WE STARTED COLLECTING OLD MASTER PAINTINGS
IN 1955. By 1959, we decided to make the rounds of museums
and dealers in Europe to sharpen our eye and to try to find (and
purchase) some fine old master paintings. We did this with a list
of special recommendations from the late Dr. William E. Suida, Curator
of the Kress Collection.
We then visited Europe almost every year buying at
least a few paintings on each trip - particularly the trips during
the 1960s and 1970s when prices were still reasonable and discoveries
By 1968, we felt we knew Europe pretty well, and
we thought that maybe we should own a home there. This would give
us an anchor in Europe and it would be a second home which we could
occupy for two or three months of each year - particularly in the
We looked in England and we looked in France, with
particular emphasis on various chateaux near Paris, but we soon
found that the chateaux near Paris were out of the question - as
they were either too expensive or not near Paris.
In 1959-1961, when we first looked in England, prices
were very low for beautiful manor houses, and, in fact, we were
looking when J. Paul Getty purchased “Sutton Place”
Guildford, Surrey for a few hundred thousand dollars.
We had been collecting Italian art and antiques
As we had become particularly interested in Italian paintings and
Italian antique furniture, we thought of Italy as a possibility.
We had heard from Dr. Suida’s son-in-law, Robert Manning,
that there was a possibility of buying villas from the Italian government.
On our visit to Italy in July 1968, we were entertained on our arrival
in Venice at a dinner party, in a private dining room at the Gritti
Palace, by the Countess Kathleen Balbi-Valier. We had met Kathleen
and her husband, Count Balbi, in the early 1960s through mutual
friends. We had published the Claude Monet painting of the Balbi-Valier
palace on the Grand Canal, Venice (“Palazzo da Mula”),
in my 1961 book, “Art as an Investment.“ This
had pleased the Count, a member of one of the oldest and most aristocratic
families of Venice.
At the small elegant dinner, we met the Director
of the Museum of Modern Art of Venice, and the Director of the U.S.
Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, as well as Peggy Guggenheim, Queen
Aspesia of Greece, Princess Eristavi, and Mr. Tissot, designer of
Tiffany glass creations, and several other collectors. I was seated
next to Peggy Guggenheim, the advocate and proponent of Modern Art,
whose museum in Venice is a landmark palace on the Grand Canal.
During the course of the conversation at dinner, I
remarked to Peggy that we had failed to locate any suitable house
to purchase in England or in France. Peggy suggested that we get
in touch with L’Ente Per Le Ville Venete.
She said, “There is a government organization
here in Venice whose job it is to buy up rundown or endangered architectural
treasures and restore them with funds supplied by the government
in Rome...” She went on to say that this project had worked
well for a time, but that now they might sell a property or two,
as very few funds were forthcoming from Rome. “The organization
here in Venice is called the Council of the Villas of the Veneto
[L’Ente per le Ville Venete] and its head is the
Marchese Giussepi Roi. Why don’t you pay him a visit?”
Thursday, July 4th, 1968, we took the advice of Peggy
Guggenheim and we visited the offices in the Piazza San Marco of
“L‘Ente per le Ville Venete“. We spoke
to the Marchese Roi.
It was suggested that we hire a taxi and visit some
of the villas which were owned by L’Ente per le Ville Venete
and were under their jurisdiction to restore. Marietta Guetta, Director
of the US Pavilion of the Biennale, whom we had just met at the
dinner party, went with us and acted as a translator. We looked
at the list of palazzos and villas “in restoration”
- which might be available for purchase.
Friday, July 5th, we hired a car to see the palazzos
and villas “in restoration” - as arranged - and Marietta
Guetta came with us again to act as an interpreter. She had asked
to come, and we were pleased to have her along.
It was a wonderful day and we looked at several villas
which were listed for us and we indicated each location on a map
along with the asking price. In the center of the little town of
Piombino Dese, just 18 miles northwest of Venice, we found what
we felt was the villa - the extraordinary Villa Cornaro,
built in the year 1553 by the great architect, Andrea Palladio.
A Villa by Andrea Palladio in need of someone
to restore it and maintain it.
