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Live in a Gucci Ad …or at Least Visit

gucci cruise

When the Gucci Cruise 2016 campaign started filling the pages of magazines this winter I knew that room. It’s hard to forget a space with all that confidence: Kelly green rug, lemon-yellow chairs surrounded by gorgeous mural walls. It’s Castello Sonnino, a Tuscan villa I visited a few summers back. That stunning room made the perfect compliment to Gucci’s jewel-tone, lux-retro looks. The print ads and video below were shot in the main villa where the de Renzis Sonnino family lives, and has for many generations, but visitors can get a taste of Tuscan noble life at their charming restaurant or by renting one of the simple rooms on the property, including an apartment in a 13th-century tower, that has to be Tuscany’s best kept secret. Baroness Caterina is a lovely and witty hostess who proudly shares the family’s colorful history and their vineyard’s sustainable agricultural practices with universities and guests. Visitors can tour the property learn about the ancient wine- and olive-oil-making processes, and, for a price, lunch with the Baron and Baroness in their dining room. Below are some shots I took of the villa, which is exactly as I would have dreamed it up: frescoes, trophy heads from exotic game, and heirloom antiques. Pay them a visit. You will not want to leave. I mean, if it’s good enough for Gucci…










My visit to Castillo Sonnino was coordinated by the Portrait Firenze, a stunning property in nearby Florence that I wrote about here.

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James Bond Definitely Skinny Dipped This Lagoon


Doesn’t that look exactly like a little cove James Bond would hide away with a buxom brunette? It’s very likely the inspiration for many a Bond escapade (“Spectre” included). Flemming Villa on the grounds of GoldenEye resort in Oracabessa Bay, Jamaica was the longtime home of author Ian Fleming, who penned the James Bond series from this very spot. Today it’s owned by the Chris Blackwell, who founded Island Records (responsible for bringing reggae to our shores) who’s mom was a friend of Fleming’s.

Blackwell created a casual-cool, spot full of Jamaican spirit and color with GoldenEye. He recently began renting out the Fleming Villa compound, too, which includes the three-bedroom house, two guest cottages, butler, housekeeper and cook with private lagoon, lush grounds and—importantly—an outdoor shower and outdoor clawfoot tub. Bond and his babe would be right at home.

Doesn’t it look like the perfect spot to gather friends for New Year’s? I’m imagining long, boozy meals from that table overlooking the lagoon, wandering the grounds and late night dancing around the pool.  Who’s in?

GoldenEye, Oracabessa, Jamaica


Goldeneye, Oracabessa, Jamaica

GoldenEye, Oracabessa, Jamaica







GoldenEye, Oracabessa, Jamaica










For more Jamaica inspiration, check out Vogue’s recent exploration of Jamaica’s Reggae Revival.

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He Knows Where to Find #PalmSpringsCool


A few years ago I traveled to Palm Springs to research the new energy coming out of the desert. The growth of the Coachella festival seemed to be one of the driving forces behind the opening of hip hotels like the Ace and Saguaro, but I discovered more than just an L.A.-weekender party (although Elijah Wood spinning poolside does sometimes happen). But mostly, I found Palm Spring was full of people that love the desert, in equal parts for it’s glamorous allure (think Frank and Marilyn) and its weirdness (think Joshua Tree). Either way, it’s kind of a magical combination.

Enter one of my favorite discoveries from Palm Springs: David Richey, whose contagious humor had us giggling for days after sharing drinks at the hip and understated open-air spot, Birba. David’s creative agency Not Normal Collective has helped brand and design some of Palm Springs’ most interesting restaurants (Birba included). So, naturally, when New York magazine recently asked me to research Palm Springs nightlife I knew just who to call. That story came out last week but David was so full of insight, about where to find the creative subculture of Palm Springs, that I had to share more of his gems. So, I give you the:

Palm Springs Insider Guide

palm springs cocktail

bootlegger_tiki_drink    bootlegger_tiki_cocktail[images courtesy Jaime Kowal]

The kind of growth that’s happening in Palm Springs in the last five years is really urban creative people in their mid-30s making their way opening small businesses. They’re helping to change the cultural climate. This cute couple opened Bootlegger Tiki in the back of Earnest Coffee at the north end of town. Start there for traditional tiki cocktails. It’s tiny, probably fits 20 people. They did their research, there’s great hand-selected rums, fresh flowers in cocktails — the Pod Thai cocktail is amazing.


Then head over to mid-town to my client Tara Lazar’s Chi Chi at the Avalon Hotel. The Avalon is Kelly Wearstler’s Viceroy hotel reborn. Everything is $10 and under during “Summer Sessions,” Chi Chi’s happy hour Sunday through Thursday in the lounge. They have really great bites, kind of boho hippie with Spanish-style tapas and live music by a local singer-songwriter. It’s cheap and delicious. Try the little chicken sopas things and the Aperol cocktail.

rooster_and_the_pig_restaurant     rooster_and_the_pig_asan_pear_salad

Next stop at mid-town’s Rooster and the Pig to fill your belly with some food to sustain you through a night of drinking. Best new restaurant in Palm Springs, hands down. American Vietnamese delights your taste buds, fills you up and at a really reasonable price. Owner Tai Spendley has been in Palm Springs about 10 years as beverage manager for several high-profile resorts, including the Ace, and was the GM at the infamous Lula Café in Chicago. Rooster and the Pig is his first restaurant on his own. The tea leaf salad, crispy beef noodles and the F.O.B (Fresh of the boat) are standouts.

Mr_lyons_Old Fashioned      mr_lyons_palm_springs_salon

Then get a proper martini at Mr. Lyons, another of Tara Lazar’s spots. It’s a high-end steak house, which isn’t really my thing, but the lounge is gorgeous. They do really great classic cocktails with just a sprig of something that just elevates it slightly.

