Saturday, June 23, 2012



So often nowadays we see swimming pools simply dropped into the middle of a lawn; around it are a few chairs and tables and umbrellas, all just set down randomly upon that damp and buggy expanse of green that has to be watered every night in high summer. If you forget to bring in the cushions and towels at the end of the day, well no one's going to enjoy that pool tomorrow. I hadn't intended this post to be a treatise on how a swimming pool should be planned, but why not?

I had a client recently who wanted nothing around the pool but open space and green grass, because, he felt, that's what the pool experience is, sunshine and more endless sunshine. I did everything I could to convince him that a pool in stark sunlight with no refuge from the glare and heat quickly becomes a no man's land, forbidding, abandoned and forgotten.

Certainly a pool wants the sun on its surface; it describes the season, it invites us to partake of its joys, it reaffirms the blissful pleasure of summer leisure.

But you can enjoy that sunny beauty on the water's surface without having to be in the sun yourself.

Here, in the Mediterranean, it's hot on a summer's day. These indigenous plants along the edge of my pool terrace thrive in that sunny heat. But do we?

The pergola was invented for a reason.  People will be building such structures in benevolent climates as long as the sun continues to shine.

Let me point out that this pergola here at my pool in Massa Macinaia has no vegetation covering it. One might think that an odd decision to have been made by someone so interested in the garden and its plants, but there's a reason for it. When you have vegetation overhead you have to contend with its constant droppings. And another thing here: notice that the slats have gaps between them. A pergola should filter out most of the light but not all. A totally dark pergola can be winter bleak, and it wouldn't have these wonderful linear shadows, the evocative light pattern that speaks of a seaside experience.

But for those who want a proper sun bath, we of course make provisions. And if you've suddenly had enough, well then just crank up that umbrella.

And when you've had enough of the whole thing it's nice to have a house like this nearby for its cool kitchen and for an air conditioned nap.

It's called Al Pastore, our summer guest house (not offered for rent), and it's just steps away from the water's edge.

In its garden just now is the extraordinary California poppy, Romneya coultri.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Contemporary Tuscany


While most people who dream the Tuscan dream end up with the classic look in the houses they eventually buy or do up, some, a few,  think for themselves, deciding to make it all new.

This is an 18th century house, after all, and while the style of the building itself from the outside belies the complete rebuild of the interior there are certain architectural touches at the approach that suggest that a visionary had a hand in this.

Most people would have put the pool parallel to the old agricultural terraces that cover these hills just outside of Lucca but the New York based architect who planned this holiday home chose to go against the grain. By the way, you can't quite see it here in this misty valley shot but the Mediterranean Sea and the old port of Livorno are fully visible to the naked eye in the distance.

My friend, who owns this house, is an international art entrepreneur and art historian whose life transpires on four continents and the interior of this house befits her broadly contemporary point of view.

 Originally this room was in the cellar and had a low ceiling.

But with a little imagination worlds of space open up!

The old-style fireplace was fashioned by masons on the spot in this little alcove off the dining room.
Her art collection is largely Chinese, but there's a good representation of Brazil here as well.
A terrace with a view to rival none is a perfect spot for a dinner for four.
This odd good luck rock, bought in China and shipped here with great effort and expense, makes a compelling destination at the end of an axis which passes through the newly-laid-out house.

From the back it has the air of a mountain retreat.

But in front you're in Lucca with the old city centered in a breathtaking view!

Sunday, June 10, 2012



I haven't published too many portraits of myself here in this blog but sometimes I wonder who the person is behind the blog I regularly read and so often I'm left only with the mystery and a smoldering (if not burning) curiosity. Blogging is a way to extend oneself to others, at best with a spirit of intimate generosity, and so here I am revealed minutes before leaving for a luncheon party at a friend's villa near Lucca in early May.

A portrait of our twin cypress trees which I took just a few days ago. When visitors come by I always tell them that these are some of the oldest Cupressus sempervirens they'll ever see, older than the oldest ones in the Boboli Gardens in Florence.

A portrait of a house, our house, just a few days ago.

A portrait of a garden. The "Old Garden" at Villa Massei.
A portrait of a guest house.
A portrait of the author, upon the publication of my first book, Extraordinary People, in 1990.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Le Delizie del Mio Orto


We have a generous vegetable garden here in Massa Macinaia which I visit often, but what I truly love is the basket of wonders that arrives at my kitchen table every morning. Clockwise from the lettuce on the left are borage, dill, two more kinds of lettuce and black cabbage, and zucchini with their fresh flowers.

Perhaps there's no season when the gifts of the kitchen garden are so great as these, after a long winter of equally wonderful things that keep us delighted throughout the colder months, but what could speak more eloquently of the arrival of spring in the vegetable garden that a bunch of radishes?

Our dear Ottavia, wife of our custodian here at Villa Massei, is an artist at putting together these sumptuous baskets of vegetables every day.

The flowers of borage are usually blue, as you no doubt know. But a few years ago we had the great prevelege of having a British garden student as an apprentice here for a year who brought us the seeds of this white flowering variety, which we've grown ever since. And yes that's basil on the left, what joy it brings!

White borage and dill.

And the new potatoes!