We might indicate what the villa actually looks like. The front
features the projecting six columned two-story portico - the design
so copied in America and throughout the world. There are 14 major
rooms and four minor ones plus the cantina and the attic - but what
rooms! On entering, the space opens up to one of the most beautiful
four-columned classic rooms in the world.
Symmetry was the keynote of the architecture of Andrea
Palladio. On each of the two main floors there is a center main
hall - roughly 35 feet by 35 feet and the height of the main center
rooms is about the same. On the main floor - the piano nobile
- there are four very tall ionic columns which stand on the antique
terra cotta tile floor and support the ceiling cross beams and the
Surrounding these there are six niches in the walls
with the oversize portrait statues of the Cornaro family members.
There are four interior doorways from the center hall which are
The six (over eight foot high) niches hold the six
over life-size stucco statues (portraits of famous family members
such as the Queen of Cyprus, Caterina Cornaro, and a Doge Marco
Cornaro, and the builder of the villa, Admiral Giorgio Cornaro),
done by sculptor Camillo Mariani in the late sixteenth
century (circa 1590). Some pieces of the plasterwork and small bits
on the sculptures (such as a few fingers) were broken off but on
the whole the statues were remarkably untouched.
Mattia Bortoloni a young Venetian, created
the over 100 frescoes commissioned in 1717. These frescoes, some
quite large, on walls and ceilings and over doors, depict the Old
Testament on the first floor and the new testament in two rooms
on the second floor. The frescoes with a few exceptions appeared
in excellent condition. The plasterwork, done at the same time by
Bartolo Cabianca is typical of the best of the early eighteenth
century Venetian plasterwork - featuring frames on over-mantle frescoes
and putti ( winged cupids) holding the over-door frescoes
with stucco drapery. The walls surrounding the frescoes show fine
plasterwork - including scrolled leaf and floral designs, a Cornaro
family crest, a doge’s cap, and a few stucco portrait heads.
To my wife, Julie, and myself, the villa was overwhelming.
And we could not believe that a Palladian villa - a magnificent
and historic villa built by Andrea Palladio himself - could be available
It was about 150 feet long and perhaps 18,000 square
feet - or thereabout, with attic and cantina, - but most of the
windows were cracked or were missing pieces. There were leaded glass
windows throughout the villa with the exception of the west wall
where a bomb had blown out the glass and the replacement had been
with plain glass within the wooden frames. All windows were shuttered
(the shutters swung outward) and the leaded glass windows opened
from the center and swung inward.
The iron gates were rusted and partially broken. There
were large and small paper advertisement posters plastered on the
antique brick garden wall facing the street.
Throughout the house there was visible wiring for
rudimentary electricity. In some cases, only a bulb hung from the
ceiling. There was one large antique metal and glass chandelier
in the center hall, but there was no furniture other than an old
(not antique) table in the center hall - and everywhere there was
dust and dirt.
A little bat (good fortune to the Chinese)
flew onto my necktie while several other bats perched on a high
window sill in the great center hall. The high unshuttered portico
window was broken and they could easily fly in and out. The bathrooms
were out of date and tiles and fixtures needed replacing There was
an old stove for cooking in the kitchen and a little sink in the
pantry. There was a large stove for heating in the living room.
There was no visible heating other than that. But
there were magnificent original marble framed fireplaces in all
of the major rooms. And in the living room the fireplace was lined
with antique tiles. Mirrors in plaster frames are over the fireplaces.
The chimney walls downstairs are decorated with elaborately stucco-framed,
symbolic figure frescoes.
The villa had been purchased by the local Catholic
Church and was used as a school for little children before the Council
(L’Ente per le Ville Venete) purchased it to save
it from further damage by the use for a school. For example, one
wall had been cut through at a spot where there had been a window
on the stairwell and an ugly plain metal door was placed there to
allow the children to go out and use toilets in a row of outhouses,
which had been made for their use in the garden next to the villa.
And although many things had been done without regard
for the importance of the villa, it had withstood the treatment
well and was intact - with rare original terra cotta tile floors
on the first floor in the center hall and west wing and there were
the beautiful frescoes and marvelous plasterwork including the magnificent
six sculptures in niches.
