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This Must Be the Place: Portrait Firenze in Florence, Italy

Florence hotel
Last summer I checked into this dreamy Florence hotel overlooking the Arno River, a block from the Ponte Vecchio. To say it’s in the ideal location would be an understatement. It’s in the location. Portrait Firenze is the newest property in the Ferragamo family’s Lungarno Collection of stunning hotels. I died for so many details at the Portrait …. where to begin? The ’60s vibe, vintage lighting, the black-and-white photos of mid-century celebrities in Florence (and in Ferragamo). It just spoke. And it usually said: Have a prosecco. So I did. Often.

The hotel was designed by Florence-based Michele Bönan (who also designed this hot Austrian ski lodge). Bonan’s interiors are sophisticated and modern but rich in detail. Take the lobby, for example, with its expertly balanced textures — the narrow, wood-plank ceiling, the white-washed brick walls,  slate floors all set off by expansive glass doors (finished with smart, brown-leather handles) and that sexy marble reception desk. It’s casual-elegant-rough-polished perfection. Don Draper would have totally dug it.
Portrait Firenze - Lobby (3)
The guestrooms were no slouch either. The lacquer built-in kitchen with amazing square-brass pulls. The wall paneling. The graige. The room service. And the View To End All Views. (That was mine below. Yup, insane.) And there’s almost nothing more lovely than waking to the sounds of cathedral bells echoing down the Arno or Italian-leather loafers on ancient cobblestones. 
Florence hotel
(Yes, that says Marilyn Monroe’s name on the receipt below.)
florence hotel
Florence hotel
Florence hotel
Portrait Firenze
Ponte vecchio
Florence was so invigorating. As much as part of me wanted to luxuriate in that room all day, I loved pounding those cobbles in search of new energy in this old city.  Traveling to investigate a city’s creative scene, and getting to know the locals is the best job their is. What I found was a vibrant maker scene and young designers, shop owners, perfumers and others going out on their own in a city with a stiff resistance to anything post-Renaissance. I’ve already shared the great Florence blogs I found and Marie Antoinette Vintage, the total gem of a vintage store, but there is so much more to tell. That will be for another bottle of Prosecco. Stay tuned. (In the meantime, you can read my two stories on Florence in the Portfolio.)

Know of any Florence gems? I’d love to hear!

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Hamptons Packing List and My Favorite Summer Recipes

We’re headed to the Hamptons on the east end of Long Island this weekend. Being close to those beautiful beaches and cute towns is one of the perks of us being back in New York.  And after moving, I’m in major need of a break (and a drink!). Here’s a peek at what I’m packing for the beach weekend.

packing list
White shirt, Calypso
Retro bathing suit, Vitamin A
Ikat sundress, Madewell
The Goldfinch book, by Donna Tartt
White jeans, Ralph Lauren
Gray sweater and tank, Old Navy
Double-cloth cotton shorts, Lou & Gray
White tank, Cali
White sundress, H&M
Flip-flops, Havaianas

Plus, in an attempt to be stellar houseguests,  I’ve made a few of our favorite summer recipes to bring along, like this delicious tomato tart that will go perfectly with seafood and corn on the cob. I am beyond thrilled for some farm-fresh corn on the cob! Also, I made this amazing farro salad for an easy (and healthy!) beach lunch. It’s a take on the farro salad made at the very cool GTA takeout spot in Venice Beach, California. And we’re bringing tequila for simple margaritas (agave, tequila, soda and lime) – essential!

I’m so ready for the beach. What do you bring to eat on the beach?

P.S. I also always pack this, this and this for the beach.

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This Must Be the Place: Modern-Industrial Long Island City Hotel

IMG_9712Last weekend we checked into the Boro Hotel, a new hotel with amazing New York City views and a cool, modern-industrial feel in the emerging north Long Island City neighborhood of Dutch Kills. The hotel is still in soft-launch phase so not everything was finished (a restaurant I’m told is coming this fall), but the staff was lovely and accommodating (they delivered a refrigerator to our room in 10 minutes so we could chill our beer!) and we barely noticed.

Grzywinsky + Pons designed the building and interiors, creating a really interesting effect with a sort of metal exoskeleton on the exterior. Inside the hotel, I loved the graphic cinderblock wall in the lobby, sleek black-metal counters in the cafe and two-tone walls throughout lending an effective, modern-wainscotting look. Layered onto those industrial elements were some rustic ones like white-washed, wide-plank oak floors and, occasionally, faux walls created with vertical-planks of varying size painted an acid green.

