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Grand Dame of Riomar

Vero Beach Magazine revisits Villa Festiva, the landmark Vero home that graced our first cover 20 years ago

A sense of history is felt in the spacious living room thanks to timeless furnishings and accessories, some personal as Dawn’s father and grandfather painted many of the pictures seen throughout Villa Festiva.

A sense of history is felt in the spacious living room thanks to timeless furnishings and accessories, some personal as Dawn’s father and grandfather painted many of the pictures seen throughout Villa Festiva.

Imagine it’s the early 1920s and you’ve just heard about Riomar, a new barrier island community in Indian River County. Carved out of a jungle of native vegetation, scruffy palmettos and towering oaks, their branches laden with wild orchids, Riomar sounded like a tropical paradise. 

It was, and newlyweds Kitty and Elliot Phillips couldn’t resist the appeal of becoming modern-day adventurers. Kitty’s father Winchester Fitch was among the first to settle in Riomar where the family enjoyed spending the winter months. In fact, it was Fitch who came up with the name that translates to “river to ocean.”

In 1926 Kitty and Elliot purchased an acre of oceanfront land just north of Riomar Beach Club and got in touch with friend and well-known Palm Beach architect Howard Major, requesting that he design a two-story Spanish style house with two courtyards.

Two years later it was move-in ready. The Phillips named their new home Villa Festiva, Spanish for festival, and from the beginning the first house built on the beach lived up to its name.