Tag Archives: Stylish Simplicity

Hello, my name is Arlene Antoinette Gibbs and I have a Sicily problem.

It’s bad.  Every time I go, i wish I could stay longer.  There’s so much of the island I haven’t seen yet, for example the entire West Coast, the interior, and other islands like Stromboli, Lampedusa, etc. etc.

This time I was on the island for a week, Mt. Etna then Ortigia, for vacation (and to celebrate my birthday).

“It’s good to back,” I said to Rosa, the newish manager, when I walked into the reception room at Monaci delle Terre Nere.   Last year I wrote about Monaci and my first trip to the Sicilian mainland for FATHOM.

This time I stayed in the Floreale room.


The bathroom!


Photos: Monaci

The view from my balcony.


Lunch was served by the pool.

The first time I went to Monaci, it was raining and winter so I had no idea how spectacular the views were. The grounds are gorgeous.


The main villa at sunset.  I would like to decorate a Sicilian villa one day.


One morning I jogged around the forty acre property.  Most of the food served at Monaci comes from their organic gardens. There is a huge chicken coop.  I hesitate to call it a coop.  It’s more like a palace as it’s bigger than my apartment. Lucky chickens.

The breakfast spread was serious.  On the other side were eggs, cheeses, salumi, cakes, breads, cereals, and many other things I didn’t have a chance to try.


I had to buy a jar of their honey.  Fifteen percent of the honey made in Italy comes from this small town.


I had some great Sicilian wines.   I love their aperitivi.  Although there were more guests during this trip (the hotel was at full occupancy) fewer people went to the aperitivi. Perhaps they thought it wasn’t child appropriate?


Several rooms, located a few meters from the main house, have been renovated now. The atmosphere during high season was completely different from off-season. There were lots of families and half the tourists were American.

I had a moment with a fellow American guest who was so rude, it took my breath away.  I believe I had a strong reaction to her snub because it was completely out of context.  The vibe at Monaci is very friendly and chill.  The owners, Guido and Ada, are lovely and as are the other people who work there.  For this basic lady to not understand that said a lot about her.

As soon as I sat down with my book by the pool, I got over it.  I was in a beautiful place and no one was going to put a damper on that.

A slight scent of Sicilian jasmine, and lavender filled the air.  There were roosters in the background and sometimes the volcano “groaned”, loudly.  It was very relaxing despite the sounds coming from Mt. Etna.

A grazie mille to Rosa, Sara, Federico, Nujuan, Salvatore, and of course Guido and Ada for helping make this the best birthday ever.

Note:  My room was in the main villa and on the same floor as the kitchen. I’m an early riser, so I never heard a peep from the kitchen or from the downstairs reception area.

From Monaci, I went to Oritigia.  This time I rented an apartment on the other side of the village.  I couldn’t understand why it was cheaper than my place from last year.  It had a terrace with a partial sea view.

It’s because that side of the town wasn’t completely regentrified, yet.

As you can see in the photos below, some of the buildings are derelict and the empty former prison is on the left.  I liked being only two blocks away from the farmers market but can see how that might not be appealing.

I had to work a bit during my vacation but at least I had a view.


Love the old faded tiles on the right.


Before unpacking, I ran out to get pick up some yogurt, wine, and other important things.  All of a sudden I heard my name and it was X, Erica’s daughter.  Once again, without planning it, our apartments were only blocks away from each other.

The tiny piazza in front of my building at night.


The architecture here is incredible.  Remember to look up.


My friends at Casa Mia wrote about Tabaré (Sicilian dialect for tray) and I had to check it out.  It’s a must.


On my birthday we went to Arenella beach.  We got there early and scored great beach chairs, second row.  It was my first trip to a Sicilian beach and I had a great time.  I love how people of all shapes and sizes rock bikinis and Speedos.


