Springtime in Italy - Memorable Moments

It was late winter when we started our 5 week Italian exploration in Rome, at our favorite hotel: Campo de' Fiori......

The early March view from our balcony in Rome at Hotel Campo de' Fiori

The early March view from our balcony in Rome at Hotel Campo de' Fiori

A vegetable stand in the Campo de' Fiori market

A vegetable stand in the Campo de' Fiori market

I was struck by the packaging on these spices, herbs and dried beans, etc at the market in Campo de' Fiori

I was struck by the packaging on these spices, herbs and dried beans, etc at the market in Campo de' Fiori

The view of Hotel Campo de' Fiori from our favorite enoteca Verso Sera

The view of Hotel Campo de' Fiori from our favorite enoteca Verso Sera

The staff makes the hotel --- and these two are the best!  Valentina and Francesco at Hotel Campo de' Fiori

The staff makes the hotel --- and these two are the best!  Valentina and Francesco at Hotel Campo de' Fiori

The late-winter view from the rooftop at Hotel Campo de'Fiori, Rome

The late-winter view from the rooftop at Hotel Campo de'Fiori, Rome

Rome window shopping.  Incredible children's clothing!  I think I would wear these things. Maybe not the shoes......

Rome window shopping.  Incredible children's clothing!  I think I would wear these things. Maybe not the shoes......

Creative parking in Rome!  Ha!

Creative parking in Rome!  Ha!

After 3 days, it was on to Florence, where we'd live for a month.....

It was fairly brisk in mid-March, but not raining!

It was fairly brisk in mid-March, but not raining!

Our normal breakfast at a cafe half a block from our apartment

Our normal breakfast at a cafe half a block from our apartment

Shopping in this city is the best!

One of my favorite stores for higher-end clothing and shoes:  Raspini

One of my favorite stores for higher-end clothing and shoes:  Raspini

I love this store, too - much less pricey!  Vincent Croce  There are 2 locations (that I found):  in San Frediano, near the Ponte alla Carraia and on Borgo la Croce, near the mercato San Ambrogio 

I love this store, too - much less pricey!  Vincent Croce  There are 2 locations (that I found):  in San Frediano, near the Ponte alla Carraia and on Borgo la Croce, near the mercato San Ambrogio 

This is how we roll when shopping

This is how we roll when shopping

I adored this cafe the second I walked in!  It's small and charming. Cafe Cibreo

I adored this cafe the second I walked in!  It's small and charming. Cafe Cibreo

Shops like these are everywhere.  This was me provisioning on our first night in Florence.

Shops like these are everywhere.  This was me provisioning on our first night in Florence.

Connecting:

We met Melinda Gallo after corresponding with her for about a year.  We ended up having Easter lunch with her, hosting her for Friday night nachos (gathering the ingredients for that dinner is a post in itself!), and here is our farewell luncheon, the day before we left Florence.  Check out her blog!

We met Melinda Gallo after corresponding with her for about a year.  We ended up having Easter lunch with her, hosting her for Friday night nachos (gathering the ingredients for that dinner is a post in itself!), and here is our farewell luncheon, the day before we left Florence.  Check out her blog!

This shop makes masks and wigs and ALL kinds of special makeup for cinema and theater.  We passed by the storefront almost every day and one day ventured in:  Filistrucchi

This shop makes masks and wigs and ALL kinds of special makeup for cinema and theater.  We passed by the storefront almost every day and one day ventured in:  Filistrucchi

Daily life.....

Florentine police at Piazza Santo Spirito

Florentine police at Piazza Santo Spirito

Florentines park creatively, too!

Florentines park creatively, too!

Venturing beyond the borders of Florence....

One Sunday, on a whim, we jumped a city bus and climbed the hill north of Florence to Fiesole.  This is what's left of a Roman amphitheater.

One Sunday, on a whim, we jumped a city bus and climbed the hill north of Florence to Fiesole.  This is what's left of a Roman amphitheater.

In mid-March we took the express train - 2 hours! - to Venice. 

In mid-March we took the express train - 2 hours! - to Venice. 