As for the outside of the house, it had not been
recently cleaned or restored and although the southern side of the
villa (away from view from the street) which did not get the northern
winds and strong rains was in remarkable and almost untouched original
condition, (the proof of which was seventeenth century graffiti
on the walls of the south portico dating some major family events.)
There were some exceptions such as cracks and a piece
of plaster which had broken off over the south portico. However,
the front, (the north side) was darkened by black mold which is
common on the north side of buildings. It was also worn by north
winds and rain, and a piece of the marble ionic column top was broken
off as well as some of the plaster detail. There was also some damage
from vines (vines damage the surface if not removed.) Old restorations
had changed color and darkened more than surrounding areas.
What was our reaction to this house
The next day, July 6th, we returned alone to Piombino Dese and revisited
the villa.. We had lunch at the caffe in the Albergo
Palladio across the street from the villa, sitting outside
after lunch for several hours - just looking and thinking.
At that point we knew that we would try to purchase
the villa and restore it to its original beauty if we could - and
we already had the Italian antiques which we had been collecting
and these would be most suitable in the villa. We also thought that
some of our Italian paintings would find a home there.
We made a bid on the house
We got in touch with the office of L’Ente Per Le Ville
Venete and discussed the possibility of buying the villa and
expressed our desire to do so. We made an offer somewhat below the
asking price, and, as the Marchese Giussepi Roi was in Rome, we
headed to Rome and the Marchese Roi visited us at our hotel there.
He told us that there was another prospective buyer,
an Italian, who had offered exactly the same price as we had - and
that the Council had turned down both bids. We wanted the villa
and tried to think how we could buy it when there was also the interested
We had some time to think about this while we were
in Rome for a few days. The next day we made an appointment to see
Paul Getty’s villa which was not far from Rome. We had promised
Paul that we would take a look at it and see how things were progressing
on the restoration. He hadn’t visited Italy in two years and
was anxious for first hand reports.
Mario, Paul Getty’s chauffeur, arrived at our
hotel to pick us up and take us to the villa on the coast in Paolo.
The day was hot - 104 at least - in mid July, but when we arrived
at the villa, no fewer than eighty workmen were busy at work on
a complete rebuilding of the interior - with great care to preserve
an “antique“ appearance. Paul supervised carefully all
of the details from England. He had a very good and expert foreman.
We estimated that this complete rebuilding of the
interior and restoration costs might be in the millions. Fortunately,
we would not have to do this much to the Palladian villa at Piombino
Dese, as structurally everything was intact.
Wednesday the 17th of July, we went to Vicenza by
train and visited the museum there and walked through the town to
study in detail the many important buildings by Palladio.
From Vicenza, we returned to Piombino Dese in the
afternoon to look at the Villa Cornaro again. We went to Venice
on the 18th to visit the L’Ente per Le Ville Venete and
to discuss the purchase of the villa again and to raise our bid.
We raised our bid
We offered more than we had previously bid - and more than had been
asked by the Ente originally. We thought we would then
be approved for buying the villa. Not so! We had to be approved
by the entire Council of the Villas of the Veneto, the Consiglio
Superiore, the Minister of Culture of Rome and the Superintendent
of Monuments in Venice.
Approval with letters of sponsorship
To secure approvals of the purchase we had to submit a detailed
report on what we proposed to do to the villa (although they did
not specifically require that we do anything) and we had to have
three sponsors. We secured letters from three very good sponsors:
These were J. Paul Getty, who was himself restoring his villa in
Italy at the time, and the then Secretary of Commerce in the United
States, C. R. Smith, and our Florentine friend, Count Giorgio Geddes
da Filicaia. In fact, the Count Geddes kindly made a translation
into Italian of our request to purchase the villa together with
our background and plans for restoring and maintaining the villa.
It was perhaps the Count who had long been a good
friend with a common interest in Italian sports cars, and Ferraris
in particular, who gave us a special desire to live in Italy. In
the 1960s, we had visited his family palace “Cerreto”
of 250 rooms and his apartment in another family palace in the Piazza
July 31st, 1968, we returned to London and visited with Paul Getty
at Sutton Place the following Sunday. We told him all about the
restoration of his villa at Paolo.