Most gay bars are too heavy on the beefy, worked-out, white guy techno music vibe for me so I am looking for something with some edge or kitsch-dive-bar energy. Two that fit that bill are on the gay-bar ghetto, Arenas Street. Hit Spurline, a video dive bar where on the weekends they play all show tune videos, old, new, Broadway, movie, whatever. They pass out props like little wire hangers with “Mommy Dearest” playing or hankerchiefs for a scene in “Oklahoma.” Super-kitsch and fun. I totally hate musicals, but love this spot. Another favorite is Score, a true dive bar with cheap drinks, cheap beer, shuffle board, pool table and the best jukebox I have found in Palm Springs. Another classic is Toucans for a great Sunday night Drag show.

[Photos via Palm Springs Life and  CoffeePenKnife]

Dance (and Eat)
Then, if it’s Thursday, I would totally hit the Amigo Room at the Ace Hotel. Ever since they opened, music producer/local celebrity deejay, DJ Day, does a night called Reunion. He was born in the dessert and a lot of locals follow him, but it’s a good mix of locals and tourists. It is a hip-hop night, but with an intelligent spin on old-school and current, eclectic, art hip-hop (think Stones Throw records) not Top 40. It hits all the marks in the 22 to 45-ish crowd: black, white, Hispanic, hipster, hip-hop head. Also, a good reason to end your night there is the bar menu with the fried egg sandwich that they serve late. You can totally fill up on food before you get in your Uber and crash out.


[photo via The Spoiled Life]

Stay at Sparrows Lodge. They just have a sign with two sparrows on it. It’s amazing, in an old barn and it’s on the Ace side of town.  

Don’t you want to head to the desert immediately? (If you’re in New York, you should! JetBlue starts daily direct flights in January 2016.)

P.S. More of my Palm Springs discoveries and other Insider Guides.

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Lavender Fields Forever


Lavender fields 2


Provence hotel


LCDM exterior

provence hotel

Spa L'Occitane 2

L'Occitane factory



 Lavender fields

Olive Museum
Olivier Baussan

I’m thrilled to share some local knowledge about Provence, France from L’Occitane founder Olivier Baussan. Olivier launched the incredible L’ Occitane skincare line in 1976 inspired by the legendary lavender fields and other natural ingredients that grow in the region. He shared his insider suggestions for a “Haute Provence” experience below. Enjoy!

STAY: Les Couvent Des Minimes Hotel
Beautiful stone inn that was built in 1613 as a convent, left abandoned in 1999, and converted into a hotel and spa in June 2008. This spring, the hotel and spa both underwent a major renovation, updating the look to better reflect modern times while maintaining the charm of the building that draws on the history of the location.

RELAX: Spa L’Occitane
Originally opened with the hotel in 1999, the spa was renovated in March 2015, as well. There are 80 L’Occitane affiliated spas all over the world, but only four Spa L’Occitane’s globally including this one (the others are in Hong Kong and Brazil). The Spa at LCDM is the most special because the entire experience, from the hotel to the surrounding area of Provence, is true to the L’Occitane spirit.

SEE: L’Occitane Factory
Located a 30 minute drive from the LCDM is the L’Occitane Factory where all products are formulated, produced and packaged. In June 2015, we added new attractions to the tour like a Mediterranean garden designed to offer visitors a natural, first-hand experience with the aromatic and medicinal plants used in L’Occitane’s skincare and fragrance ranges. Also located at the factory is the largest L’Occitane store in France, and the best place to find the newest L’Occitane products fresh off the line (at 10% off the retail price). Guided, complimentary tours are available Monday to Saturday.

DO: L’Occitane Ingredient Tour
If you’re interested in extending your natural emersion with L’Occitane ingredients, a tour with Kairos is the way to go. In 2012, our brand embarked upon a partnership with the company to highlight the spirit and values of L’Occitane by offering tours of our lavender and rose fields in the region. If you go, I recommend you request to visit the plateau de Valensole and the villages of Banon and Simiane la Rotonde. For every lavender field day tour, 50€ will be donated to the Provence Lavender Endowment fund to promote responsible tourism. To book you can contact Philip Haslett, +33 658 208 712.

SEE: Ecco Musee L’Olivier in Volx 
Another great attraction in the area is my Olive Tree Museum in my hometown of Volx in the Luberon National Park. It’s another foray into the sensory world for me, and this time with edible ingredients. Open March-December, the museum offers exhibitions and free olive oil tastings daily with the opportunity to purchase delicious spices and tapenades made with entirely locally-grown olives.

DO: Les Calissons du Roy René
Calisson is to Provence, what the Hershey Bar is to America, an iconic candy. To describe, a Calisson is a subtle blend of finely ground Mediterranean almonds, Provençal melon and candied orange peel, all set on a wafer bed, coated with royal icing. It’s the number one sweet treat to try on a trip to the area. For the chef-minded, you can book a cooking class with the confection artists by calling the Roy René Confectionary at + 33 (0)4 42 39 29 82.

EAT: A Typical Provençal Dinner
Provençal dining is an experience, and Olivier recommends a few top restaurants in the area . Les Terrasses de Lurs in the Village of Lurs is a must-do as it just opened in 2014 [and sits on an elevated terrace overlooking the countryside]. Other favorites include Les Petites tables [the locavore, nearly vegetarian restaurant] at the Olive Tree Museum and Le Clôître and Le Pesquier onsite at LCDM.

Travel to Mexico City, San Francisco, Cape Town, Brooklyn and London with these other CultureFix Insider Guides.

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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
Long Island City hotelIMG_9615
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.


Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 10.30.49 PM
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.