When you think about vintage Italian design what are some of the first things that come to mind? Perhaps it’s a slick Italian car, a fine Italian leather handbag à la Sophia Loren or 'mod' furniture designs? Or maybe something a bit more ancient like a stone fountain or a renowned sculpture?
I recently had the pleasure of enjoying all of the above in person when I visited Florence and Rome, Italy. It was one of the most amazing trips I have ever experienced. There's so much to see and do. The museums are divine! And of course you can’t talk about Italy without talking about the decadent food. Oh, and did I mention how perfectly lovely the people are?
My travel partner and I decided to stay in a B&B instead of a hotel and I'm so glad we did. I was forever changed by that experience.
The building where we stayed was actually a 14th century palazzo (an Italian castle). Everything about it felt larger - and grander - than life. The doors to the main entrance were at least 15 feet tall and the flooring and steps throughout were marble - as in old marble, the kind that has hundreds of years of wear and tear but looks stunning rather than worn and torn. Amazingly, as busy and noisy as it was on the street just outside, the minute we were inside with the doors closed, it was so perfectly quiet. I'm sure this is a testament to the palazzo's solid materials and construction. I can't resist saying here that they just don't make them (buildings) like they used to.
I have never before stayed in a place where you park your car inside the home! Kinda has a James Bond vibe happening, don't you think? Although he, I'm sure, would exit the building by driving the car right through the window with more cars giving chase!
Patrick Steiner, the palazzo's proprietor, has an interesting story of his own. He was born the youngest of 10 children in Chur, Switzerland in1968. His father, Peter Steiner, became famous as the “Cool Man” (I simply can't do it justice with a description - you just have to watch the video!) and his mother Katharina Vetsch still lives a quiet life in Scuol, Switzerland. Patrick spent his youth as a shepherd (yes, an actual shepherd!) in the Swiss Alps. He moved to Carrara, Italy when he was 17 to study sculpting at The Accademia delle Belle Arti. There he met sculptor Esther Seidel with whom began a 16-year relationship and artistic collaboration. They had a son together in 2000.
Patrick currently makes his living as a photographer, sculptor, assistant of self-healing, and of course, as manager of his B&B in the heart of Florence, Italy. Don't you just love hearing about the adventurous lives of artists?!
When Patrick first greeted us at the palazzo's door, he took our bags and asked us to follow him – up five flights of stairs to our apartment. Needless to say, castles built in the 1300s tend to not have elevators. Hmm... might it be that constantly climbing all those stairs in their ancient buildings are why Europeans stay so slim and trim?
The minute I entered, I was transported to a different time and place. We had the run of the flat, which was perfect since my constantly snapping photos may have annoyed other guests. Everywhere I turned there was something interesting to look at and I wanted to capture it all.
The décor in Patrick's apartment was particularly delicious. He has collected beautiful antiques from all over the world. Notice the art deco pieces in the photos below. I was struck by how fabulous they looked against the beautiful patinas of the building's old stucco walls and marble floors. It just goes to show how much visual interest and design depth comes through putting together contrasting textures, colors, time periods, and styles.
Among the many things I love about Patrick's design aesthetic is that nothing matches and nothing is new. These are all beautiful pieces that he has acquired throughout the years and somehow, they all look amazing together. Many of the items are broken, chipped or ripped, which only adds to their charm.
This is truly a home that tells a story. It's a perfectly imperfect story of Patrick's amazing life, the palazzo's history, and every piece's curious past.
Patrick generously gave us a tour of his studio and allowed me to take photos there, both of which are rare for artists to offer since they often view their workspaces as intensely personal - even sacred. Can you image living and working in this place? The only thing missing is a sleepily affectionate dog in the middle of it all!
And just in case you have not yet been to Florence, I've included a few of my travel photos to tempt you. It really is such a beautiful place to visit.
Of course, as an avid art lover, I can never leave a country I'm visiting without buying at least one piece of local art. Can't wait to get this one framed and up on my walls.
What is your favorite item to buy on a trip and how do you incorporate it into your home's decor? How does it inspire you even after you return home?