A Holiday Gathering in Northern Italy Is a Cacophony of Family, Food, and Groundbreaking Design

Monica Spezia

Some bright technofile launched a crowdsourced app a couple of years back that rates restaurant noise levels. During dinner at Patrizia Moroso’s house in Udine, northeast of Venice, I pictured firing it up on my iPhone and watching it positively soak in the sounds.

There must have been four animated conversations going on simultaneously at a table set for 12, while forks clanged on plates, glasses clinked, laughter and sizzles came from the nearby kitchen, and Moroso’s grandson Mattia wandered around shouting “Bau! Bau!” (roughly “Woof! Woof!” in Italian) at Ombra, the mild-natured resident Labrador, who was pretty much the only quiet one in the room. Tuning in for a second to the amiable cacophony, I recalled something Patrizia had mentioned earlier when she was describing the gestation of this house, which had been created for her and her husband from scratch by another Patty, Spanish architect and furniture designer Patricia Urquiola.

Related: The Most Stunning Buildings in the World

Urquiola had promised, Patrizia said, to make her a home “that puts your chaos in order.” The owner and creative director of Moroso, the Italian furniture brand, went on: “I believe that chaos is one of the most beautiful things there is. It’s life, it’s fire, it’s how people relate to one another. But those with too much chaos in their lives can have problems expressing their full potential.”


From left: Patrizia Moroso with her husband, Abdou Salam Gaye; A special edition of the Shadowy armchair by Tord Boontje from Moroso, made in collaboration with artist Anna Galtarossa, and a steel Net side table by Benjamin Hubert. Monica Spezia

The house that Patricia Urquiola made for Patrizia Moroso could be seen as a kind of architectural Pandora’s box. Inspired by a trip the two colleagues and friends took to Australia and by the warm modernist homes they saw there, as well as by a visit to the sacred rock of Uluru, it appears, on the outside, like a great monolith in iron, glass, and weathered cedar planks. But inside it feels airy, open, full of light and dappled movement from the sun filtering through the tall treetops in the 11.5-acre garden. For the season, rooms are embellished with arrangements by Puscina Flowers, a sustainable floral farm and studio in Tuscany.
We were served aperitivi in this verdant setting by Abdou Salam Gaye, Moroso’s husband, a Senegalese photographer and designer. Some, like me, were drinking a tangy, cold cordial, Ginger Bissap, that Patrizia had learned to make in Senegal. Others had glasses of Ribolla Gialla, a fresh, lemony white wine from the Collio Goriziano hills that divide the surrounding region of Friuli–Venezia Giulia from neighboring Slovenia.

Talk turned to this part of Italy, still off-radar for many foreigners. Colonized over the centuries by Lombards, Carolingians, and Austro-Hungarians, it is, said family friend Lucia Predolin, a beautifully preserved part of Italy with a fascinating cultural mix. Another friend, writer Elena Commessatti, mentioned the German and Russian dialects that are still spoken in some of the region’s remote valleys. “We’re thought of as on the periphery here, but we’ve been welcoming people for centuries,” she said.


In one of two living rooms, a photograph by Mandémory stands against the back wall beside arrangements by Puscina Flowers; the purple Misfits chair and sofa are by Ron Arad and the Dew ottomans by Nendo are all from Moroso. Monica Spezia

The Moroso household reflects that diversity. So does the company itself. Patrizia and Salam’s sons, Khadim, 28, and Omar, 26, and their 20-year-old daughter, Amina (whose studies abroad meant she wasn’t able to join), were schoolkids in Udine when having a Black African father and a white Italian mother was still unusual in this conservative corner of the country.

Actually, scratch that. In Italy, period. But Patrizia said that, paradoxically, things were easier back then: “Salam came to Italy at a time before racial hatred arrived, when he was considered exotic, when there were only ten Africans in Udine.”
“It’s a cultural thing,” chimed in Damir Eskerica, who had been following the conversation closely despite the claims on his attention of his 19-month-old son, Leo. “There’s still this great fear of the other here,” he says. Eskerica speaks from experience. He was 11 when he and his mother were forced to flee Sarajevo on one of the last U.N. convoys that made it out of the city in December 1992. He started at Moroso right after graduation; now 39, he’s the company’s CEO and something of a third son to Patrizia.


From left: An assortment of nuts in bowls by African artisans; Designer Giulio Ridolfo at dinner. Monica Spezia

The dinner itself was testimony to the melting pot that is Casa Moroso. Cooked by Salam’s godson, Abdou Salam Beye, aka Abi, who after training as a chef opened a fresh pasta shop in a nearby town, it was a tasty, unfussy blend of Senegalese and Friulian influences. There were mini-piadine, pita-like flatbreads typical of Italy’s northern Adriatic coast and hinterland, sprinkled with julienned raw carrots and cabbage; red potato patties topped with a cream of squid and black olives; and an umami-rich dish of fried ravioli stuffed with bream and zucchini and served with a sauce of datterini tomatoes and capers. Between courses, we held on to our cutlery—a mark of respect at informal Italian dinner parties.

Finally, just when we were all starting to flag, the party piece arrived: a fish-and-rice dish called thieboudienne, which Salam (who had been his godson’s sous-chef that day) considers Senegal’s national dish. Prepared in two huge pots, one for the fish and vegetables, the other for the rice, it is, Salam told us, one of those “whatever the sea and land offers” casseroles. This version had pieces of grouper from a huge beast of a fish, together with onions, garlic, cabbage, cauliflower, manioc, eggplant, okra, and tapioca. It was served with a bracingly tart tamarind sauce.

Related: What to See, Eat, and Do in Florence, Italy 


The family and guests (from left), Abdou Salam Gaye, Abdou (Abi) Salam Beye, Omar Moroso Gaye and Mattia, Mariacristina Favi, Patrizia Moroso, Marco Viola, Damir Eskerica and Leo, Linda Pilar Zanolla, Lucia Predolin, Elena Commessatti, and Giulio Ridolfo. Monica Spezia

One of the couple’s guests was Giulio Ridolfo, a Moroso textile consultant who has become a family friend (Patrizia had told me earlier that if you chose interesting, talented people to work for you, it was only natural that they became amici). Ridolfo is a venerated name in design: He’s made a career out of studying, matching, and advising on color. After dinner, I asked him what colors he would assign to Patrizia’s world.

He replied after some thought. It was oxidized red earth, bright black forest loam, and the flashy, vivid green of new spring shoots. It was deep red, he said, shading into purple, with glints of carnelian and amethyst. These were the colors, he told me, of natural architecture. They were the colors of “containment” that create the feeling of a home. They were the colors of life itself.