Interior designer and author Matthew White, who co-founded the New York design firm White Webb, has a new book out. The expressive title, Italy of My Dreams, hints at the beauty contained in the book, both in terms of imagery and of the prose White so beautifully composed. Here’s a taste of his choices for the dreamiest locations in one of the most heavenly countries on earth! In his own words: In these pages, I share how I was seduced by Italy, and how that seduction affects the style in which I live (case in point: though each of the homes featured here could be nestled into the Italian countryside, each one is on American soil). Just as the grand tour so deeply affected travelers three hundred years ago, Italy continues to move and inspire me. So this is my “grand tour” of sorts, a tour of my Italian-inspired homes, past and present. Each one of these houses, whether situated in town or country, East Coast or West, link three essential elements: love of domesticity, love of beauty, and love of Italy. There’s an old Tuscan proverb that says “Man makes the place, and the place makes the man.” From my earliest days at the trailer park I have pursued one thing—beauty. I may have found it in Italy, but I made it at home.
Matthew’s First Trip to Venice: It was from a train that late September evening when we first laid eyes on Venice. Night was falling, and our view through the window as we crossed the lagoon made the city appear as a sleeping giant lying thin and elegant on the water. I knew I would love Venice long before we had even begun to plan the trip, long before I arrived there. Venice represented to me a city from a different realm. A place not really of this world. How else could one explain a city of stone palaces built on water? Matthew’s take on the influence of the Tuscan villa on American design: Il Poggio and various other great Tuscan houses would inspire architects, artists and writers for centuries. Edith Wharton wrote the book Italian Villas and their Gardens as a way to share her enthusiasm for these romantic places. Bernard Berenson, the famous art historian who specialized in the Renaissance, lived in a charming villa in Fiesole, just outside of Florence. These nineteenth and early twentieth-century American tastemakers understood the architectural importance of the Italian country house and were in part responsible for bringing that understanding to a larger audience in the modern age.
Villa delle Favole was a house Matthew restored in California. Its old garden, like its architecture, was inspired by the Italian Renaissance.
How Thomas Jefferson was inspired by Italian architecture: Monticello was unique in eighteenth-century America in that it looked back to the great buildings of Palladio and ancient Rome yet seemed very contemporary. And because of Jefferson’s ingenuity, the house incorporated some original and very American ideas. The concept of referring to the romance of European history while living in the present and casting an eye toward the future is a completely American trait. Italian influences in the work of McKim, Mead & White, and how that spirit continues: Charles McKim said…”As Rome went to Greece, and later France, Spain and other countries had gone to Rome for their own reactions to the splendid standards of Classic and Renaissance Art, so must we become students, and delve, bring back, and adapt to conditions here, a groundwork on which to build.” More than a century later, I was inspired to follow a similar path. By taking inspiration from the past — ancient Rome, Renaissance Italy, and Stanford White’s New York — I created a place for living in the twenty-first century. The result is a home steeped in two millennia of Italian history yet created by, and for, Americans.
This library holds ideas that are both Italian and American.
Venice’s admiration of styles from the East: No city in the world is a more alluring melting pot of Eastern and Western styles than Venice. Every arched window and each glittering façade stands as glamorous testament to the admiration Venetians had for the art and architecture of the Eastern Mediterranean. And yet each architectural element shows how Venice took that style and made it uniquely its own.