Later that night we went to dinner.  In Italy when it’s your birthday and you invite people to celebrate with you, you pay.  It makes sense to me. You’re the host. I have some American friends who really have an issue with this custom but it’s not just an Italian thing. In the Caribbean if you invite people out for your birthday, you pay.  I get it if you’re in your early 20s and you meet at a bar or something. However, by your 40s/50s and up, the whole invite people to celebrate you and then expect them to pay is a little odd to me.


After dinner Erica insisted on treating me to a post dinner drink in the main piazza.  This is probably one of my favorite churches and piazzas in Italy.  It is ridiculously beautiful.


I was worked up about this birthday but in the end, it turned out to be a perfect day.  Thank you, Ms. Firpo and Ms. Arya.

I’ve been back for less than two weeks and I’m already trying to figure out when I can return. I’m tempted to join one of my friends in Rome who has to go to there for work in October.  Seriously.

Photos (except for the first two): me and my iPhone

A few years ago I wrote about how much I adore the boutique accessories label founded by Andrea Ferolla and Daria Rein, Chez Dédé.

There has been a lot of retail space turnover in our neighborhood.  Antique stores, artisans, etc., are shutting down and Subway fast food restaurants, and other weird sandwich shops are taking over.  There have been some great additions, like the Suppli spot but for every one of those there are four or five  places that leave locals scratching their heads.

Via Monserrato is one of the prettiest streets in Rome.  When I saw the large for rent sign where Ilaria MIani’s showroom used to be, I became very nervous.  What kind of janky business would set up shop on this street?

Then I saw this:



The store had its opening last week. Erica and I walked over and bumped into a bunch of our neighbors. One of our favorite bartenders, Fabrizio from Pierluigi, made the Kir Royales.

Unfortunately, for me, the store is stunning.  I should just leave my wallet there and let them take my money.  All of it.

Erica completely fan-girled LInda Rodin. I don’t blame her.  Ms. Rodin is a style icon for a reason. She was so gracious and didn’t give us the side-eye for geeking out.

I think I need to treat myself to a nice Grand Sac bag for my birthday.  It’s a big one (no, I’m not going to say which birthday it is as I still work in Hollywood).  I haven’t decided which bag yet. The island of Salina is one of my favorite places in the world but I also love the colors/style of the Portofino, Kenya, and Dubai bags.  I haven’t been to any of those places, so I think I should go with the Salina bag.

Below are photos from the opening.  Grazie mille, Daria for the invite!


Okay, I wrote this yesterday with the plan to publish today. I like to proof read before publishing yet, some typos still make it through. Grrrr.

On Saturday my friend Courtney called me and said she had to speak with me urgently on Sunday.  I asked what was wrong. Why couldn’t she tell me over the phone?  I was working all day on Sunday but said I would meet her in the afternoon.  Erica wanted me to stop by her daughter’s lemonade stand. I said I was on my way to meet Courtney but would stop by. I was worried about Courtney.  Erica said she was too and hoped that everything was okay.

I show up at Etablli.  Courtney sends a SMS saying she’s on her way and she asks me to order her a glass of wine. What the heck was going on? Was her news so heavy she needed to have a drink in hand?

She walks in and Erica (!) is right behind her.  They say, “Happy Birthday” and then this happened:


I had no idea they were planning this!  Erica thought I was going to buy the bag before my birthday so she and Courtney went into action over the weekend.  My birthday isn’t until August 26th.

I was/am floored.  I am not an easy person to surprise and they totally got me.  Well played ladies, well played.  I love my bag.

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Andrea is a very talented illustrator.



Linda Rodin. Fabulous.


Erica and Linda.



So true.

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Photos: Me and my iPhone

The last few weeks have been incredibly busy.

I’m working on a new project that will include a bathroom renovation.  It has unique design challenges in that It’s a vacation rental and the room is TINY.

We want the space to function better and to be stylish.  Below are three small spaces that caught my eye.

Compact yet not claustrophobic.  The shelving above the toilet is genius.  Great use of space.


