Top 50 Homes: Family man behind Qld’s mega-mansion
Riccardo Rizzi chuckles at the thought of people calling him a Columbian drug lord or a notorious brothel owner - because the down-to-earth man who owns one of Queensland's largest Top 50 homes is definitely neither of those.
The devout Catholic, ultra conservative, Perth-based civil engineer says he's just a normal family man at heart. He has no airs about him, which is probably why when he completed the multimillion-dollar home that has become one of the largest in Queensland, he did not put a fence around it. Sightseers have literally driven up, knocked on the door and asked him if they could take a picture in the driveway.
"The house is overwhelming," he said, "but the family behind the house, we are very simple people. I drive a Fiat 500 Bambino, it's my car of choice, the one I enjoy driving the most. It has a small turning circle, I can whip it into any car bay anywhere in the city. It does $30 of fuel every two weeks. At the end of the day, I am just a person and I enjoy doing exactly what everybody else does. I go down to the cafe, have a good read of the newspapers, catch up on what's happening, I might have two poached eggs on toast, hold on the bacon."
He applied his hands-on, no-nonsense approach to life to the house when he began the arduous task of finishing a property that the bank had repossessed off the previous owners.
"All the people that worked on the house were paid an hourly rate. I would pay everybody on a Friday and if I had a concern about someone, they wouldn't make it to the following week."
He said it added perspective to his life when some of those he did not keep on made defamatory comments about him via social media.
"The posts claimed I was a Columbian drug baron, or Italian mafia boss, some stories said I was the biggest brothel owner in Queensland. The truth is I am an ultra conservative Catholic Italian that has very high family values."
Mr Rizzi knows that the home he spent millions on has been nothing but a labour of love. "I don't think anyone can fathom giving up six years of your life to do something. When you come and look at the finished product, it looks simple. Yet when you have to put it all together, source the materials, it's different."
Mr Rizzi's daughter Victoria is an architect and it was to her that he turned to when he began the project.
"I could see straight away that I wanted it to be like a 100-year-old French-type chateau, but more importantly something that would be enduring over a long period and would not date."
The family already owned land "at the other end of the street" and were contemplating building when they took on the project.
"The construction took over six years to finish. It took the first year just to get all the paperwork in order and literally understand the project. The sheer volume of it was quite overwhelming. There was all the initial consultants' drawings; from memory they numbered about 400, there was a lot."
He got daughter Victoria to make a few amendments. "When Victoria came in, the first thing we did was design all the gardens."
So important were the gardens to him that the family bought a neighbouring property to ensure there was a good "backyard".
So many plants were required that they bought out entire supplies in some nurseries, and having to compete with Hollywood for plants was an added challenge.
"It all happened at time when they were shooting that Pirates film with Johnny Depp and they bought up every spare tree in the country for the filming. We ended up going to seven or eight different nurseries."
From having to crane colonnades into position - 20 of them in one part of the garden - to the sheer amounts of material required such as 900 light fittings, 1000 sqm of granite for outdoor surrounds, 100 sqm of marble, 1000 sqm of timber parquetry, and even custom-made statues of solid bronze, there is no doubt that the work put into the property was extensive.
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Despite taking six years to complete, Mr Rizzi has decided to sell the property so that he can stay close to his children in Perth, and hopefully, one day soon, his grandchildren.
He jokes about whether it might be a good idea to offer his four children a bonus for giving him a grandchild.
Mr Rizzi said there were so many people who worked tirelessly on the project over the six years that he was afraid to mention them in case he missed anyone.
"It's an accumulation, a collective total of a lot of people that have an input. My job as project manager was very much to isolate the individual components. It never occurred to me to tabulate how much I spent. I just don't know. I know that it's a lot because I've had to limit myself to six golf T-shirts a year now," he jokes, "normally I buy seven."
The home is being taken to auction on October 17 at 1pm by Amir Mian and Faith Liu of Amir Prestige - Mermaid Beach.
Originally published as Top 50 Homes: Family man behind Qld's mega-mansion