By Allison Geller
Catherine the Great spent her summers in Russia’s palatial Tsarskoe Selo — home of the Amber Room — while she wintered in St. Petersburg’s none-too-shabby Hermitage. If Cat ever wanted a vacation getaway in the south of France via New Jersey, this Franklin Lakes home wouldn’t be a bad pick.
“Understated” is not a word anyone would use to describe this 20,000-square foot mansion, listed at $15 million. With a Mediterranean villa exterior and Russian empire interior, the homeowners didn’t design their residence with subtlety in mind.
Built between 2006 and 2010, the couple’s unique vision was brought to eye-popping life with the talents of architect Teo Cambiero and interior designer Robert So. They wanted a Mediterranean exterior that would appeal to future buyers, says listings agent Ron Aiosa, contrasted with a Russian empire interior to remind them of their native home.
While the owners started off with a general contractor, they soon took over the job themselves. “They were involved every step of the way,” Aiosa says.
Set back from a gated entryway by a long, cobbled drive, this home may well be worth its weight in gold. Twenty-four-karat gold leaf covers the railings, wraps around the columns, and plates every light fixture, with touches of silver and Japanese white gold. The precious décor is contained in a sturdy foundation: the home’s exterior is solid limestone, while the stories and interior elements are granite, marble, and onyx.
Among the thirty-plus lavishly designed rooms are two full kitchens, one in the greenery-filled solarium that opens on to the backyard; a 3,000-square-foot master bedroom with a sitting room attached by breezeway; and a two-story walk-in closet for her with a separate, climate-controlled chamber for furs.
Heading underground via one of the two main staircases, Aiosa calls the expansive basement “magnificent.” A custom bar in blue granite and silver leaf is the main attraction, seating eight to ten people in spare-no-expense style. If guests prefer wine over cocktails, there’s a barrel-lined, brick-ceilinged wine room.
It’s the details within in each room, however, that leave the biggest impression. The material for the silk draperies, imported from Italy and India, cost $350,000, while painting reached a tidy $1 million. A large portion of that price was the copper dome that rises above the grand entryway, hand-painted by a mysterious artist who spent two years lying on his back surrounded by scaffolding, Michelangelo-style. The finished product features four cherubs representing the four seasons.
Stepping outside, visitors are graced with a pool surrounded by chaise lounges: Côte d’Azur meets island paradise. With its landscaped gardens, fruit orchard, and even a koi pond, opulence still allows for a “very Zen feel,” Aiosa says.
Who would be this manse’s ideal buyer?
“Anybody who works in New York City, for starters,” says Aiosa, pointing out the twenty-five-minute commute from the suburb to the city. The residence is fit for anyone who values privacy— a high-level executive for a major corporation, or an actor or athlete. And of course, somebody who isn’t on the hunt for classic American.
“It’s not basic,” Aiosa acknowledges. Which might be the only understatement of all.