Photo: Banherio Pequeno

In a small space you can use higher-end materials and finishes without blowing out your budget.  Look at these floors.  Stunning.



Photo: Elements of Style

Love the drama of Jenna Lyon’s bathroom.  These floors are spectacular as well.


Photo: Domino

Earlier I wrote about the interior design of La Bandita Townhouse.   Clearly the owners, John and Ondine, have put as much thought into the service as they did into the décor.

From the first email to book my room, until the day I left, the service was (as the young folks say) on fleek.  This is something I do not take for granted.  Unfortunately, too many people have no idea what it means to work in the hospitality business. Why they would open or work in a hotel/restaurant/spa, etc. is beyond me.

Pienza is small hilltop town with a population of approximately two thousand people.  It was the birthplace of Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini, who would become Pope Pius II. Piccolomini rebuilt the entire village, starting in 1459, after he became Pope.  He saw it as a lovely Renaissance retreat from the Papal capital.  In 1996 Pienza was named an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It’s a perfect base from which to explore this region of Tuscany (with a car).  Montapluciano, Siena, and other towns are close by.  If you’re a Pecorino cheese fan, a visit to Pienza is a must.

Since I was only staying for two nights, I didn’t rent a car and spent most of my time close to the Townhouse.  It was FREEZING.  I’m not exaggerating.  I haven’t been that cold since my days at Syracuse University.

I was elated to see these fire pits around town.  I love how in this country even a simple and functional thing, like a fire pit, is well designed.  I mean, look at the darn logs.  Did the person who built the fire make sure they were “just so” or what?  Also, as I said before, it was beyond freezing.  Who has time to worry about aesthetics in sub-freezing weather?   If the logs were janky, would the fire builder be called out?

I truly appreciate this attention to details.



The views were spectacular.  Sunset.



Sun rising. View as I started my epic walk three and a half-hour walk.



Remember this road from the movie GLADIATOR?  No, I was not entertained. I was a little freaked out because I didn’t see a single person for kilometers.  I started to think, “what if a wild boar attacked me? Nobody could hear me scream. Where the heck is the next farm house?”



Seriously, NOBODY was around.



The top of this well, stylish simplicity.



Pieve dei Santi Vito e Modesto Church.  It was built sometime during the 11th and 12th centuries.   Notice the distinctive carvings above the door.  Several of these small country churches were built above Etruscan sites and used some of the same imagery.



I had a fantastic dinner at the hotel, after I defrosted.  The restaurant is open to the pubic (you need reservations).  Chef David and his sous-chef, Jacopo, knocked it out of the park.



Martina pours some Prosecco.



During high season, Pienza is very popular with tour groups.  This charming video about La Bandita and Pienza helps explain why.

A big Thank You to everyone at La Bandita.  Sometimes it’s not so easy to travel alone and they made me feel at home.

Photos: Me and my iPhone.



I’ve read about La Bandita, a country house near Pienza and have seen photos of it in various shelter magazines/design articles.

A little over a year ago, John Voigtmann and his wife Ondine Cohane opened La Bandita Townhouse converting a former convent in center of Pienza into a 12-room boutique hotel.

My friend Gillian and husband stayed there recently.  She told me I had to see it in person.  Gillian knows my taste and said I would love it.

She was correct.  I know people are sick and tired of decorators using words like swoon! obsessed! and dying! when describing interiors.  However, let me say, I swooned when I saw my room. I was obsessed with the design of the kitchen and was dying over the views.

I’ve written before about the mix.  It’s something you see frequently in French and Italian interiors.  It’s not easy to pull off.  Sometimes the space is too modern for the architecture and it feels cold.  Or the design is so faithful to the past, it’s dated.

Working with Florence based architects, Arianna Pieri and Ernesto Bartolini of DA.Studio, John and Ondine have created a lovely space. In a hotel, all the beauty in the world doesn’t mean a thing if the service is awful. It was fantastic and I will write about a post about that and Pienza soon.

