, local antique shops and furniture stores, as well as high-end retailers such as Restoration Hardware. Her creativity shines through in the presentation of so many different styles as each room of the home flows effortlessly into the next.
But one room stands quietly behind an unassuming door – the master closet.
Remember Marlene’s love of fashion? Clothes, belts, jewelry, shoes, and scarves are on display in a completely organized room of racks, hooks, and pull-out drawers measured to fit exactly three to four pairs of shoes each, depending on their size and arrangement. In fact, when new guests come over, they’ve often heard of the closet and ask for a tour of this room first. Don’t worry, Sam is allowed in the closet, too, though his two small racks of blue work shirts hardly interfere with the more fashionable pieces on display.
As Christmas Day draws nearer, the couple is preparing to host a catered holiday party for their employees, and they are pulling out all the stops, including a place setting of China for each guest. The party spills out onto an expansive covered patio, where guests sit family-style or at round tables placed by the pool, warmed by heaters and delicious food and drink. Parting gifts are homemade walnut pies and Kahlua-Amaretto liqueur.
Rest and Gratitude
After hosting their children and their families on Christmas Eve, the couple enjoys a quiet Christmas day together. They begin the day at Mass to celebrate the birth of Christ, and then prepare a small, traditional lunch of a roasted turkey. And with their children in their own homes or visiting other relatives, Sam and Marlene have begun a new tradition of their very own: a day at the movies, sometimes seeing two or three of the season’s blockbusters in a row at a local movie theater.
With the decorating, visiting, and wrapping of gifts drawing to a close, an afternoon of rest and relaxation is in order. It is also a time of gratitude, spending time together to reflect on the blessings of another year filled with an extended family that returns to a home built on a strong foundation of love and family tradition.