Editor’s note: This post was originally published in November 2015 and has been updated with the most recent information.
For architects David Weingarten and Lucia Howard, work and passions are seamlessly intertwined. The couple created a home in Lafayette as a showcase for their world-class collection of Grand Tour artifacts.
The Grand Tour is a nearly forgotten practice that involved sending (mostly) college-age men around Europe to be exposed to art and culture.
Between the 16th and 18th centuries, it was an essential educational experience. A cottage industry that supplied Grand Tour students with souvenirs produced paintings, architectural models, and etchings—all things near and dear to these architects' hearts. Visiting their collection in their home is itself an education.
"Basically, we love European ruins, and the study of those—particularly the Italian ones—were a big part of the Grand Tour experience," says Howard.
Today, their collection of Grand Tour items weighs in at about 3,000 items. The number of objects is so large, they built a modern addition to their vintage house to hold it all.
Although there are pieces that they will never part with, they have so many pieces they decided to start dealing in them. Their antiques business is Piraneseum, their architecture practice is Ace Architects.
The addition is a modern take on a Spanish Mission, and the two-story-high central space houses everything from a crystal-studded replica of the Eiffel Tower to bronze, sky-high model of the Place Vendôme.
Howard says that, for the most part, objects are organized by country. Larger pieces are arranged on tables, stretching up to the loft where the office is located.
Smaller items are arranged on shallow shelves so they can be easily seen and studied.
The living room is dedicated to oil paintings. Howard says that when people started taking Grand Tours, reliable rail travel was not available. Paintings were popular souvenirs, because they could be rolled and easily transported.
Only after trains made travel easier did the models become choice objects. One wall of the room is dedicated to fine oil paintings depicting favorite stops along the Tour. Over the fireplace, a model of this home is formed into the concrete.
The couple also has a sizable collection of architectural artifacts. The grounds around their home contain some of them, including these figures that graced the Asian Art Museum when it was the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library. Howard says they have designed the garden as well as the home.
"We left San Francisco so we could have room for a big garden," she says.
"As architects and lovers of history, these pieces have a special resonance with us," says Howard. "But for people on the Grand Tour, they also meant something. The people coming from England and America were studying what happens when a great empire declines and falls. These objects were a reminder of what they saw and learned."