Showing posts with label Italy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Italy. Show all posts

22 February 2012

The Ceramics of Italy tile competition deadline's been extended

Casa Dolce Casa

If you're a North American Designer or Architect and you have a project you've done in the last five years you're particularly proud of, you're in luck. The deadline for the Ceramics of Italy tile competition's been extended until February 27, 2012.


Sponsored by the Italian Trade Commission and Confindustria Ceramica (the Association of Italian Ceramics), the 2012 Tile Competition is open to all North American architects and designers who have used Italian ceramic tiles in their institutional, residential or commercial/hospitality projects completed between January 2007 and January 2012. The competition is completely digital and FREE to enter! Winners in each category will receive a $4,000 cash prize and a five-day trip to Italy to attend Cersaie in the fall.

For competition guidelines, an archive of past winners and the online submission form visit Good luck!

Even if you're not going to enter, click on the link to see the past winners. There are some really spectacular projects that have won in recent years.

01 October 2011

No baloney, Bologna is heaven

I'm still reeling over the sights, the sounds and that tastes I experienced in Bologna two weeks ago. Endless thanks go to Ceramic Tiles of Italy, the Italian Trade Commission and Novita Public Relations for making my trip possible. Here are some highlights of Bologna and the immediate area surrounding it in Emilia-Romagna. For a city that never appeared on my radar before, I cannot wait to go back. Everything about it is magical.

Italy is an enchanting place. For all of its problems, nowhere else on earth manages to combine the ancient and the modern so seamlessly and nowhere else on earth knows how to concentrate on what's really important the way Italy does. Who cares what the IMF thinks, there's great gelato around the corner and the crimini mushrooms are in season. No other place I've ever been wallows in family, friendship and hospitality with the passion Italy does.

The world needs places like Italy as a reminder that having constant internet access and 400 TV channels doesn't really mean a whole lot. What matters is your family, your friends and your neighbors. Thanks for the reminder Bologna.

10 March 2011

Would you? Could you?

This is an embossed leather sofa from Bizzotto Mobili.

I'm on the fence with this one. It's supposed to invoke the golden age of Hollywood.

Does it?

A lot of Italian furniture designs are hit or miss (it pains me to admit that). There doesn't seem to be an off switch.

What do you think? Is this a hit or a miss?

09 March 2011

A little more Italy

I've been on an Italian kick lately. I'm putting together a trip for myself and a couple of friends (are you reading this Saxon Henry and my beloved brother Steve?) for the fall. had me interview Milan-based architect Marco Dellatorre and seeing the modern face of Italy through his projects is making me ache for a return to the bel paese all the more.

Here's the piece I wrote for Houzz on Marco's loft in Milan. As much as I love southern Italy, Marco's loft makes me want to shift my attention north.

18 September 2010

Late-summer rerun: A faux education

This post ran originally on October 3rd, 2008. In an effort to reclaim some part of my life, I'm dipping into my archives on weekends for the time being. 

I had a conversation about faux painting with a client the other day. She wanted me to refer her to a painter who could paint some columns in her entry way so that they looked like they were made from marble.

Now a year ago I would have done everything in my power to dissuade her from this faux marble idea. There was a time when I couldn't separate the idea of faux painting with its most obvious and bad expressions. All too often, people take a page from HGTV and attempt to faux paint (poorly) things that have no business being faux painted. Stuff like this:

I mean really, what are the odds of a contemporary house having walls made from entire slabs of identical marble? The first test these kinds of techniques have to pass is a logical one. Ask yourself, does this application make sense? In the case above, the answer is a resounding no.

But in the hands of a professional artist, a faux marble or trompe l'oeil effect can be cool as well as a compliment to the structure of a room. That said, well-done work of this kind is the exception rather than the rule. Unless you have a fine arts background, do not attempt this on your own or you'll end up with something that looks like this:

Man! That burns my eyes.

