Home Sweet Rome
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
Christina Summers and Tom Fike, who were married in Rome almost five years ago, have brought some pieces of Italy to their Greenwich Village duplex apartment. Ms. Summers has lived in Rome and Mr. Fike lived in Milan for several years with his family as a child. Now the Roman Catholic couple live in a home filled with Italian artifacts and furniture.
Ms. Summers has lived in the apartment since 1988; it was her college apartment while she attended New York University. Ms. Summers first bought a one-bedroom apartment in the building, and the next year bought a studio that abutted it. But it was not until three years ago that Ms. Summers and Mr. Fike decided to gut renovate the two apartments and combine them into one two-bedroom duplex with a garden.
To go along with the renovations, Ms. Summers’s mother sent nine crates of furniture and decorations from Italy. She had collected antique furniture for years, storing it in various rooms of a hotel she owned in Rome. After selling the hotel in 2001, she had to put all of her furniture in storage.When the couple decided to renovate their home, Ms. Summers and her mother decided it would be the perfect time to put the furniture to use. “I still had my college furniture which was bought at the Salvation Army or on the streets, so I didn’t really want to bring that all in with the renovations, and my mother had all this great furniture sitting in storage,” Ms. Summers said. Luckily, she received the furniture during the construction.”I had not realized how important it was getting the furniture before the renovations, so we could measure all the furniture and get it right,” she said.
The home, therefore, is literally designed around the antique Italian furniture. “This was the case in which the clients had everything and the designer was able to build space for their furniture,” the interior designer of the home, Joel Allen, said. “Every piece of furniture is used.”
Most of the furniture is Biedermeier (or in the style of Biedermeier), a style made in Europe in the early 1800s and marked by a simplified architectural style. In order for the furniture to look like it belonged in the new apartment, Mr. Allen needed to make the space look more sophisticated. “The architectural detail of the apartment is done to go with the period and style of their furnishings,” Mr. Allen said.
Ms. Summers said the apartment had previously looked California modern: simple, straight-lined walls, and concrete floors. Now, there are moldings in the ceiling, and the entryway is curved and looks like an entrance to an Italian villa. All the rooms in the apartment, including the kitchen and bathrooms, have “mood” and reflective lighting, which Mr. Allen said makes things look softer and even makes skin look more radiant. The floors are now wooden, and the panels run the width of the apartment in order to make it look less narrow. The fire escape at the back of the apartment has been lowered so that it acts as a balcony overlooking the brick patio and allows the living room to have longer windows and doors that open up to the landing.
The only original room left is the first bathroom off to the left of the entryway. Mr. Fike calls it the “blood room” because it is painted a deep red. “My aunt had a red bathroom,” Mr. Fike said. “It’s a relaxing color.” The bathroom is partially lit by a gold leaf acanthus lamp and there are hand-painted tiles from old Roman roofs hanging on the walls. Mr. Allen designed the vanity table supporting the modern sink, which matches the style of the couple’s furniture collection. It matches the sinks in the other two bathrooms, too.
The open living and dining rooms are perhaps most representative of the furniture collection. There are Biedermeier chairs around the table, and nearby there’s a look-alike Biedermeier desk. In the living room, a Biedermeier writing desk sits next to a Biedermeier-inspired Italian couch. Mr. Fike bought his-and-hers wing chairs, which sit opposite the couch, at an antique shop in Chicago. They are among the few American items in the home.
The small antique bench that completes the sitting area is from Ms. Summers’ childhood bedroom. “It was what I hung my clothes on,” she said.”It was at the end of my bed.”A bookcase was built on the other end of the living room so that the couple could display their ancient Greek and Etruscan artifact collection.
By the bookcase is a wooden spiral staircase that leads down to the master bedroom, with a bath and patio garden. The structural limitations of the apartment gave the bedroom ceiling a circular shape, so Mr. Allen put round moldings in the ceiling. Opposite the glass sliding doors to the garden, he installed a fireplace with a Louis XV mantle bought from an antique dealer in Italy. A small sitting area by the fireplace is completed by two small chairs and a rug from Ms. Summers’ mother’s own furniture collection. A wooden cross from Cyprus hangs near their bed.