If home ownership is the American dream, dual home ownership is
beyond the wildest dreams of most Americans. A second home --- in
the mountains, by the lake, on the beach --- is the ultimate
luxury. Or is it? What if your second home is a famous, historic,
important palazzo in a small town in Italy, just twenty miles from
Venice? Now that sounds like a dream come true.
A piece of Italian history is not what Sally Gable set out to buy.
She was thinking more along the lines of a summer home in New
England, a place for family and friends to gather away from their
busy lives in Atlanta. But a New York Times real estate ad
caught her eye, and before she knew it she and her husband Carl
were walking up the steps to the impressive 425-year-old Villa
Cornaro in Piombino Dese, Italy. It seems Villa Cornaro was
destined to be theirs.
In PALLADIAN DAYS Sally Gable shares the joys and frustrations of
owning a home considered one of the ten most influential buildings
in the world. And, as one can imagine, the joys are numerous and
the frustrations plenty. PALLADIAN DAYS recounts the purchase of
the villa in the late 1980s and discusses the history of the home
and its complicated upkeep, as well as life for Sally in Piombino
The price of purchasing Villa Cornaro (never revealed in the book)
was only the first obstacle for the Gables. After they financed the
purchase they learned that the Italian government still had a
chance to deny them the right to own it. Once the property was
legally theirs, the real work started and the hidden costs became
obvious. The house did not have a modern operational kitchen, there
was no heat, it had tricky electrical wiring, and it was infested
with scorpions. Plus, it was hard to find a competent gardener. But
the tenacious Gable worked hard to make Villa Cornaro a livable
home while preserving its historical integrity. She made friends in
Piombino Dese and found many in her community who could help her
care for the house.
Why such fuss for a big old house? Villa Cornaro was designed by
the important Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio, whose work is
still influential and copied today. The Gables are only the sixth
family since its construction in 1552 to reside in Villa Cornaro,
which is named for the Cornaros, one of the most powerful families
in Italian history. PALLADIAN DAYS, although short and not a
scholarly work, is full of information about the house, Andrea
Palladio, and the Cornaro family.
Gable also writes about adjusting to life in her new surroundings,
cultural differences and language barriers, and even shares her
favorite Italian recipes. She seems to want to focus on the
question of why she felt so drawn to devote her energy and
resources to Villa Cornaro and spends some time in the beginning of
the book on this theme, but she never really reaches any conclusion
and the idea fades as the story continues.
While PALLADIAN DAYS is interesting and well-written, it may not
appeal to everyone. Those interested in Italian architecture and/or
history probably will appreciate this book the most. Gable seems
generally humble and appreciative of her good fortune, but it may
be off-putting for some to read about living in such circumstances
(Gable never discloses dollar amounts for the upkeep of the house,
although she and her husband do rent it out for artistic
performances, movie filming, tours and the like in order to help
pay to maintain it). Others, however, will be swept up in Sally
Gable's dream come true.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 14, 2011