Wednesday, January 25, 2012

L'Opera Restaurant Paris

In 1875, the Paris L'Opera Garnier, designed by architect Charles Garnier in Baroque Revival style, was inaugurated. In July 2011, almost 150 years later, its first restaurant, designed by French architect Odile Decq opened, and it was well worth the wait. 

Having booked several months ago from Australia, yesterday we went for lunch. The food was not my only interest - I was particularly curious to see the architecture as the entire 2 level space has been designed to have no impact upon the original building. Curved glass walls, that emulate the folds in a voluminous stage curtain, surround the perimeter and support the upper level. They define the space within its openness, surrounding and at the same time separating. In fact the 6 Million Euro space is a study in contrasts - intimate yet grand, simple yet complex and the overall result is a voluptuous magnificence.

And yes, with head chef Christophe Aribert (from 2 MIchelin star restaurant 'Les Terrasses') the food is equally as enticing. The menu is largely a modern twist on traditional French and we chose the reasonably priced fixed price menu. At 32Euro p/p for lunch it allowed several choices across 2 courses (wine was extra) and so not to miss out on either entree or desert we shared each of these in addition to our main - wonderfully intense flavours and beautiful presentation across all plates. 

Overall my lasting memory will be the intimacy created by the luxurious red and white colour palette, the womanly shape of the dining chairs and the upper curved walls which allow for private dining zones - all designed to entice you to linger over the enjoyment of sharing food, wine and conversation with those you love spending time with. A sublime dining experience.

The upper level with its curved perimeter which also becomes the banquette seating

The curved walls on the upper level create private zones for quite intimate meals

This photo shows the glass walls which curve like a voluminous theatre curtain  


I am currently in Paris for Maison & Objet - the design world trade fair which is on each January - more on this later (it has been awesome!), but a quick post about some Fiat Bambino photos I have taken recently. Many years ago, in my school days, my wonderful friend Jane used to say she would one day love to own a Fiat Bambino car, also known as a Fiat cinquecento or a Fiat 500, - at the time I didn't understand her desire - they were so small one could hardly imagine them holding any more than 1 person - (though my husband L tells me he has been in one with 5 people - this fact beguiles me!), but now, as a design addict, I realise Jane was clearly ahead of our teenage pack! The original Fiat Bambino is a design classic and when I encounter them in my travels around Europe, their  delightful shape, minute features and 'original city car' persona always make me smile! I am not sure of their safety features in comparison to today's cars (they do look particularly 'lunch box like'), but the original ones I encounter these days are usually very well preserved and always in fabulously fun colours. Today in Pairs I again photographed an original one - this time in pink, so I am posting some photos and will update when I encounter new colours down the track. So this post is for Janie, who clearly had more design kudos than the rest of us!

I saw this original Fiat 500 in Rome a few months ago - in such a happy colour!!

I photographed this Fiat 500 in Paris today - how could one have a bad day in a car like this!

Friday, January 20, 2012


We are currently running a conference in Cortina d'Ampezzo which is in the Dolomite ranges about 2 hours north of Venice Italy. It is an elegant town that swells during the winter ski season with both Italian people who are lucky enough to own a house here, and tourists who partake in the fabulous skiing in the many ski fields in this area. An affluent ski town with picturesque Austrian alp style architecture, Cortina was in fact Austrian until just after WW1 when in 1919 it was given to Italy.  

As well as the many ski areas within a short bus trip of town, a Dolomiti super ski pass enables one to ski on 450 ski lifts in and around the 12 surrounding resorts. So the choices are extensive and offer something for all skiing abilities. One of my favourite ski runs in the area is from Passo Falzarego where one takes a cable car to Lagozoui, a height of 2762mtrs, then you ski down the run past picturesque frozen waterfalls and small mountain churches to the valley floor. After a little work to pole along the flat area, you reach a horse and cart which for a small fee will pull you along the flat area as you hold onto a rope tow. It feels rather incongruous to see these large draught horses in the midst of the snow but they are a welcome delight in a flat valley area. 
The horse & sleigh pull over the valley floor at the base of Lagouzi is a unique experience for skiers in the Dolomite area.

Another delightful run for a competent skier is the Marmolada glacier which rises to a height of 3343mtrs in 3 separate cable cars. The views of the surrounding Dolomite peaks is magnificent, however when we were there a few days ago, the outside temperature was a cool minus 13 degrees - without the wind chill factor! But like many a Cortina day, the skies were a superb cobalt blue with the sun shining, so it makes for a perfect place to enjoy a hot chocolate - which was my preference rather than skiing it!
The top of the Marmolada glacier where skiers begin the 3343 metre decent.
At the base of the Marmolada glacier is a magnificent 2km walk called the Serrai di Sottoguda which has numerous frozen waterfalls descending sheer cliffs in a natural gorge. The frozen water has a natural blue tinge as the light hits it. We even saw several climbers scaling the frozen cliffs - certainly a sport that I can be sure I will never try!  

The ice climbers in action - high above the safety of ground level!

This shows the height the ice climbers are scaling - seen here as 2 tiny dots in the distance!

It truly is a beautiful part of the world in which to run a conference.

Sunday, January 8, 2012


Several more furniture pieces have made their way home with us to begin filling our empty rooms. We bought 5 various items from one dealer after hours scouring his over crowded rooms in Arezzo. The pieces are perfect - they have lovely lines, fit our budget and will be useful in our home. This writing bureau is for the 2nd bedroom and with deep drawers, an upper area for book storage, and a writing slope for computer/desk work, it simultaneously serves several purposes. We also bought a marble topped wall hung console for the entry, a bedroom chair with lovely fringe detail around the base, a dining chair to use at the writing bureau and a little brass coffee table base which needs some serious polishing.