The idea of faux marble and trompe l'oeil painting got its start in Ancient Rome believe it or not. I had to see it first hand to believe it and here are some photos of what I saw. Some friends and I were treated to a walk through the excavation of the Villa San Marco in Castellmare di Stabia a couple of months ago. The Villa San Marco was a 28,000 square foot (that's not a typo!) Roman villa on the shores of the Bay of Naples. The Villa San Marco was the home of wealthy Roman family and it was buried by ash during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in the year 79. The villa is an amazement and to walk through it today is to get a real feel for the people who lived in it.

The Roman empire had a leisure class, probably the first such leisure class in human history. This leisure class had enough time and enough money to develop the idea of decorative art for their homes. It makes my heart beat faster to think about people two thousand years ago living lives that had an awful lot in common with mine. Now, I don't live in 28,000 square feet of house but I do like a nice paint job. Besides, so much of our cultural stuff --from birthday parties to wedding rings, from exchanging presents in late December to the Superbowl --we got from them.

This is a detail of a trompe l'oeil fresco on a wall in a bedroom in the Villa San Marco. It wasn't until I saw this with my own eyes that I realized that the Romans had mastered perspective. Perspective disappeared from western art for nearly a thousand years after the fall of Rome.

Here's a detail from a similar fresco.

This is another fresco from the same room. Now bear in mind that this fresco is around 2000 years old and survived the explosion of a nearby volcano. My mind reels when I think about how this must have looked when it was new.

I thought my head was going to explode when I stood in front of this wall. My photo doesn't begin to do it justice. The room itself was small, probably twelve feet wide by ten feet deep. But even after all those years, this fresco made the walls disappear. If you ever find yourself anywhere near Naples in southern Italy, you owe it to yourself to track down a guide who will get you into the Villa San Marco.

Just inside the main entry and in the peristyle courtyard of the Villa San Marco the the shrine to the household gods of the family who owned the villa. It's made from cast concrete and I was amazed that so much of its original paint job had survived the years.

When I looked closer though I realized that the whole thing had been faux painted. The marble that this faux marble is imitating is all over Italy on ancient as well as in contemporary structures.

Here's an even tighter close up. Un-be-liev-a-ble.

So seeing those Roman paint effects was really something. I learned that the faux marble I'd always mocked had a real history and I started warming up to the idea of it. Ditto trompe l'oeil painting. So I decided to get over my biases and just accept it as another decorative art. So long as it's done well that is. Done well by a master like what I saw at the Villa San Marco.

Well about a week later I was in Rome and I was walking down the Corso d'Italia at 7:30 on a rainy Sunday morning. As I now know, rainy Sunday mornings are about the only time when Rome's streets are quiet. I heard a church bell and decided to go to mass. I mean, when in Rome, right? So I ducked into the first church I came to, the San Carlo di Corso. It's also one of the largest churches in Rome. It was built in the early 1600s and it is massive. The entire interior seemed to have been made from marble and granite with a whole lot of gilt for good measure.

So about 20 Italian senior citizens, me and a handful of pilgrims from the world over sat through mass and despite the fact that it was in Italian, I surprised myself with how well I could participate in it. Even after all these years, a mass is a mass regardless of the language it's said in. So I followed along between major bouts of distraction by the incredible building I was sitting in that is. Then, after mass, I couldn't restrain myself any longer and I walked over to the side of the church to get a good look at the stone work.

Wouldn't you know it, every inch of marble and granite on those 400-year-old walls was faux painted.

13 September 2010

A beautiful new faucet series from Gessi

From deep in the heart of Italy's Piedmont Region, comes the Goccia series from Gessi. Goccia means "droplet" in Italian and designer Prospero Rasulo found a new shape and in doing so, he found a way to bring faucets out of the kitchen and bathroom and into the rest of the house.

See what I mean? It reminds me of Achille Castiglioni's Arco lamp from 1962 but the similarities stop pretty quickly after that first flash of recognition.

I tell clients all the time to pick bar and prep sinks with intention but this exceeds even my definition of intention.

As dramatic as the large size of this faucet it, I can see integrating one of its smaller cousins into the end of a dining table or a buffet.

And of course, Goccia comes in sizes, shapes and configurations that work well in bathrooms as well. I'm really taken with this shape.

