The Italian Job

I thought I was an uptown girl,” says Sciascia Gambaccini, recalling a broker’s call about a house in the Village in 1996. Recently divorced, and looking for a place for herself and her daughter, Gambaccini, fashion director of Jane magazine, found uptown prices prohibitive. So she went down to see an odd little triangular-shaped house in the Village that had once been the home of Frank Lloyd Wright’s sister.

The house is such an unusual size because it was built—sometime in the late 1700s—alongside the now-dried-up Minetta Creek; the last existing deed to the tiny back garden was signed by the king of England.

Gambaccini, who now shares the 2,800-square-foot space with her new husband, photographer Wayne Maser, has honored its oldness, but by referencing Renaissance Italy rather than Colonial America. “I think the one thing that is my trademark in this house is that we were so specific in making things look like they had been here forever.” To this end, her Milanese decorator, Roberto Gerosa, insisted on concrete walls rather than Sheetrock. And “the plaster had to be done the Italian way,” says Gambaccini. “The more chips, the happier we are. All the people I grew up with in Tuscany have castles but no cash. I love that—when you walk into a room and there is this feeling of lost luxury.”

What do you consider too much?
“Trying to replicate rooms, walls, and details too literally from ancient palaces in Europe. I like taking the inspiration and letting it go elsewhere. I cringe when I see Versailles on Rodeo Drive.”

Biggest risk in the apartment?
“I don’t think I took any, other than buying a triangular house and figuring out how to live in it.”

Design influences?
“All the rooms where the Virgin Mary gets visited by the angel in Renaissance paintings: lots of gold, turquoise, red and jade, lilies and laurels … in Giotto, Lorenzetti, Duccio da Boninsegna. Also the actress Silvana Mangano—see every Visconti movie. She was intense, impeccable, eclectic, and modest at the same time. My favorite house is Il Vittoriale, the poet [and politician] Gabriele d’Annunzio’s crazy retreat in Northern Italy, circa 1935. He was a sicko pervert but he had amazing style.”

The Italian Job