The Most Remarkable Treasures in Sand City Aren’t in a Big Box

Posted by Carina Cristofalo on

Published September 20, 2019 by The Carmel Pine Cone Press. Written by Lisa Crawford Watson.

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Surveying the sundry assortment of found objects filling the Carmel home she shares with her husband, builder Mark Cristofalo, and their four children, Carina Cristofalo had an epiphany. Not only did she want to pare down the treasures taking over the space, she also wanted to share them with the community of collectors and others seeking something unusual, a signature piece for their home.

In August 2018, during Sand City’s annual West End Celebration, the Cristofalos opened “Wonderwall” at the corner of Contra Costa and Shasta. Steel-framed glass doors in a white cinderblock warehouse open to a 3,000-square-foot gallery of uncluttered space, painted in cool neutrals to serve as a backdrop for carefully curated pieces, so patrons can see what suits them.

To Cristofalo, “Wonderwall” is the place between the ordinary and the extraordinary, where objects elevate from the mundane to something so much more because of their significance, what they mean to us, and how they influence or affect our lives.

“At the simplest level, this is a retail space. But a very special one,” she said. “Our vision was to create an experience, to invite people to come in, open and curious about what might attract them. We want them to find a piece they’re drawn to, that speaks to them. Maybe it reminds them of something or inspires them.”

Happy indoors

Cristofalo has long considered the home more than just a place to hang your hat. The real estate broker, interior and landscape designer, project manager for her husband’s architectural design firm and mother of four has been developing her sensibilities of home and hearth for as long as she can remember.

As a child, growing up in a rural region of Saratoga among horses, chickens and wide reaches of land, Cristofalo was happiest inside, redesigning her room. From a very early age, she spent hours restyling her parents’ house and landscape, trying to convince them how well the backyard would work with a swimming pool. They thought she was cute.

“We lived too far out for me to walk or ride my bike anywhere, so I spent a lot of time at home,” Cristofalo said. “I enjoyed watching how the light moved across the room and studying shapes and textures and color. I learned how to hang wallpaper and sew quilts. I took up the carpet in my bedroom and faux-painted a marble look on my floor. This was me coming into something for which I had a natural affinity.”

And then, she went to school. After achieving her associate’s degree at West Valley College, Cristofalo graduated from Sac State with a bachelor’s degree in social science and economics, because it seemed like the right field for a woman. Then she went right into real estate in Saratoga and Los Gatos.

She and Mark Cristofalo met in San Jose, where he was busy designing and building homes. For Mark, who hails from a long line of master masons and builders from Italy, the trade is in his blood. For Carina, home design is in her heart.

In 1994, the couple — who were married by then — bought a second, Spanish-style home in Pebble Beach. A year after their twins arrived, in 2003, they moved in full-time to raise their children on the Peninsula.

Next, they bought a property in Jacks Peak, with a home designed for a family of four. After growing to a family of five and then six, they moved to a place that’s just south of Ocean, with their sights set on sending their kids through Carmel High.

“I looked for six years to find a house that Mark would like and would suit our family,” Cristofalo said. “Although this house hadn’t been updated since 1978, we saw it and loved it — or, at least, its story. Now we’re imprinting our own story here.”

‘Artistic, inspiring place’

As they developed their new home around their family, the Cristofalos decided to create a resource so others could do the same, via Wonderwall. The couple travels all over the world, sometimes looking and other times discovering, but always uncovering treasures to bring home.

“For me, Wonderwall is about being a home or lifestyle curator to create spaces that speak to people, that reflect who we are,” Cristofalo said. “We need to give ourselves permission to put out our favorite things, to live with the pieces we love and to enjoy the life we have in our home. Maybe I’m a creative director, inspiring people to enjoy the lifestyle you create in your home.”

On the entrepreneurial side, Cristofalo is intrigued by business, engaged by people, and loves to bring the two together in a creative way.

“Wonderwall is an artistic, inspiring space. Even if people don’t find things they need,” she said, “they enjoy being here, thinking differently about their own living spaces and getting inspiration for what they can do with what they have.”

Customers who come to Wonderwall may find a soaring orchard ladder, custom-made barnwood table, 19th-century Belgian shutters, an antique Dutch gate, old English oak doors, Catalina garden gates, or a gilded red Vaudeville piano. For starters.

The assortment changes weekly, and sometimes daily. “Your home is a sanctuary and should be filled with things you love,” Cristofalo said. “It may be only one special piece or something more that completes a look, defines a space, becomes a reflection of you.”

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