Goccia is a wide-ranging suite of fixtures, it extends far beyond what I'm showing here. And Goccia is but one of the hundreds of products offered by Gessi. Spend some time on their website and you'll see what I mean. There will be more to come from this company, believe me.

In the meantime though, what do you guys think of having a sink and faucet in the dining or living room? is it an idea whose time has come?

17 July 2010

Is this Italian style?

When I think of Italian design and Italian style, especially when it comes to kitchen designs, my mind goes to rooms that look like this beauty from Snaidero.

However, I have a feeling that Snaidero is showing me Italian style for export. Oh it's authentically Italian, it's just that it's on a scale that I suspect wouldn't work in Italy. Most Italians don't live in homes large enough to accommodate something this size for starters.

My firsthand experiences with Italian kitchens, though limited, are pretty far removed from the Snaidero room above.

I can remember seeing a kitchen showroom in Rome and wondering what my work life would look like if I were to ply my trade in Italy rather than in the US. I suspect that it would look more like the following kitchens from Acquario-Ceramiche in Padua.

I have a feeling that those kitchens from Acquario-Ceramiche come a lot closer to authentic Italian kitchens than a lot of what passes for "Italian" in the US.

Maybe one of my Italian readers will weigh in on this pressing question. Do contemporary Italians look to kitchens that look like the ones shown by Acquario-Ceramiche as something to be emulated? Is this Italian style?

21 March 2010

It's official, they love me in Italy

As of today, my travel writing has a new home on an Italian website called Napoli Unplugged. Napoli Unplugged is the brainchild of Bonnie Alberts, an expatriate who's lived in Napoli for five years. Napoli unplugged is dedicated to the promotion of Neapolitan culture and travel and it is nothing short of an honor to be included in their mix. If your travels take you anywhere near southern Italy, spend some time on Bonnie's site. There you'll find everything you could ever need to help you plan a stay in Naples and Campania.

Here's a screen shot of my first Napoli Unplugged piece.

11 March 2010

Let's talk about Italian travel

It's approaching mid-March and I don't think I've ever had this many plates spinning at the same time. That's not a complaint at all and oddly enough, I'd welcome a couple more things to do. I know I can't keep up this pace forever and vacations await.

So the other day a new travel book fell into my lap. The book is Susan Van Allen's 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go. Though Susan's targeting a female audience, her subject matter transcends gender. 100 Places is a terrific insider's guide. It's full of off-the-beaten-path treasures and fresh perspectives on old standbys. Whether it's the Piazza Barberini in Rome or Oplontis in Torre Annunciata, an insider's guide that lists places where I've already been gets an instant nod of approval from me.

More than that though, Susan Van Allen makes my long to see the places I've yet to see. 100 Places is daydream fodder for me right now, but mark my words. I will see her 100 Places and add 100 more. You can read her table of contents (and buy her book) here.

In an interesting twist, 100 Places has been turned into an iPhone app. Pretty great stuff all around.

Saxon Henry is a great friend and contributor to this blog. She launched a new site a couple of weeks back called Roaming by Design. She is running a contest right now and the prize is the iPhone app version of 100 Places. All you have to do is leave a comment after her post and chapter excerpt on 100 Places. Poke around on Saxon's site while you're over there, she does a great job of combining her loves of travel, design, writing and everything else that catches her eye.

My photo of the Villa la Terrazza as seen from the Marina Piccola in Sorrento.

Of course all talk of Italy brings me back to my incredible stay at the Villa la Terrazza in Sorrento in 2008. It's fast approaching two years since I looked out over the Mediterranean from the patio of the villa and I am dying to return.

Photo from the Villa la Terrazza. This was our living room for one of the most idyllic weeks I've ever spent.

Andrea Azzariti a fifth generation member of the Gunderrode family to own and maintain the Villa. He has a new website for it and it just launched. If you are ever looking for the ultimate get away, this is it. I cannot endorse the six apartments of the Villa La Terrazza and Andrea's hospitality strongly enough.

