Villa Collina’s original owners loved traveling to Italy. In fact, it was their love for Italy that influenced the architectural design of the waterfront mansion.
The couple specifically charged architect Karengaye Johnson with designing an estate that would bring a touch of Italy to the United States. They also tasked her with creating a mansion suitable for entertaining ambassadors and dignitaries from other countries, as well as making it a place of whimsy and mystery.
In Italy, the cantina is an important feature of a home. Understandably, the mansion’s wine cellar, also known as a grotto or cantina, was particularly important to the original owners. Getting it right required extra effort on the part of the owners and architect. When Johnson presented her initial design plans for the wine cellar, the owners felt something was missing. To help the architect better understand the look and feel of an Italian wine cellar – and replicate that back in Knoxville – the owners took her on a trip to Italy.
Johnson says she had an “aha” moment after visiting grottos in Italy. She recognized that elevation changes present in the underground cantinas gave them a distinct look and feel. She quickly placed a call to the United States instructing the builders to drop the footers for the wine cellar by four feet.
Digging the deeper footers not only provided the ambience the owners were looking for, but it also unearthed an existing brick wall. While there is debate about when the brick wall was built and for what purpose, there was no debate about incorporating it into the new construction.
Johnson’s visit to Italy also helped her better appreciate the culture of cantinas, such as the fact that eating in someone’s cantina is a huge honor and that cantinas ideally have an atmosphere of mystery.
Today, the wine cellar is one of the most popular points of interest at Villa Collina. Large enough to hold tens of thousands of bottles of wine, Villa Collina’s cantina is equipped with a wine tasting area, a private dining area that can be served through a secret passageway and its own wishing well to add to the mystical lure.