This shop was amazing!  Not only the drama of the setting, but much of the clothing is designed in-house and is superb quality.  Pot-pouri

This shop was amazing!  Not only the drama of the setting, but much of the clothing is designed in-house and is superb quality.  Pot-pouri

Of course, while in Venice, we HAD to have a real Bellini at Harry's Bar.  The room was startlingly small and unpretentious - and the glasses were surprising - but it was an experience.

Of course, while in Venice, we HAD to have a real Bellini at Harry's Bar.  The room was startlingly small and unpretentious - and the glasses were surprising - but it was an experience.

We visited the Cinque Terre the end of March - a great way to greet April!  This is the view of Vernazza from the tower of Castello Doria....

We visited the Cinque Terre the end of March - a great way to greet April!  This is the view of Vernazza from the tower of Castello Doria....

.....And the view looking out toward sea from our room at La Mala in Vernazza

.....And the view looking out toward sea from our room at La Mala in Vernazza

A wonderful wine we first discovered when our son found it at a wine seller in Seattle for us.  Made in Cinque Terre!

A wonderful wine we first discovered when our son found it at a wine seller in Seattle for us.  Made in Cinque Terre!

A day exploring Monterosso in the Cinque Terre

A day exploring Monterosso in the Cinque Terre

Some Italian men having lunch behind me at Ristorante Ciak in Monterosso.  Note the ties and scarves even in a beach town.  I love the way Italians and French dress!

Some Italian men having lunch behind me at Ristorante Ciak in Monterosso.  Note the ties and scarves even in a beach town.  I love the way Italians and French dress!

Italian travel mistakes....

So, we missed our train connection in La Spezia and had to wait for the next one to Florence.  We met some young Americans - west coasters, like us! - and enjoyed (!) wine in the ambience of the train station....ahem. The company was definitely better than the surroundings but it was a memory!

So, we missed our train connection in La Spezia and had to wait for the next one to Florence.  We met some young Americans - west coasters, like us! - and enjoyed (!) wine in the ambience of the train station....ahem. The company was definitely better than the surroundings but it was a memory!

.....and then, one Sunday, we decided to take a bus to Greve in Chianti.  We bought tickets and were directed to the bus --- which, it turned out, was going to Grosseto, not Greve, sadly we discovered an hour into the trip!!!  2 1/2 hours and not much to see around the bus/train station, then 2 1/2 hours back - the whole Sunday spent on a bus....!  We made the best of it, though.... Inexpensive Chianti and a delicious flat bread pizza sort of thing - lunch totaled 5 euros. 

.....and then, one Sunday, we decided to take a bus to Greve in Chianti.  We bought tickets and were directed to the bus --- which, it turned out, was going to Grosseto, not Greve, sadly we discovered an hour into the trip!!!  2 1/2 hours and not much to see around the bus/train station, then 2 1/2 hours back - the whole Sunday spent on a bus....!  We made the best of it, though.... Inexpensive Chianti and a delicious flat bread pizza sort of thing - lunch totaled 5 euros. 

Sometimes it's best just to put up your feet and relax..... There are some changes on the horizon....Stay tuned for the next adventures!

Looking toward the terrace in our Florence apartment.

Looking toward the terrace in our Florence apartment.

Posted on June 8, 2016 .

Florence: From a designer's Perspective

I clearly remember the first time I visited Florence.  It was late September, 1979, and the air had a crispness, foretelling the changing of the seasons.  I was astounded by the beauty all around:  architecture, monuments, the contrast of terra cotta roof tiles against blue skies, chic people wearing furs and gorgeous leather!  

The view from San Miniato al Monte

The view from San Miniato al Monte

After several trips over the years, we decided to spend a month in between winter and spring (the idea was to avoid heavy tourist times - ha!) soaking in all that is the wonder of this compact city.  

Palazzo Antellesi 

Palazzo Antellesi 

We rented an apartment through Italy Perfect and stayed in Palazzo Antellesi on Piazza Santa Croce, a wonderfully central location.  According to various sources, the Palazzo was first built in medieval times and enlarged in the late 16th c, then acquired in the early 17th c by Niccolo' dell'Antella (from whom the name originates) and joined with a nearby building to make one large palazzo.  He commissioned frescoes to cover the entire facade. The frescoes faded over time but then the Cinelli family bought the building and restored them in the 1920's and again in 1990. Young Federica Cinelli inherited the Palazzo in 1945, then married Count Piccolomini, becoming La Contessa Piccolomini. La Contessa still lives here, as does some of her family. And we so much enjoyed meeting her and her daughter, Francesca!