It seems like a dream now, but there was once a time when I padded through this dining room every morning to get coffee and greet the day. The old marble counter in front of the window was the spot where I stood to chop tomatoes for bruschetta. I'll never be the same. Really.

Included in Andrea's new website is the following video. Watch this and then tell me that the Villa la Terrazza isn't paradise found.

Villa Terrazza - Our Incredible Trip! from Demir Gjokaj on Vimeo.

Check out Villa la Terrazza's new site.

06 March 2010

Happy birthday Michelangelo

535 years ago today, the world was graced with the arrival of Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni. He was born to what would now be a middle class family in Caprese, in the region of Tuscany.

No one could have known at the time, but Michelangelo and his peers would change the course of human history. The body of work and thought left behind by these men is staggering.

His David is arguably his most famous and lasting work, but it's not possible to spend any time in Italy without seeing his footprints.

My favorite Michelangelo project is the Campidoglio in Rome. The Campidoglio is a Piazza that marks the spot where ancient Rome was founded and where it's governed today.

The Campidoglio is a sloping trapezoid and Michelangelo pulled off an incredible act of forced perspective when he designed the piazza.

This is an engraving from 1568 by √Čtienne Dup√©rac that shows Michelangelo's solution. Everything hinged on the shape of the pavement. The spoked Easter egg at the center makes the piazza appear to be perfectly rectangular. Like everything from the Renaissance, the shape he designed was rife with symbolism. It's said to allude to the constellations though what it really represents will never be known. Pope Paul III, who commissioned it, was sufficiently suspicious of the motives behind the shape that the pavement wasn't completed until 1940.

So happy birthday sir. I for one am thrilled that you once walked the earth. I have a sneaky feeling I'm not alone in that.

All images from Wikicommons.

03 February 2010

Mosaic Masterpieces Tour

Julie Richey is an award-winning master mosaicist and great friend of this blog. She won the prestigious Orsoni Prize in Venice last year for her dimensional mosaic, Night Shirt.

Night Shirt now hangs in Venice's Orsoni Gallery alongside the other greats from the long history of mosaic as an art form. Julie's based in Dallas and shows her work all over the world. She can still put in a mean floor too.

Well Julie Richey put together something she's calling the Mosaic Masterpieces Tour, an eight-day excursion to explore the art, culture, food and wine of Italy this June. Julie's leading the group and she'll be accompanied by another titan in the world of fine art mosaics, Nancie Mills-Pipgras, the editor of Mosaic Art Now. The group is limited to 15 to make sure that this tour is un-tour-like as possible. This trip's been coordinated through ACIS, the American Council of International Studies. ACIS is the world leader in educational travel. ACIS' superb planning ensures that this trip will be about art and laughter, not missed connections and lackluster meals.

With ACIS taking care of the specifics, Julie and Nancie can be the personable, knowledgeable and good humored people they are. These women are even bigger Italophiles than I am, and that's quite an accomplishment. Travelers on the Mosaic Masterpieces Tour can expect to see masterworks up close and from behind the velvet ropes. They can also expect to experience Italy as Italy and at a pace where it can be savored.

The tour will start on June 9th in Venice. Then it's on to Ravenna, Siena and finally Rome. Ahh, Rome. Julie assures me that Rome's famous Carciofi alla Giudea will be in season when she and her group arrive. Carciofi alla Giudea are an early summer treat, fried artichokes. Their description loses something when it's translated to English, but to eat one is to taste the very essence of the sun-drenched fields that surround the Eternal City.

A tour such as this is an ideal opportunity for design professionals, mosaicists and mosaic aficionados to get a real feel for the history of this ancient art form while at the same time, seeing up close its expression today. From the Orsoni foundry and gallery in Venice to the Byzantine wonders of Ravenna, from the Medieval treasures of Siena to the High Renaissance glories of Rome, it's all here.

If you's like to read about the specifics of this trip, including prices and registration deadlines, you can learn more on Julie's Website, Julie Richey Mosaics. If you're interested in booking, you can e-mail Julie through her website directly.

All photos courtesy of Julie Richey