We were just nomads,” Carla Sersale says, sitting on the terrace of Le Sirenuse hotel, in Positano, Italy, at sunset with her husband, Antonio. Though Carla and Antonio may be familiar to well-heeled travelers the world over (and especially to readers of this magazine) for owning the picturesque, cliffside Le Sirenuse, in 1990 the two had just arrived to begin their stewardship, following Antonio’s stint as manager of Cala di Volpe, in Sardinia.
The aerie has been a hearth for Carla and Antonio and their family for more than 20 years, and the two have made recent concessions to modernity. They updated their typically Positano house—old stove, tiny refrigerator—with a renovated kitchen and a black-and-white tiled master bathroom. A luxurious outdoor shower has been installed around a corner of the second-floor terrace. But these are pragmatic improvements for the family’s comfort, not an attempt to refashion a home in lockstep with contemporary design trends. Most of the decor’s vintage charm remains the same.
“The design of the house is absolutely typical of the area,” Carla says, referring to the square rooms, all about 15 by 15 feet, with vaulted ceilings. Not so typical: the pleasantly cool temperature. That’s a result of one of the Sersales’ first home renovations, which was to create a wall of space between the house and the rock. Unlike homes that are embedded into the side of the mountain and oppressively humid, the Sersale home features a ventilation pathway that keeps it remarkably dry and comfortable.
The attention paid to the house’s airy natural surroundings doesn’t end with its freestanding structure. On both floors, it’s impossible to overlook the seascape, courtesy of two outdoor terraces. Each runs the length of the floor; on the downstairs terrace, a dining table and a seating area have been set up to create a luxurious alfresco extension of the rooms within.
In designing the interior of their home, Carla and Antonio created their own signature style as well, which may be quite surprising to those familiar with the vine-covered white cleanness of Le Sirenuse. The look of the Sersale home’s interior has one foot in Italy and another in the Middle East: structural elements designed in Positano mixed with artwork and pieces that Antonio’s father, Franco, acquired when he was working in the oil business in Iran.
Positano craftsmen, for instance, designed the plaster surround of the fireplace in the living room, while another local plaster master, Giovanni Russo, created the baroque design of the window frames in cement, which is a tradition seen in houses throughout the town. Another artisan who earned local fame during the 1950s, Pier Paolo Piccinato, designed the mosaic artwork, called Young Lady at the Window, that adorns the exterior wall of the house. Piccinato also designed the mosaic in the center of the vaulted living room ceiling depicting a view of four columns festooned with ivy, thereby giving the illusion of an open view to the sky.
Representing the Middle Eastern and Central Asian influences is the master bedroom, which features 19th-century chinoiserie-painted doors that complement a modern painting by Natasha Law over the fireplace. The living room combines antique furnishings inherited from both sides of the family, with the addition of oversize floor pillows covered in Asian textiles and framed prints of Indian gods installed above the sofa. “We have a mix of Islamic art and tapestries, rugs, tribal textiles, ikats, and suzanis hanging from the walls,” Carla says, all of which make a nod to Antonio’s father, who spent time in Tehran. The disparate elements tell a story of a couple with a rich history of appreciation for both art and travel—located on the Amalfi Coast but with an expansive world and cultural view.
Even though their two sons are grown and, as Carla says, “the world has changed,” the house remains a touchstone of familiarity for the entire Sersale clan and a fitting analogue for the town of Positano. “There are days when you can go from one place to another without even seeing a car,” says Antonio. “Where do you even get that anymore?”
Image Credits: © Michael James O' Brien