Our first apartment, Paradiso

Our first apartment, Paradiso

Our first apartment had amazing Renaissance frescoes and high, high ceilings.  After being there about 10 days, we moved to another apartment in the building that we absolutely loved!  The colors of the Belvedere suit me perfectly.... 

Living room of the Belvedere

Living room of the Belvedere

We spent many hours enjoying the sun-filled terrace

We spent many hours enjoying the sun-filled terrace

The kitchen is small but has everything someone who loves to cook needs

The kitchen is small but has everything someone who loves to cook needs

Once we unpacked, gathered provisions and settled into our apartment, we began serious exploration. First up, a cooking class and market tour with Laura Franceschetti of Cooking in Florence. We had the most delightful time spending the day (!) with her, starting at the Mercato Sant'Ambrogio and then at her wonderful home, which happened to be a 5 minute walk from our apartment!  (Almost everything is.... more on that later)

Laura Franceschetti and me at Mercato Sant'Ambrogio

Laura Franceschetti and me at Mercato Sant'Ambrogio

We met at the Mercato Sant'Ambrogio (which is not as touristy as the larger, newly renovated Mercato Centrale, but feels more "authentic") where we learned about purchasing seasonal foods, pasta, cheese ("there's no such thing as Parmesan cheese - it's Parmigiano"), meat, seafood and generally started to feel like being with a friend.

Look at the color and the care with which everything is displayed!

Look at the color and the care with which everything is displayed!

The cooking lesson was informative and the food tasted incredible, but I was equally enthralled with Laura's home.  The floor tile!  The ceiling!   

Laura's kitchen floor

Laura's kitchen floor

A frescoed ceiling at Laura's

A frescoed ceiling at Laura's

After eating like kings, a few days later I convinced my husband, Bob, to make the hike up to San Miniato al Monte, my favorite little Romanesque church, with the most glorious view of Firenze!

San Minato al Monte

San Minato al Monte

The view from San Miniato al Monte

The view from San Miniato al Monte

Downhill from San Minato al Monte we found the charming San Niccolo' neighborhood and beautiful Piazzale Michelangelo. 

A building in San Niccolo'

A building in San Niccolo'

....and we stumbled upon the most lovely boutique hotel, Villa Vedetta, where we felt like royalty, as we dined privately near the pool...

The pool at Hotel Villa Vedetta

The pool at Hotel Villa Vedetta

The lobby of Villa Vedetta

The lobby of Villa Vedetta

As long as we're on the subject of hotels, the Four Seasons Florence, located in the fifteenth-century Palazzo della Gherardesca, is quite lovely and has an amazing private garden that only guests of the hotel are privy to.  We had coffee in the gorgeous bar, so technically we were guests.....

The Renaissance courtyard

The Renaissance courtyard

the Bar

the Bar

The gardens....

The gardens....

And the JK Place hotel, on newly renovated Piazza Santa Maria Novella, was a complete treat for the senses!

JK Place terrace on Piazza Santa Maria Novella

JK Place terrace on Piazza Santa Maria Novella

An interior shot

An interior shot

Ceiling detail, JK Place

Ceiling detail, JK Place

I loved the exterior of this little hotel even more when I saw the name:  Hotel Botticelli  And then I discovered it was built in the latter half of the 16th c.  Sort of average for this city - ha! - but still impressive!   

This is what 16th c Florentine looks like....

This is what 16th c Florentine looks like....

Another 16th c building, another amazing ceiling....

Another 16th c building, another amazing ceiling....

So many incredible edifices in one city!

Santa Croce at night

Santa Croce at night

The Duomo peeking out.....

The Duomo peeking out.....

....and from the Boboli gardens

....and from the Boboli gardens

A little corner of green

A little corner of green

And then there's Florence shopping!  The food markets, flea markets and special/holiday markets.  The clothing stores, shoe stores and perfumeries - so much to explore!

