Editor’s Note: “Villa Collina Renewed” is a 15-part blog series detailing owner Dr. Eric W. Barton’s work to restore the largest home in Tennessee to its original Italianate beauty. Each week we will discuss renovation projects across the 40,250-square-foot waterfront mansion, from geothermal upgrades and energy efficiency to state-of-the-art lighting, marble renovations and fountain upgrades. We hope you enjoy this detailed research on the jewel that is Villa Collina.
Hailed as Tennessee’s largest home, the Villa Collina takes its architectural features and designs from a 16th century Italian villa called Villa d’Este on Lake Como, while also paying homage to its rich Knoxville history. With such inspiration, guests can marvel at the interior decoration choices hand-selected by owner Dr. Eric W. Barton that has made Villa Collina the magnificent mansion that it is today.
Villa d’Este is full of decadent features from vibrant gold and red colors, picturesque columns and archways to pearly white marble, panoramic windows and elegant balconies – all of which are similar features in Villa Collina. While Villa Collina has featured Italianesque beauty since its construction, Barton began making modern upgrades to the home’s interior soon after major energy-efficiency updates were completed.
Like each new owner of a home, Barton wanted the house to reflect his tastes and preferences. He updated interior aesthetics with new paint, wallpaper, carpet, draperies, additional bookshelves, new dining chairs and table, artwork and modern sculptures to complement the interior design. Additionally, he reupholstered much of the furniture that remained in the house at the time of purchase.
The home is situated on 8.2 acres of rolling hills of meticulously manicured landscaping with breathtaking views of the Tennessee River and Great Smoky Mountains. Totaling 86 rooms, Villa Collina was designed for luxury and entertaining with indoor and outdoor pools, 2,600-square-foot wine cellar, 11 fireplaces, fitness center, spa, sauna, dance floor, elevator, six-car garage, secluded guest suite and staff quarters, eight bedrooms, 11 full baths and five half baths, commercial grade kitchen and three-story library.
The many rooms of the Villa are filled with rich history, from antiques, sculptures and first edition books to imported fabrics and fixtures steeped in Knoxville history and other priceless memorabilia. Proudly displayed are works from East Tennessee’s renowned artists: John W. Kelley, Richard Jolley, Joe Bonomo and J. Moigniez.
The three-story library contains some of the current owner’s collection of 458 antique clocks and as many as 10,000 books. Many of the holdings are first editions and part of Barton’s antique book collection. Barton’s clock collection spans 300 years and boasts a grandfather clock from the 1904 World’s Fair and other archaic and rare beauties. The library is one of the most remarkable spaces in the home with rich wood paneling, New Zealand wool carpet, custom Spanish-influenced bookshelves and a Persian rug-covered spiral staircase, which was custom built by Southeastern Stair & Millwork Company of Cleveland, Tennessee. The ornate stone fireplace, salvaged from the living room of an estate on Kingston Pike called the Alexander Bonnyman residence, frames the library. The Bonnyman house, since torn down, is now the site of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church.
With a full bar and dance floor, the Villa Collina’s Caribbean Room offers fabulous entertaining opportunities for guests. In contrast to other rooms, the room is decorated with light wood and bright colors. Since taking ownership, Barton has added glass sculptures, local artwork and pottery, refinished the bamboo wood dance floors and installed new lighting fixtures to give the Caribbean Room the colorful, entertaining flair that makes it unique to the Villa Collina.
The house features numerous architectural relics from Knoxville’s buildings and imported materials such as Turkish Afyon sugar marble, silk wall coverings from Dubai and custom doors from Turkey. The house boasts elaborate detailing including gold inlay crown molding, gold Sherle Wagner hardware and imported silk curtains.
The Presidential Suite, located on the far west side of the upper floor, is currently under renovation. The suite is often dubbed the “Betty White Room” after the actress stayed in the bedroom suite while Deane Conley lived in the Villa Collina. Other renovations to the home include the Butlers’ Quarters as well as retiled spa and pools.
Up next: The Villa Collina has become well recognized across East Tennessee by its lustrous exterior design, from pearly white marble accents and grand archways to revamped landscaping and light-scaping to highlight the home’s nighttime beauty. Eric Barton has made vast improvements to the exterior to revive its original luster. Come back for next week’s installment of Villa Collina Renewed.