I was deeply moved by the passing of Marella Agnelli, our muse for this year’s San Francisco Decorator Showcase, as I had been carting her book dog-eared around for months. Marella Agnelli was born into the Florentine noble house of Caracciolo. She married Giovanni Agnelli, heir to the Fiat automobile company, in 1953. They remained married until his death in 2003.
Marella was recognized as a remarkable tastemaker and style icon. She was known for her inclusion in Truman Capote’s circle of “swans” -- stylish women whose company he appreciated because they created themselves, as he had. Marella was a notable patron of the arts. A most captivating woman who wanted her homes to be glamorous but at the same time, comfortable -- a place for living -- and suited for casual and grand entertaining alike. We are constantly inspired by her mixed use of both refined and humble materials collected throughout from her worldly travels.
With her ability to design spaces that are simultaneously refined and relaxed, her rooms often evoke a feeling of natural ease. We especially love her application of wicker furniture pieces and modern art throughout her homes. Pictured above is Marella and Gianni’s Via XXIV Maggio apartment in Rome, designed by Marella in collaboration with Ward Bennett, a New York designer. Together they envisioned a one-of-a-kind contemporary house of grandeur.
Above Photo: From The Last Swan, "Oskar Schlemmer's steel and canvas 'Figura' (1921) hangs over the Louis XV mantelpiece. Gustave Moreau's painting 'Orestes and the Erinyes' (1891) hangs to the left. Photograph by Oberto Gill."
Left photo: From The Last Swan, "Marella in a gown by Balenciaga, La Leopolda, 1963. Photograph by Philippe Halsman."
Right photo: From The Last Swan, "Marella and Gianni Agnelli at Truman Capote's Black and White Ball, The Plaza Hotel, New York City, November 28, 1966. Photograph by Ray "Scotty" Morrison."
The photo above shows the dining area with "freestanding, curved wall paneling concealing the bedroom area" in Marella and Gianni's Villa Bona home overlooking the city of Turin.
It was too personal for Marella to write a memoir so instead she and her namesake niece co-authored an illustrated biography Marella Agnelli | The Last Swan which provides us with a glimpse into the many homes she designed over her long life. Through the book’s striking photography, we can appreciate Marella’s evolving style apace with the changes of the latter half of the twentieth century.
Originally built in 1509 as a retreat for monks but later converted into an open-air concert hall, Gianni bought the "il convento" in Corsica as a "fait accompli" for Marella. The home had amazing architectural elements and was left primarily untouched, as not much was needed additionally for the structure. Marella’s impeccable touch was to merely update with fresh coats of paints, add antique furniture and liven up the garden.
Pictured above, eighteenth-century furniture in the music room. Floral fabrics on the walls, curtains and furniture were designed by Marella. (Photograph by François Halard)
"Every time I create a home or a garden, I ask myself the same questions. Where will we gather together in the daytime and in the evening? How can I preserve a few quiet, secluded spots for reading or working? Which is the coolest area in the garden for meals in the shade? Architecture and landscapes influence our lives so much -- I'm always fascinated by that."
Pictured above is the patio in their "il convento" home in Alzipratu overlooking the mountains of Corsica "covered by a thatched canopy, is surrounded by ivy and cypresses." Marella designed the garden with architect Paolo Pejrone. (Photograph by François Halard)
Also shown is the sitting room of Marella's home in Ain Kassimou, Marrakech with wicker chairs designed by Gae Aulenti for Vittorio Bonacina. Her home in Marrakech offers a refreshed take on the detailed patterns and architecture of Morocco, and embodies the landscapes of the country in her garden. Her attention to detail is remarkable. (Photograph by Eric Boman)
Marella Agnelli Caracciolo (May 4, 1927 - February 23, 2019)
Our room at the San Francisco Decorator Showcase is inspired by this late great doyenne. We are beyond excited to unveil previews of what’s to come over the next few weeks as we work hard to create a space that does justice to the timelessness of Marella Agnelli.
All photos from Marella Agnelli | The Last Swan. Research from The Last Swan and Capote – A Biography.