Mercato Centrale

Mercato Centrale

The flea market by Mercato Sant'Ambrogio

The flea market by Mercato Sant'Ambrogio

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on Via Santo Spirito

on Via Santo Spirito

On Via Santo Spirito

On Via Santo Spirito

No visit would be complete without a stop at Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella - lots of history here and it smells divine!  Wonderful architectural details, too.

No visit would be complete without a stop at Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella - lots of history here and it smells divine!  Wonderful architectural details, too.

Great little boutique next to Rivoire on Piazza Della Signoria - I don't remember the name, unfortunately.  But great stairwell!

Great little boutique next to Rivoire on Piazza Della Signoria - I don't remember the name, unfortunately.  But great stairwell!

I could go on and on - and I will, in the next post! - but I'll close with this designer-y cup of espresso machiato I had at JT Caffe, across from the Palazzo Pitti.

Ciao for now!

Remodeling Adventures

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How long does it take for a bathroom or kitchen to become dated?  After nearly 13 years of staring at tile I absolutely loathed, it became clear that it was time to remodel our master bath.  Clear to me, anyway - ha!  It took tremendous persuasion on my part to convince my husband. 

Here's what it looked like "before":

Not bad, but that tile....ugh

Not bad, but that tile....ugh

And time for the huge jetted tub and glass shower enclosure to go!

And time for the huge jetted tub and glass shower enclosure to go!

Ah, if only we could dream up the perfect room and then wave a magic wand or wiggle a nose like Samantha and - poof! - it would be so.  But, unfortunately, there's a bit more to it than that.....

First, there's the "vision".  I created a Pinterest board called Master Bath and began assembling photos of gorgeous bathrooms and specific products.   This photo was the guiding aesthetic: 

Love this chateau feeling

Love this chateau feeling

 Once the aesthetic was agreed upon, (avec qui? You might ask) we started shopping for materials.  I found the perfect stone remnant for the Waterworks washstand top at Architectural Stone Werkes in South Seattle.....

Perfect for the top!

Perfect for the top!

.....and the perfect Versailles pattern travertine tile for the floor at Daltile

Paredon in Peruvian Cream for the floor

Paredon in Peruvian Cream for the floor

Next, assembling the team:  the carpenter, plumbers, electrician, tile installer, stone fabricator, painter, leaded glass window artisan.  Fabulous, one and all!

Then, oh boy, demolition was begun.....

Are we done, yet?

Are we done, yet?

and framing....

Taking shape....

Taking shape....

......electrical and plumbing rough-in.....

.....extraordinary tiling by John Cosfol.....

John Cosfol, master tiler

John Cosfol, master tiler

.......electrical fixtures installed...

The best electrician, Chris Valentino

The best electrician, Chris Valentino

.....painting by the wonderful and inspirational Shannon Noel.....

The fabulous Shannon Noel!  Getting closer every day

The fabulous Shannon Noel!  Getting closer every day

.... the plumbing fixtures installed....

And here's the funny part - now, not at the time.  Ok, so everything was going swimmingly - except, of course, for not being completed in 2 weeks.  But still.  The plumbers had to muscle our new tub up the millions of stairs in our home and I couldn't watch for fear of jinxing them in some way.  So, I sauntered in just as they were 90% finished installing the tub only to discover ---- it wasn't my tub!!!!  AACK!  (Or words to that effect)

Lovely, but not mine!

Lovely, but not mine!

What are the chances that two tubs with the same exact dimensions - but in different styles - are ordered from the same manufacturer and arrive the same day but have the owners' names swapped??!  After frantically calling my salesperson, Erika Knight, (she's great, by the way) at Chown Hardware, she located my tub and arranged to have it delivered the next morning!  How's that for service?  They even had to muscle down the wrong tub and then carry up (again) the correct one!  All's well that ends well.....

This is the Victoria + Albert tub I actually ordered!

This is the Victoria + Albert tub I actually ordered!

Et voila!  Just like that, it's complete! And we love it so much....

Love this decorative drain cover!

Love this decorative drain cover!

Sconces by Visual Comfort

Sconces by Visual Comfort

Perfect spot for an Italian gilt painted antique nightstand.....

Perfect spot for an Italian gilt painted antique nightstand.....

