The Villa was designed and built in 1923 by David Adler for Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd R. Smith. Mr. Smith was the grandson of the founder of the A.O. Smith Corporation. Mrs. John J. Curtis (formerly Mrs. Lloyd R. Smith) deeded the Villa Terrace to Milwaukee County in 1966 for use as a decorative arts Museum.

The exterior walls of the Villa are whitewashed warm-pink brick and limestone trim that were quarried and carved in Italy. The low-pitched roof is made up of red Italian barrel tiles, reminiscent of the villas built in 16th century Northern Italy.

The architect of the Villa, David Adler (1883-1949), was a native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and known for his restoration homes on the American continent and Hawaii. He received a Bachelors of Arts degree from Princeton University and studied architecture at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. In 1911, he settled in Chicago and built many houses in the Northshore area.

The balance and symmetry that was the basis of Mr. Adler's plan is clearly demonstrated by the Villa's walled garden entrance. This cloistered court features a large sculpture of Hermes, messenger of the Gods, surrounded by an intricate mosaic of black and white pebbles gathered from the Lake Michigan beach. A vaulted loggia or veranda supported by simple Tuscan columns, Italian grilled windows and an intricately patterned brick pavement lead to the front entrance.

In the Entrance Hall, a circular stairway rises without any central support, in the manner of 16th Century Italian prototypes. The superb artisanship of Milwaukee's Cyril Colnik is evident in the stairway railing and the intricate wrought iron entrance gates to the Villa. Mr. Colnik (1871-1958) also made ironwork for prominent public buildings and homes in the Milwaukee area. To the right of the stairway is the Art Reference Library, with paneling and dentil molding designed by David Adler in the Queen style and installed by Mathew Brothers, of Milwaukee.
To the left of the stairway is the Great Hall, with a stenciled beamed ceiling of Georgian cypress. Beyond the hall are the butler's pantry and the kitchen. Here, Mr. Adler, who was a perfectionist, rather than a purist, introduced blue and white Delft tiles. These areas are currently used as food service facilities for various Museum functions.

Upstairs the former master bedroom (now a gallery for changing exhibitions), contains a hand-decorated ceiling. The room is also painted in trompe l'oeil to match the marble fireplace.
Another former bedroom is decorated with Zuber wallpaper, which is hand-printed in France. To the rear of the Villa is a handsome paved terrace, flanked by Palladian-style pavilions overlooking a formal Renaissance Garden. The terrace wall and the staircase to the lawn, have a wide stone balustrade terminating in Italian stone urns. These stone urns as well as the many other Italian garden sculptures are examples of Mr. Adler's unstinting quest to find the most appropriate objects for each particular house that he designed. The Renaissance Garden, an official project of "Save America's Treasures" officially opened in 2002. More ...

In 1974, the Villa was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It is operated under the auspices of the Milwaukee County War Memorial Center Inc. and the Charles Allis/Villa Terrace Museum's Board of Directors. Designated areas of the Villa are available to rent basis for civic, cultural, educational events and other gatherings.