Long Island City has been evolving from an industrial neighborhood to a residential one at rapid speed over the last five years or so. We walked through the LIC Flea and played along the Gantry State Park that runs along the LIC coastline on the East River with stunning Manhattan views. And since we happened to be there for July 4th we grabbed a picnic spot on the Gantry’s boardwalk and enjoyed the Macy’s Fireworks with the Empire State Building and Chrysler Building as a backdrop. It was the perfect re-christening of us Culpeppers as New Yorkers again.

IMG_9627Boro Hotel - Lobby Wide - Floto+WarnerLong Island City hotelBoro Hotel - Lobby_Lounge - Floto+Warner   Boro Hotel - Fireplace_Cafe - Floto+Warner.jpgIMG_9710Boro Hotel - Cafe - Floto+WarnerBoro Hotel - Room Exterior - Floto+WarnerLong Island City HotelIMG_9605
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Long Island City HotelLong Island City hotelIMG_9719IMG_9655IMG_9660IMG_9664Long Island City hotelIMG_9693IMG_9698IMG_9707IMG_9703IMG_9704IMG_9717

Long Island City HotelIMG_9640

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Architect William Hefner’s L.A. Kitchen

Recently I got to interview architect William Hefner and his wife, interior designer Kazuko Hoshino, the couple behind L.A.’s Studio William Hefner. I’m often envious of these dynamic, husband-and-wife creative duos. How much fun it must be to create together. In researching the couple’s work, I came across the fantastic kitchen they designed for their L.A. home. According to the L.A. Times, it’s one of the most-liked on Houzz. I’m not surprised! For me, it’s ALL ABOUT that wall of custom metal windows and doors. What do you think?







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This Must be the Place: Native in Nicaragua


Nicaragua is on my radar. A friend in Central America swears that it’s Costa Rica 10 years ago. Which is to say, inexpensive, unspoiled, full of exotic wildlife and lush rainforests. Word is catching on and now, increasingly, Nicaragua is peppered with creative boutique hotel gems. Enter Jean-Marc Houmard and Yvan Cussigh of New York’s iconic Indochine restaurant. They infused the old colonial city of Grenada with their signature tropical-chic when they opened Tribal Hotel. It has just five rooms and two suites but is oozing with understated bohemian cool. The rustic furnishings were made almost exclusively by local artisans. Modern art ups the sophistication, and mingles with Turkish, African and Indian textiles. Like all of my favorite places, the hotel focuses on getting guests up close with the local culture, and just look at that pool. Nicaragua is now on my short list.







Tribal INATUR-3 (1)

Tribal INATUR-2

Tribal INATUR-4

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This Must be the Place: Austrian Ski Lodge Chic

Jagdgut_Wachtelhof_austrian_ski_lodge_11.jpgOur two-inch snow tease here in Richmond has me dreaming of wintery locales. Ever since I saw Jagdgut Wachtelhof, the gorgeous Austrian ski lodge outside of Salzburg in Lonny magazine, I’ve been mildly obsessed with its designer, Michele Bönan. This summer, I stayed at another Bönan-designed property, the Portrait Firenze, and was completely taken (I took a MILLION photos, post coming soon). He has a knack for creating spaces that feel modern but use classic elements. Here, he achieved that by keeping the pattern down, using furniture with clean lines and sprinkling with modern lighting and contemporary photography (especially that of Massimo Listri, whom I love), and presto!, chic, stylish but livable interiors.


Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 10.37.02 PMOne of  his smarter tricks is giving the walls mock-wainscoting with paint. Here he also “framed” the walls in black.

What an amazing graphic logo (used throughout on pillows). And I love the reoccurring piping, must be my preppy roots. Bönan’s also big on symmetry, which helps his rooms feel neat. I need to try that.


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I noticed the handles on the back of the chairs in Florence, too. It makes moving chairs in and out easier and finishes them off a bit, too.Jagdgut_Wachtelhof_austrian_ski_lodge_11.jpg
Jagdgut_Wachtelhof_austrian_ski_lodge_11.jpgScreen Shot 2015-01-27 at 10.22.44 PM

Guestrooms and hallways get more faux-architecture with paint.Jagdgut_Wachtelhof_austrian_ski_lodge_12Jagdgut_Wachtelhof_austrian_ski_lodge_3.jpgThe spa has a great cabinlike rusticness.


I love the idea of turning the firewood into a design element. It’s the alpine version of a climbing vine.

This is part of a reoccurring series of design hotels that reflect a true sense of place. Read about other This Must be the Places and see the This Must be the Place Tumblr page.

Photos via Lonny and Jagdgut Wachtelhof.