.......and a Louis Philippe mirror

.......and a Louis Philippe mirror

A mundane skylight became romantic

A mundane skylight became romantic

Just in case you forgot what it looks like now!

Just in case you forgot what it looks like now!

Remodeling is not for the faint of heart or those without an adventurous spirit. It's a wonderful, glorious undertaking, akin to giving birth - sort of - in that the final product is so worth the discomfort and, sometimes, agony. Very much worth it!


Posted on February 18, 2016 and filed under Bathroom.

Happy Winter Solstice!

"Happy Holidays to all my friends" (and family)!!

"Happy Holidays to all my friends" (and family)!!

Today is the shortest day of the year and that can only mean one thing - the days are going to be getting longer from now on!  Yay!  It's dark this time of year, that's true, and rainy, too, here in the Pacific Northwest, which can sort of make one feel like never going outside again.  Just cuddling up indoors under a comforter and waiting patiently for spring's arrival..... But the lovely holiday lights & decorations around town DO make the darkness much more bearable - even joyful!  And when the decorations have been stowed away for another year, we have longer days and spring to look forward to.....

Ahhhh.....the sweet smell of spring

Ahhhh.....the sweet smell of spring

In the meantime, please take a vicarious trip to Europe with me and feast your eyes on Christmas in France and Italy:

Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy

Paris.  A "tree" of macarons!

Paris.  A "tree" of macarons!

Avignon

Avignon

Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy

.....and again

.....and again

And again...

And again...

Almost like being there - ha!

Almost like being there - ha!

Torino

Torino

Parisian Christmas topiary

Parisian Christmas topiary

A great ornament!

A great ornament!

Venice

Venice

There will be a full moon this Christmas so I hope you'll keep your eyes peeled for Santa!

Joyeux Noel & Buon Natale to all!!!  xoxo

Posted on December 21, 2015 and filed under Holiday.

Buon Natale and Joyeux Noel! Piacenza Maison for the Holidays...

The virtual store.... lovely mural on canvas by Shannon Noel

The virtual store.... lovely mural on canvas by Shannon Noel

I fell head over heels in love with Europe the first time I visited. Everything about it spoke to me: the art, architecture, café life, chic residents and the sense of grounding that comes from generations of established society.  (Also, the lack of skyscrapers.....!)  

September, 2015

September, 2015

Since I live in the rugged, upper west corner of the US where the reigning (ha!) style is known as "Northwest Contemporary" and, being the Francophile that many of you know I am, it's been challenging for me to source, locally, European "Haute Brocante" (Flea Market) items for my own home.  I love a collected-over-time aesthetic and sense of genteel, but not precious, warmth - without breaking the bank.

Antique Louis Phillipe mirror with new Aidan Gray candle sconces

Antique Louis Phillipe mirror with new Aidan Gray candle sconces

So, I started shopping!  The last couple of trips to France, I discovered some wonderful things and had them shipped back to Seattle.  The delivery was anxiously awaited!

Italian gilt painted furniture arrives!

Italian gilt painted furniture arrives!

And now, the Brocanterie is "live" on my new store website, Piacenza Maison.  It's a mix of French (Louis Phillipe mirrors, vintage copper cookware, finishings, art), Italian (gilt painted furniture, Venetian mirror, handmade paper goods, art) and New items that reflect the same "Haute Brocante" sensibility.

I absolutely love what I call "The Mix".  It's a blend of high/low, antique/modern, and streamlined/ornate.  It's really what the term Contemporary means to me: Of the moment. (vs "Modern", which is a style in its own right)  My goal is to offer furniture and accessories at Piacenza Maison that will bring to your home or office a little touch of Europe and, when mixed with new Modern or even rustic pieces, will impart a truly Contemporary essence.

Philippe Starck Ghost Chair mixed with French reproductions and antique Oriental rug

Philippe Starck Ghost Chair mixed with French reproductions and antique Oriental rug

And just in time for last minute Holiday shopping, we have a category called "Little Luxuries" - items that are all $50 or less.   Here are a few samples:

  Monogrammed French Tea Towels - never used! 

And, we're giving back - we have handmade African horn earrings whose proceeds benefit a school in Uganda.  

I wore this pair of horn earrings 2 years in a row thru Italy and France.  Light as air and stylish, too!