But the piece de resistance is this fabulous gilt mirror. It was an accidental find - in fact we had ventured to an industrial area of Arezzo in search of a standard lamp as the lighting in our house is currently very scant. The lighting shop was unsuccessful, but just down the road was a wholesale antique dealer's warehouse and among the enormous array of dusty stock was this beautiful gilt mirror. We haggled over the price and in the end walked away as he was standing firm and we had set our limit. So home we went without it. However we both kept talking about it and 24hrs later phoned to increase our final price. Again the dealer said no, to our increased final price, so we both gave up on the idea of owning it. Then 3hrs later, he phoned us back and said he would accept the price - clearly part of the game really, but we were thrilled and immediately drove the 45minutes to Arezzo to collect it - at 10pm!  Shortly thereafter it was resting against the wall in our home to begin its life in Citt√• Della Pieve. I think it is about early 1800's and the carving on the top is beautifully detailed with birds, flowers and leaves and the gilt is in wonderful condition. At 1500mm high it will certainly create a spectacular impact over our fireplace and fits perfectly with the look of "lived in, faded elegance".    

So for the time being, we are now finished with furniture purchases - still a long way to go, but we now need to begin the preparations for the conference we are running in Cortina D'Ampezzo beginning at the end of the week.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


So the list goes on ... more possible furniture and fittings items for the house. I am gathering more and more photos which allows me to consider them over a glass of wine in the space where they will be installed, and slowly I am weeding out the pieces which I feel don't work - often the reason is due to price (exceeding our budget!) or sometimes due to size.
This is a 1950's Murano Glass Chandelier with superb blue glass tear drops and it would look beautiful in our living room, but currently it is above our budget, so we will sit on the thought for awhile - perhaps the dealer will drop his price.....significantly! 
I am also concerned about the wiring on this chandelier as the dealer told us "it was working when I removed it" but he does not currently have it on ......... we would need proof before purchasing.
I am sure this will not make the cut - considerably above our budget, but lovely to admire anyway!
It is truly a delightful way to fit out  a home but one does have to be patient to discover exactly the right pieces at a price one can afford!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Arezzo Antique Market

We are back in our apartment in Citta Della Pieve in Italy and our (delightful) job ahead is to fit this place out with furniture and fittings that will turn it from a gorgeous ancient apartment, into a gorgeous ancient & comfortable home. Over the past 3months since we purchased it, I have done all this work in my mind - so now we just have to find the suitable pieces, at a price we are prepared to pay, to finish the job! Obviously this is much easier said than done, as at home in Australia I know all the suppliers and craftspeople to find the perfect pieces, but here in Italy I will have to discover and uncover. This will take time as I am not one to settle for something if it is not exactly what I am looking for - I would prefer to have nothing rather than something simply to fill a void! 

So it is lucky that as an Interior Designer I have often said to clients, that I believe the best results in a home evolve over time - it is definitely not an instant look, for to have personality, soul, and to say something about the people who live in the space, one has to discover and uncover the pieces that mean something to you. It will take every bit of the 4 months we are here this time to find exactly the right pieces, and exactly the right craftspeople to do some small renovations, in order to coincide my metal picture with the physical one!

So .... our first place of discovery was the Arezzo Antique Market which is on the first Sunday of the month and the preceding Saturday. (NOT the first weekend of the month as some people will tell you, and this weekend, with Sunday 1st January, and Saturday 31st December is an example of what they mean by this). Arezzo is a delightful town, very atmospheric with some lovely restaurants and a beautiful main Piazza where many scenes from the Italian movie "La vita é bella" (Life is Beautiful) were shot. We have been to this antique market previously and the whole town is buzzing on this weekend - it feels like a festival really. There are hundreds of stalls selling all matter of things to interest a huge range of people. It is worth visiting even if you intend to purchase nothing, for the atmosphere is alive and typical of Italian life.

Like all markets, the thrill is in the discovery!

My approach to market shopping is to have enough time to wander the whole place, and return late in the day to the items that captured my interest. This way I feel I make considered choices and if the item has already sold, then I believe it was not supposed to be mine! A fatalistic view I know, but one that works for me. So on Saturday after several hours wandering, and a very satisfying stop at our favourite Arezzo restaurant 'Antica Osteria l'Agania', serving typical Tuscan cuisine - which is incredibly flavoursome and very simple ..... we made our first purchase.
This chandelier is our first market purchase for our Italian home
The look I am wanting to achieve in this ancient Italian apartment is one of mismatched pieces that have had many a previous life - that Italian "I've belonged to this family for generations" look. It is achieved with imperfect antique furniture pieces, worn gilt pieces, marble and aged timber. It will need to be layered with rugs, paintings and nothing can be too perfect but all in their own way will be individually beautiful. But having said that, it needs to be done on a tight budget so we will need to compromise to ensure our budget and the desired look are both achieved. Our first purchase, this chandelier, looks beautiful, will be stunning in our little entry, but is glass not crystal so instead of costing thousands of Euro, we purchased it for 180 Euro - a fair compromise I feel. 

So that was Saturday. We had also seen a few other furniture pieces that had potential to fit our look and budget, but rather than purchase them immediately, I took photos and measurements and we returned home to consider them overnight. Thus a further visit on Sunday saw us purchase a gorgeous large old walnut robe for the main bedroom. Currently we are living out of suitcases as there is no robe, so this will be a welcomed addition when it is delivered to us.

With a few further pieces still being contemplated, we are delighted with our first weekend's work. These 2 items are exactly what I had in mind to achieve our "I've belonged in this apartment for ever" look. Now I just have to find an electrician to install the light, and wait for the robe to be delivered....