Petaluma couple updates former bed and breakfast for family living and photo shoots

Brad Villegiante and Caroline Hall apply paint, fresh new furnishings and designer touches to their 1905 Queen Anne. They are marketing the light-filled home where they live as an occasional location for commercial photo shoots.|

Brad Villegiante and Caroline Hall were happy in the snug 1,200-square-foot West Petaluma cottage they had renovated top to bottom. They even received an award from Heritage Homes of Petaluma for their efforts.

But after baby Cecily arrived two years ago, the tightly packed space proved to be a problem. It wasn’t necessarily the size but how the 1920s-era home was laid out that became an issue.

“She was a terrible sleeper. When she went to bed at 7, her nursery was right in the middle of the house. You couldn’t flush the toilet or take a shower or do the dishes,” said Hall. “If she had been a better sleeper we wouldn’t have been looking around.”

Their restless infant prompted them to dream bigger. What they found was a 3,800-square-foot Queen Anne in the historic Brewster-Oak Hill neighborhood. Hall, who is a professional photo art director and producer, knew the eight-bedroom home that had once served as a hospital and most recently was a bed and breakfast, had potential, not only as a family home, but as a second source of income. After undergoing a complete remodel, it’s now ready for its close-up. Bring on the cameras.

Hall and Villegiante have put their house to work for them by marketing it as a location for catalog shoots, commercials and potentially, even movies.

“As soon as I looked at it I definitely saw the potential. What I loved about it is all the amazing light,” Hall said of the historic home, built in 1905 and graced with large windows, making it much brighter than many earlier Victorians. It still had many of the prized features of old turn-of-the-last-century homes, from original wood floors and crown molding, to wainscoting, antique chandeliers and stained glass windows. Interestingly, it had no fireplaces, only a giant boiler in the basement.

The couple didn’t want to change the good stuff. Their mission was to freshen up the interior and make it more appealing for commercial photography work as well as their own modern family life.

Paint made the most potent change. All of the rooms were in different bright colors, from lime green in the hallway to a bright red bathroom to a purple master bedroom. Hall softened everything with more neutral shades of gray and white with pops of green in the playroom and the master bedroom.

Hall said she and her husband long dreamed of owning a Victorian.

“We went to an open house and looked at it and just loved it so much more than we thought she would,” she said of the house, which had two parlors, a formal dining room. family room, kitchen and guest room downstairs.

“Initially my husband took some convincing, mostly because it was so big. But it was amazing, like a sponge,” Hall said. “We found a way to fill the space really quickly.”

They tore out carpet in one bedroom, only to find several layers of chipboard and linoleum that had to be removed before they got down to the prized Douglas fir beneath. They ripped out a lot of dated wallpaper.

Overall they went for an eclectic blend of ornate Victorian and contemporary industrial, like metal airplane chairs from Restoration Hardware paired with a tufted sofa.

They keyed into the current botanical craze, with botanical prints, terrariums, bell jars, tropical indoor plants and scientific posters.

“The nice thing about a Victorian like this is they embrace a lot of different styles,” Hall said. “You get a midcentury modern house and you feel like you have to put midcentury furniture in there. With Victorian you can get away with different kinds of styles.”

The house was built by a Dr. Galland to serve as a private hospital. Hall said at one point it was also a birthing center, a tuberculosis sanitarium, a convalescent hospital and a group home for troubled youth. The boys had left gang symbols throughout the house, including on the banister that Hall wants to keep as part of the history of the house, although her husband isn’t keen on the idea.

Downstairs is a formal living room, a playroom, a family room, a formal dining room, kitchen and bedroom.

They’ve found use for the multitude of spaces. Both Villegiante and Hall have their own home offices. He went for a midcentury modern look with abstract wallpaper, sleek Scandinavian furniture and restored console stereo outfitted with updated speakers.

For her own office Hall chose a mod British urban loft look. A Restoration Hardware desk anchors the room, set off with details like a teapot lamp and a vintage World War II British flag.

The master suite is their oasis, a fun space with a nod to Indiana Jones. Botanical prints, vintage suitcases, lots of plants and sage green walls evoke some mysterious tropical destination of the 1920s.

“It reminds me of the travel we’ve done in Thailand and India,” Hall said. “It’s so different from the rest of the house. It’s like a little escape.”

Until recently Hall worked as a photo art director for Cost Plus World Market. Now, she’s working on her own as a freelance art director and producer.

“That was my job - to look at locations and book them. I initially thought I would book this house,” she said.

Her experience taught her how to size up a house for photo shoots, which can bring in $1,500 to $5,000 a day. Some people have leveraged their homes for six figure incomes. The downside is that the crew takes over the home, requiring a homeowner to find somewhere else to stay during filming.

“When I worked at Cost Plus we shot at houses a lot. We tried to make it livable. We’d stay out of bedrooms. If we were there more than one day we would reset the house at the end of the day enough to where a homeowner can cook dinner and watch TV. But some people just leave and go to a hotel.”

Location companies may be looking for different looks depending on the shoot. It’s not just the architecture or design of a house. Other conditions are essential to make it desirable for film crews.

“One is good light - and this house had light all day,” Hall said. Another is spaciousness of the rooms to permit cameras to pull back for certain shots. A third is good access to the property, from parking either on site or on the street - crews will need at least one to two big trucks full of stuff. They also prefer a flat site.

“We have a big long driveway that two trucks fit in, and two sets of French doors that open up so it makes for easy loading and clearing out, Hall said. It’s also important to have neighbors who are on board and won’t complain about short term disruptions.

“It’s great especially if they’re doing outdoors stuff, to have a nice yard you can shoot in.”

Decor is less critical. For most shoots, crews will bring in their own stuff.

Hall lists with two companies - Scout Napa Valley and Mint Locations out of Marin.

So far Hall’s house has been booked for shoots three times - twice for her old company Cost Plus and once by a fine artist who used it to hang and photograph her work.

Hall said she isn’t expecting to make a killing but if they can gather a little extra income, they plan to use that for small home improvements, like a new kitchen floor and bathroom remodels.

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You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at or 707-521-5204. On Twitter @megmcconahey.

Meg McConahey

Features, The Press Democrat

Like most everyone, I love a good feature story that takes me somewhere I’ve never been or tells me something I don’t know. Where can I take you? Who in Sonoma County would you like to know better? I cover the people, places and ideas that make up Sonoma County, with general features, people profiles and home and garden, interior design and architecture stories. Hit me up with your tips, ideas and burning questions.


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