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Florence Fashion Find: Marie Antoinette Firenze Vintage Shop

Vintage is huge in Florence right now. I fell in love with Marie Antoinette Firenze vintage shop on a recent visit to research emerging fashion in Florence for a couple of articles I was working on. I stumbled across the shop, hidden in a back courtyard behind my hotel, not far from the Ponte Vecchio, and knew immediately I’d uncovered a gem. Owner Geraldine Naldini and her partner are Florentine stylists who  opened the shop in April and have filled it with great, architectural and avant garde designer looks that I wish I could rock every day. Most of the inventory is second-hand designer (Chloe, Laura Urbinati, Vivienne Westwood, Miu Miu, A.P.C.), with great prices on Italian labels like Prada and Gucci. I found the BAG OF MY LIFE there, one I’ve been searching years for: a simple, black-leather Gucci hobo bag  with horse-bit buckle from Tom Ford’s last line. I will have it forever. Here are some shots of the shop. The lucite hat hooks are vintage umbrella handles Geraldine inherited from her grandfather, who worked for Gucci Accessories. I particularly loved the Elizabethan-collar-inspired gilded-gauze necklaces she carried by Florentine designer Mereurio Argento Creationi. Isn’t it great? Where do you shop in Florence? I’d love to know.

P.S. Here are the two articles I was working on: Discover Fresh Fashion in Florence for New York magazine and Fashion Forward Florence for Virginia Living.
















florence vintage shop


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5 Great Blogs About Florence, Italy

My first article about my trip to Florence came out yesterday in New York magazine online. It was wonderful to get a dose of Italia and be back in what’s probably my most favorite city in the world. I’ll be sharing lots of insight from the trip and to start, I thought I’d give credit to some of the fantastic blogs and bloggers who helped in my research. Have any others you’d suggest? I’m always on the lookout for ways to stay connected to Firenze.

1. A Dusty Olive Green – Danish photographer Birgitte Bronsted has been living in Italy for 20 years. She has a modern sensibility and shares beautiful photography of Florentine sites (that’s her shot above) and shops with some side trips and Copenhagen thrown in. (Stay tuned for my Q&A with Birgitte.)

2. When In Florence – Written by Sara Amrhein, an American artist and jewelry maker who’s married to an Italian she met while studying abroad. She writes thoughtful pieces about her struggle as an artist but also promotes the contemporary artist scene with a series of interviews with artists in Florence. (Stay tuned for a Q&A with Sara as well.)

3.  Girl in Florence – It’s fun to live vicariously through Georgette, an American ex-pat, who writes about events and new openings in Florence with the exuberance of someone still elated to be living an Italian dream.

4. Creative People in Florence – Get to know the native and ex-pat artists living and working in Florence through this blog (and if you’re in town, attend one of their studio visits with aperitivo).

5. Unusual Florence – I was thrilled to stumble across this collaboration of edgy, young shop owners and artisans working in the historic center. Most are run by native Florentines who are making a go of it with unique shops and restaurants that all really warrant a visit to take in their creative visions.

[Photo courtesy of A Dusty Olive Green.]

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Cooking Class Direct from an Italian Farm

Italy is on my mind this month as I prepare for my trip to Florence. So I was happy when an episode from Ashley and Jason Bartner’s cooking classes from Italy arrived in my inbox. They’re another ex-pat couple with an enviable life (catching a theme?) who I’ve been following since writing about them in 2010 shortly after they started La Tavola Marche. They’re charming and driven. The couple moved from Brooklyn to the countryside of Marche, Italy to run an agriturismo farm/inn, where Jason, a chef, teaches guests how to shop, forage and cook Italian, which he says means “cooking with no ego,” Italian cooking is about letting very few, fresh ingredients shine. Salute to that!

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A Day at the Virginia Museum

IMG_3103We spend a lot of time at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Partly that’s because it’s about four blocks from our house and full of color and wonder for the kids. Plus a pretty beautiful little cafe. We have definitely gotten scolded a few times for sitting on ledges or … well … touching. I know. I know. Sorry, Mr. Security Guard. But I have to think at least the kids are inspired enough to want to touch, right?

Our visits are usually pretty short, which suits our attention spans, and the security guards, just fine. I always think of my friend Catherine who’s theory is that it’s best for everyone to keep kids museum visits short then hand them an ice cream. I love that. Get them to the museum but make it rewarding. The other day we visited to check out the new Posing Beauty exhibit but our favorite right now is this great exhibit called Studio Visit where they’ve mocked up artist Ryan McGuinness’ screen-printing studio. You can watch a video of him working, hear the studio sounds, see the materials he uses and take home a free poster. It’s open through Oct. 19, check it out.








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IMG_2898P.S. Great photo of kids at a museum by Laurie Victor Kay.