I wore this pair of horn earrings 2 years in a row thru Italy and France.  Light as air and stylish, too!

We invite you to browse Piacenza Maison and perhaps see something that speaks to you.... And please contact us with comments or questions!


Posted on December 14, 2015 and filed under Shopping, Holiday, Piacenza Maison.

Exploring the Marché aux Puces

Have you ever imagined yourself wandering through the lengendary markets of the Marche Aux Puces de Saint Ouen, visiting sites made famous in countless movies and other media - and in PARIS???  Like so much of the City of Light, it's a pinch-me-I'm-dreaming kind of place but also a spectacular shopping experience - full of objects with provenance for real homes and businesses.  Join me on a virtual tour.....

A delightful showroom in Marché Vernaison

A delightful showroom in Marché Vernaison

We have a saying in our family, "It's good to be a regular!"  And of course I would add, "...in Paris!!!"  After a wonderful trip to Italy and France in 2014 to celebrate my 60th birthday, we returned to France last month and spent one blissful, languorous week in the sun at Hotel Le Hameau in St Paul de Vence and 3 active (!) weeks in Paris, in accomodations through Guest Apartment Services.    We traveled to Paris (and France, generally) to assess trends at Maison et Objet (see my post on that here), shop at the Marché aux Puces and also the Village St Paul in the Marais, and - certainly not least - celebrate our 30th Anniversary....! 

Ile St Louis is a perfect location - halfway between St Germain and le Marais

Ile St Louis is a perfect location - halfway between St Germain and le Marais

This year, we rented an apartment on l'ile St Louis and were found regularly at the cafe St Regis, on the northern tip (northwestern?) of the island.  It's a grand place to while away the time watching people from all over the world discover Paris for the first time and try to pick out the locals, while sipping an extremely pale rosé or a chilled Chablis.  The food there is very good, too....

We were regulars at the Cafe St Regis on Ile St Louis

We were regulars at the Cafe St Regis on Ile St Louis

Just a few step from Cafe St Regis is a pedestrian-only bridge accross the Seine leading to Ile de la Cité and Notre Dame.  There are always musicians of one genre or another performing.   Ahhhhh......

Just a few step from Cafe St Regis is a pedestrian-only bridge accross the Seine leading to Ile de la Cité and Notre Dame.  There are always musicians of one genre or another performing.   Ahhhhh......

OK, on to the Flea Market.....

Having shopped at the Marché aux Puces last year, and now again this year, I guess we're almost regulars! There is really so much to see - it's over 20 acres of dealers' showrooms/stalls so it entails a huge amount of walking, though, being Paris, there are plenty of places to take a break for a meal and wine.  But be sure to wear comfortable shoes anyway!

Here are some of my favorite images from our day this year:

Bachelier Antiquités  never disappoints

Bachelier Antiquités  never disappoints

Fun industrial chic 

Fun industrial chic 

LOVE the juxtaposition of the retro motorbike and amethyst, amber and jade green glass bottles

LOVE the juxtaposition of the retro motorbike and amethyst, amber and jade green glass bottles

I think I've found something interesting...

I think I've found something interesting...

The coolest vintage clothing and jewelry

The coolest vintage clothing and jewelry

Guess who loved this dealer's place?  I love the little Paris photo prop behind....

Guess who loved this dealer's place?  I love the little Paris photo prop behind....

Those seltzer bottles!

Those seltzer bottles!

....and these chairs

....and these chairs

Sort of what you'd expect in the way of French furniture, though the white is unusual.  (Does that wrinkled rug bother anyone else??) 

Sort of what you'd expect in the way of French furniture, though the white is unusual.  (Does that wrinkled rug bother anyone else??) 

Looks like a little village but is just one of the Marchés

Looks like a little village but is just one of the Marchés

A private restroom for vendors.....don't tell

A private restroom for vendors.....don't tell

Francois Bachelier et moi

Francois Bachelier et moi

While in Bachelier Antiquités, I found these wine box remnants and was given a super price, I guess because I bought so much there last year - or maybe it's because Bob made friends with Maman Bachelier....  Anyway, yes, it's good to be a regular!

Posted on October 15, 2015 and filed under Paris, Marche aux Puces st Ouen.