Editor’s note: This is one in a series of occasional features on neighborhoods in the Baton Rouge area.
Troy Schroeder knew the first time he saw Old World Villas subdivision he wanted to live there.
As he drove down the street, he said, he felt like he was in a European village.
The location is only a few miles from Interstate 10, and Schroeder still felt like he was in the country.
It was a winning combination.
Folks in neighboring Azalea Lakes subdivision may jokingly refer to Old World Villas as Disneyland, resident Mike Esposito said, but the residents who live there enjoy the close-knit community and attention to detail paid to their one-of-a-kind homes.
Brothers Franco and Vincent Bellipani developed the neighborhood in 2000 based on their love for their homeland, Italy.
Each home is inspired by places the brothers visited throughout Italy and other parts of Europe and feature hand-painted stucco both inside and out, stained concrete floors and inviting courtyards.
The landscaping throughout the neighborhood contributes to the Italian feel with Italian cypress trees, mini citrus orchards, olive trees and grapevines over the arbor entranceway and around some homes. Rustic large pottery is scattered throughout the neighborhood.
Each home is named in honor of such places the brothers visited as Villa Amalfi, Villa Siena, Villa Venezia and Le Luberon.
All four of the Bellipanis’ grandparents are from Cefalu, Sicily. The brothers got a chance to visit for the first time in 1995, and fell in love with European, and in particular, Italian architecture. They’ve returned almost every year to visit cousins and tour different parts of the country, Vincent Bellipani said.
“It (the neighborhood) was an attempt to recreate what we saw,” Franco Bellipani said, holding a photograph of Portofino, Italy, to illustrate his point.
“We’d see these architectural features (and think) how do we bring these back to a traditional neighborhood,” Vincent Bellipani said.
The first house was finished in 2000. Today, there are 14 finished homes, three lots sold and two lots remaining.
A second filing, Old World Court, has 14 lots and is in the final stage of approval with the city-parish.
The homes in this addition will feature New Orleans-style architecture “at a really affordable level,” Vincent Bellipani said.
Bill and Beverly Cutforth’s home, named Villa Siena, was designed by Franco and Vincent Bellipani to capture the feeling of walking through a European alleyway.
The exterior walls were hand colored while the stucco was still wet.
The path to the courtyard — tucked away in front of the house so it’s still private — is a bit rambling. Look up and you’ll see windows at various levels reminiscent of individual storefronts and homes found in Italian villages.
In order to achieve the look, Franco Bellipani said, two of the home’s bedrooms were placed above the garage, with windows to look out onto the courtyard sitting area and colorful plants.
In Europe, the massive fireplace would be totally functional, but, here, one side of the opening makes a nice nook for a TV.
A Tuscan mural decorates the area above the stove, and arched doorways lead from room to room.
Bill Cutforth, president of Old World Villas homeowner’s association, said the Bellipani brothers have a love for their homeland, and it shows in their passionate design of the quaint neighborhood.
Cutforth said neighborhood dues are $20 a month. Neighborhood restrictions are designed to achieve the unique Old World look with respect to home design, colors, stucco finish and landscaping.
Homeowner John Naquin said he and his wife, Monette, were driving around looking at houses on a Sunday when they discovered Old World Villas.
“It’s just different,” John Naquin said. “You go to a regular subdivision and it’s same house, same house.”
The small size of the neighborhood also attracted him.
“It’s a close-knit family,” Naquin said.
The Naquins’ home is named Villa Navona for one of the most famous squares in Rome, Naquin said.
In his backyard, muscadine vines trail from an arbor, while statues of ancient goddesses representing the four seasons stand guard over the pool.
Mike and Joyce Esposito lived in the Shenandoah neighborhood before moving five years ago to Old World Villas.
For 20 years, Mike Esposito said, he didn’t know who lived behind him.
Now, he knows everyone on his street.
“Of course, I’m Italian. We liked the whole theme,” Esposito said of his new neighborhood.
Esposito said he and his wife spent four weeks planning every detail of their new home, named Villa Venezia after the city of Venice, with the Bellipani brothers.
Yet, the brothers still had some surprises in store for them, including a sitting room off of the master bedroom decorated with decoupage photos from the Sistine Chapel and a design of a pizza cut into the floor at the entrance to the pantry.
“They (the Bellipani brothers) encouraged us to come out and check the progress of our house every day,” Mike Esposito said. “We had talked and knew everybody before we moved in.”
The Espositos hosted a nighttime wedding for their daughter in their courtyard. From the moment the Espositos moved in, Mike Esposito said, their daughter said she wanted to toss her bouquet from the balcony.
“The courtyard takes on a totally different feel with those lights I put up,” Mike Esposito said.
Esposito said some of the residents of neighboring Azalea Lakes refer to Old World Villas as Disneyland.
“You have to have a really unique flavor for this style of building,” Esposito said.
Esposito said the Bellipani brothers wanted to leave a legacy. “We’re very happy,” he said.
As for the second filing of homes, Esposito said, “I’m sure whatever they’re going to do will blend in fine.”
Franco Bellipani said the brothers’ dream was to bring the color, style and character of Europe to Baton Rouge.
“We’ve been blessed by God to have some great homeowners in this subdivision,” he said. “They make it work.”