When I first met my friend Michele Pia, who owns the Greenwich Village eatery and celebrity hangout Bar Pitti with her husband, Giovanni, she was looking for an East End retreat.
I had the distinct privilege of helping her find that dream retreat, a home I helped design and develop.
Seven years later, Pia has transformed her Peconic home into her own little piece of central Italy on the North Fork. With a two-story stone fireplace, imported Italian urns dotting the backyard and natural light pouring into nearly every room, the meticulously decorated home she calls Casa Rustica is a sight to behold.
We caught up recently to talk about the motivation behind this modern yet rustic sanctuary and why she chose to live on the North Fork over the Hamptons.
You can watch the video or read about our interview below.
SWC: Tell me about the inspiration for Casa Rustica.
MP: It was very much the landscape of the North Fork, but it is also the other piece of my life, which is in another country. My husband is from Tuscany and it was important to have both worlds going on. The North Fork definitely lent to that feeling of Toscana because there is a vineyard here in front of my house and we are surrounded by green and trees and sun and water and flowers and farms and things like that.
We are also in the restaurant business, so there were many things about the North Fork that, although we were new to it, were very familiar to us.
And those are the things that went into every bit and piece of thinking what to put into this house, what to do with the outside of the house. Even simple things, from every poster or painting or photograph that’s been hung up, we’re very connected to. Everything has a memory.
SWC: Let’s talk about the backyard.
MP: I’m so glad that you asked, because as much as I love the inside of this house, I love the outside just as much. I am very lucky to have these windows on the back of the house. As you can see, I don’t have window treatments covering any views. Wherever I am sitting inside the house I also have a connection to what’s going on outside. It’s pretty deliberate. I wanted to sit in here and feel like I was sitting outside, even if it was only five degrees outside.
It is about standing in a place and looking around and seeing something that is organized and makes sense, but it was very important for me to feel like the backyard had been there for a very long time. And that it was organic or indigenous to the area.
I have a flat plane out here. The brush had come pretty close to the house until I finally said ‘Clear it all’ and put a fence behind it. Then we started everything else. One of the connections I also made to having this big blank space and our life in Italy and time in the Mediterranean and here in the U.S. and being on beaches is that a lot of coastal areas are very lush, with green and colorful flowers and things like that, but they’re also very dry because they have sand.
With the color of the patio and the staging of the pool area and the rocks behind the pool area that house the Hollywood junipers, and other things that are planted back there, I wanted to feel like I was at the beach without leaving my backyard.
Most normal people might put the pool closer to the house because it’s a bit of a walk. Living in the city all the time and not really looking out your window and not seeing anything green that’s not obstructed by cars and people and all the other elements, I really wanted to see a lot of grass and green things. And then how lucky was I that these Russian olive trees are indigenous to the North Fork? I pulled them up and placed them in the place where I wanted them.
SWC: One amenity that you taught me a lot about is lighting. It’s such an under-valued amenity and it’s really important. Talk to me about lighting and its importance.
MP: There is a lot of natural light in this house. I have sun all day and then it kind of wraps around and I get it up front while I still have it back here. So during the day it’s rare that I even turn on a light bulb. In the evening, dusk is so pretty out here and I have such a beautiful view of it from inside the house. And you know, dimmers are my life. I have a dimmer on the lights in the laundry room.
Again, it’s about that feeling and where you’re looking at light. From where we are sitting there is a lot of lighting and things that are hanging here. Those are placed to complement and be in a particular space.
This is a big wide open area, so I had to like everything. Again, I took my time. I like taking chances with lighting. You can have a very traditional type of room and put a sexy, modern light fixture over a dining table and you can have that mix, which I’m attracted to anyway. I’m, like, all aesthetics.
SWC: Why did you choose to live on the North Fork?
MP: There are a few reasons. First of all, my cousin has been out here for years with his family and we’re very close. He’d been bragging about the North Fork for so long. And then finally, when we got out here in the middle of winter, I ended up committed to renting a house down the block from him.
I occupied it that August when I unexpectedly ended up looking for a home with you and I bought this one. Aside from the beauty of the North Fork — I mean the Hamptons are gorgeous, I have a lot of friends there, it’s always wonderful to go there — but it can kind of feel like being in the city. Which is not a bad thing either, but I think between being in the restaurant business and being a mother and running around all the time it actually is very nice to come here and have the option of going to the fanciest restaurant in a pair of sandals and maybe not bumping into everyone that you see in the city on a daily basis.
Less traffic. There were some very practical pieces of it, but really falling in love with the landscape out here and being close to my family and all of our kids growing up together. There was no reason to look anywhere else.
Questions and answers have been edited for brevity.