I absolutely adore this type of décor.  The same architects worked on Monteverdi with interiors by Ilaria Miani.

i found out that one of the main resources for La Bandita Townhouse was the store Barthel.  No wonder it spoke to me as we sourced most of the items for the bathrooms in our Tuscany project from Barthel.

This was my room, number 12.  I arrived late afternoon.  The amount of light during the day is unreal.  I love that they retained the stone wall.  The view from the tub was sick.  The Ortigia products were a nice touch, as were the free water and soda in the mini-bar.

In my next apartment I would like a canopy bed. The colors, the lighting, the bed linens, I really didn’t want to leave this room after two days.

I have to ask if they have a room with a desk, because La Bandita is a perfect spot for writers.



Tears of happiness when i saw this huge shower stall.  I really need to move.



Gorgeous.  The main hallway is the first thing you see when you walk thru the door. The convent dates from the 1400s.



Again, stone walls.  A lot of natural materials with pops of orange throughout.



This kitchen is everything.  In the States open-plan kitchens are preferred but not in Italy (or the Caribbean).  Notice the overhead window over the bar?  It drops down.  Once you close the door on the left of the bar, you have a closed kitchen that lets in light.   A friend of mine, who lives in a loft in Rome, did something very similar.  It’s a brilliant idea.



An old map of Italy in the library/lounge.



I was very excited to see so many classic LPs in different genres. I could’ve stayed up all night listening to music.  I still have some vinyl and for my next apartment (I know, I know) I will buy a turntable.



You know how I feel about books and magazines.  It was freezing outside.  It was nice to curl up on the sofa and just chill.



John is former music industry executive.  Some of his gold records sit on top of the bookcase.



Aperitivi time!



John has said he and Ondine wanted to create a beautiful, comfortable hotel where people could come to relax and enjoy Tuscany. They have. La Bandita is a special place. I cannot wait to return during warmer weather so I can eat outside on their fantastic terrace.

Photos: (except for the one of the kitchen and of the bookcase) me and my iPhone.

Click HERE to see more from La Bandita’s great photo gallery.

La Bandita Townhouse

Corso Il Rossellino, 111
Pienza (SI) 53026
Toscana, Italia
Tel +39 0578 749 005


And what a view it is.


One of my friends just returned to Rome from visiting the States and she kindly picked up a copy of VERANDA magazine for me.  It’s not an easy magazine to find in Rome (in Milan, yes).

Brooke Giannetti’s Velvet & Linen blog is fantastic.  She has a very large following and has posted a few photos in the past of the home she is building in Ojai, California with her architect husband Steve.

It’s so interesting to me that this a new build, yet their home has the warmth and vibe of a house that has been in a family for generations.  You can read more about Brooke and Steve’s Patina Farm journey, here.

One day I would love to have a tub/shower like this.   Love it.  Of course it’s only possible if there are no neighbors close by.  A friend here has an outdoor shower on his terrace.  He lives in Trastevere and the upper floors of a church and another palazzo are right across the narrow street.  The man has no screens.  Yeah, no.

To see more photos, go to VERANDA’s website.


I cannot believe it’s Christmas 2014 already. Where did this year go?

In a sea filled with awful news (I really need to ease up on how much I watch and read everyday), it’s good to be reminded of joyous things.

Last Friday my friend, Gina, invited me to meet her, Rachel, and Elizabeth at their friend Alice’s holiday pop-up bakery.  Alice Is a food stylist and cook.  Her gingerbread cookies were delicious.  I wonder if it’s possible to order some during the off season.  I must investigate.

I loved the simple decorations, the Prosecco, and most importantly, sharing them with friends old and new.



It’s not easy to be far away from my family during the holidays, but I feel very fortunate to be surrounded by an incredible group of friends.

Merry Christmas!!



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