House of Adrienne

By staff January 1, 2002

Fashion designer Adrienne Vittadini's latest career move has become part of the Sarasota landscape. Vittadini is now designing big, beautiful homes and luxury furnishings, and her new Palladian villa in Lido Shores has become the prototype for the kind of light-filled, cheerful residences she intends for others to occupy.

AV Casa, as Vittadini and her husband of 29 years, Gianluigi ("Gigi"), call their Sarasota home, is classical in styling and overlooks the water. The 6,000-square-foot home has nearly 4,000 square feet more in terraces and pavilions. The design draws upon Vittadini's European heritage and art school education. But it also calls upon many years of experience in buying property and either renovating or building new homes in The Hamptons, Manhattan, Milan, the Italian Alps, Florida-nearly a dozen personal retreats to date.

AV Casa is also the name of the couple's new home-building business. They intend to design and build one home at a time, and they have already purchased waterfront property in The Hamptons for their next venture. The Hamptons home, which will probably be priced at $5 million or more, will be a Dutch Colonial shingle house, a style popular for decades in this chic Long Island beach community. (Vittadini always consults with a local architect, and the exterior of every home is indigenous to the local area.) For every home, Adrienne takes care of all things artistic, and Gigi rules in matters of engineering and electronics.

Building beautiful homes is not the couple's first collaboration. Adrienne was born in Hungary and studied at Moore College of Art in Philadelphia. After graduation, she had apprenticeships with Emilio Pucci in Italy and couture designers in Paris. She was introduced to Gigi, who was an engineer working in his family's pharmaceutical firm in Milan, by mutual American friends. As her fashion empire grew and Adrienne needed financial and managerial advice, Gigi left his business to help. Eventually their designs included accessories, fragrances, bed linen, luggage, and swimwear. For two decades, until they sold the business in 1996, they worked together.

"We had separate offices on different floors, and maybe that's why it worked so perfectly," says Adrienne. "But really, we never had a problem. We've loved working together."

Each of the couple's new homes will include furnishings. "Every time we have sold one of our personal residences in the past, buyers have pleaded with me to leave everything in it down to the espresso spoons," Adrienne explains. "So I decided that I will include major pieces of furniture and floor coverings, things like that. The architecture and the interior design will be a unified whole."

She insists her love for exquisite dwellings is hereditary. "My passion for designing and enjoying homes comes right from my father, a physician, who loved real estate and great houses," she says. "He designed our homes and I loved them. It was through her father that Adrienne and Gigi came to Sarasota in the '70s.

"My father came to a medical conference and fell in love with Siesta Key," she says. "He bought property on the island and retired there. Gigi and I came often to visit. When my fashion business really took off and I was designing up to six collections a year, I would come to Siesta Key burnt out and exhausted and just lie on the beach. It was so rejuvenating. And I loved the positive energy of Sarasota. Eventually, Gigi and I bought on Siesta Key; and about three years ago, we saw our present property from a boat."

Adrienne has a sunny disposition and she describes her homes-and design style-as "happy." And though she and Gigi are certainly cosmopolitan, always traveling between locations in Europe and America, when they land they insist upon a casual way of living and entertaining. From the rustic kitchen table in her big, white eat-in kitchen on the bay (which she proudly reports won high praise from cookbook author Marcella Hazan, a close friend and Sarasota resident), Adrienne telephones friends to put together impromptu cocktail hours or organize dinner at a local restaurant. From her kitchen terrace, she can see Gigi on his boat atop the turquoise-blue water they both love so much. And at home in Sarasota, the designer favors a more relaxed style-for example, white linen slacks and a loose silk shirt over a cotton tank top.

Linda Roe Dickinson of Michael Saunders & Company, who sold them the waterfront lot, helped Adrienne connect with architect Clifford Scholz, and the two set to work to create a modern-day Palladian villa.

Adrienne learned firsthand about original Palladian villas when she and Gigi lived in the Veneto area of Italy, which is dotted with famous homes by Andrea Palladio. A 16th-century builder who revived Greek and Roman architecture in Europe, Palladio also had a profound impact on grand and historic American homes. Monticello and the White House are based on Palladian principles-symmetry; high, wide beautifully proportioned rooms; an openness to pleasing vistas; and the integration of inside and out. In one of America's best-known Palladian homes, Drayton Hall, outside Charleston, South Carolina, the rooms are considered so perfectly proportioned that although the residence is open for tours, it has no furniture. This allows visitors to study the unencumbered purity of its bones.

But AV Casa in Sarasota does indeed have furniture-a restrained mix of vintage and new, European, Far Eastern and American that its owners call Euro-American in style. Many of the artifacts come from the Vittadinis' travel-for example, an orange and ochre fabric wall hanging above a golden fringed banquette in the library was acquired on a trip to India. The armoire in the softly glowing white dining room was first spotted in Provence. The striped upholstered side chairs in that room are Louis XVI, and a large Chinese foo dog rests on the middle of the oval gray painted Swedish table. The long, narrow kitchen farm table is a find from Avignon, and the wood mimics the beams in the ceiling. Floors in the Sarasota home are pale marble or pearly ash planks. The homeowners use natural fiber area rugs and Oriental carpets for accent.

It is widely acknowledged in the design world that part of Adrienne Vittadini's genius is her fearless fusion of different centuries and diverse cultures, and the house bears that out. "To have the eye for being able to do this is, I feel, a gift. I am fortunate to have it," she says. "But you know, the eye is a muscle. It needs to be exercised. So I am always on the lookout for new and extraordinary pieces of furniture or art or ways to put things together. I cannot pass up an antique shop or an auction. And I always come back from trips with new ways of seeing things, different ways of forming rooms."

But she insists that the basics for a Vittadini house are always the same. These signature elements include lofty rooms offering more than one long vista. The floor plan is open, so that rooms flow one to another and to the outside. Crown molding, Tuscan columns, oval windows, lots of white, billowing sheer linen curtains, and comfortable upholstered furniture in creams, golds, yellow and white or blue and white stripes are also elements in a Vittadini home. Outdoor pavilions (the Sarasota home has one on either side of the disappearing-edge swimming pool) are outfitted with cushy furniture, tables for dining and lots of candlelight.

During every phase of design and construction (Perrone Construction built the house), Clifford Scholz and his knowledgeable clients were in sync. "I love to do classical simplified homes, so this was just the kind of project I wanted," says the architect. "Adrienne has a wonderful eye and she's a gifted illustrator. We drew, we talked and when she was on vacation in India she sent me photos of a sunken pavilion she fell in love with. The house was under construction, but we were able to include it. So really, the house wasn't complete until it was done. Up until the final moment we were refining and adding."

In keeping with the classical detailing, Scholz designed original pediments to embellish the nine-foot high doors. "It was necessary to achieve the mass that the scale of the rooms and the height of the ceiling demanded," he explains. "But the pediments, like the columns, are simple. All the architectural detailing is up to the level of the home, but it's not overdone. There is a quiet restraint throughout that is the hallmark of the home. It has understated elegance."

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