We told him about the Palladian Villa we wanted to
buy and he joked a bit (were we foolish that we were both buying
and restoring villas in Italy?) but he agreed to write a letter
for us to the Council..
It took a year before it was ours
We had to wait a year to get the permission to actually buy the
villa. It became ours on July 3, 1969. I went to Mestre (just outside
of Venice) for the signing of the papers for the purchase of the
Villa Cornaro. The bank draft had arrived from America (U.S. American
Security & Trust, Washington, D.C.) for L’Ente per
le Ville Venete. The Council also gave us a mortgage for part
of the payment at a very low 3% rate.
And a few selected notes from Julie’s
1969 Travel Diary:
July 3rd "IT
WAS SIGNED - AND SO THE PALLADIO AT PIOMBINO DESE IS OURS”
“We then went for a celebration of "Cocktails at Marietta
Guetta's and dinner with our good friend, Kathleen, the Countess
July 4th, Venice,
Friday. “Although it is the fourth of July in America, here
in Italy it is another work day. Visited the office of the head
of the monuments of the Venete (Soprintendente . dei Monumenti
del Veneto) Mr. Padoan- and then Richard visited the office
of L’Ente Per Le Ville Venete from which the villa
has been purchased, to discuss arrangements for the restoration
of the Palladio at Piombino Dese. (Scheduled a meeting for Friday
next with the head officials.)”
'We took a plane from Venice to FLORENCE at 4:45 P.M. and checked
in at the Lungarno Hotel.
July 7th, Florence.
"Monday, all morning and afternoon we visited dealers and
bought fine antique furniture for the Villa Cornaro.
"We bought four Louis XVI classic side chairs, a beautiful,
large, green painted, carved and decorated Venetian center table,
a very large palace size poltrona (armchair) silvered,
and upholstered in cut velvet, a large armadio (closet - cupboard)
painted and decorated, and a Louis XVI side table, carved and
gilded. All of these pieces are Italian antiques of the 18th century
and will be beautiful for the villa. They were purchased from
the President of the Antique Dealers Association of Florence.”
July 11th, Piombino
Dese. “We went to Piombino Dese where Mr. Padoan, head of
all monuments in the Veneto, was to meet us at the villa at 3:30.
We arrived at noon and were there to go over the details with
him concerning restoration and what we were allowed to do and
what we were not allowed to do. The rules are very strict concerning
the restoration of national monuments and certain things cannot
be done and not much of anything can be done without permission
(usually in writing).”
Supervision of the restoration project by
We could visualize the end result and took to the project with enthusiasm,
refusing to be discouraged when red tape and permission problems
seemed to slow us down, on some occasions, to a standstill . It
was done (the restoration) under the supervision - with special
written permissions usually required - of the Superintendent of
The workmen were for the most part our local muratori
(bricklayers) and gardeners, metal workers, and, in the case of
the glass replacement - neighboring experts from a town nearby -
What belonged to the villa and what had been
sold to others
The local church had purchased the villa furnished and also purchased
with the villa the adjacent two hundred foot building (barchese)
designed by Scamozzi in the 1590s and some surrounding land.. In
order to immediately raise the funds to pay for the purchase of
the Villa Cornaro and its surrounding property, the adjacent building
was divided and sold by the church to various local people for offices
and stores as was all of the villa furniture and the entire heating
system. Thus in the barchese of the villa we had a grocery
store (alimentari), a jewelry shop, a hairdresser, a fruit
and vegetable shop, a hardware store, and a bank.
The land ( a number of acres of farmland) beyond
the park south of the villa (and on the other side of the stream
and south of the original brick seven-arched Palladian bridge) was
sold by the church to, among others, the family of Ilario Mariotto..
Fortunately, the bridge and stream were retained for the villa as
were the back gate and gate posts.
After the villa was purchased from the local church
by the Ente per Le Ville Venete, the church and village
priest built a new school for little children and a building for
The few acres of land immediately south of the villa’s
barchese and to the south-west of the villa were sold to
the town which created a public playing field, and soccer games
were held regularly. Occasionally a ball would come over the fence
and we would throw it back.
Access for a car or truck or tractor from the street
was through an arch in the center of the villa’s barchese
and this was retained for the villa as an entrance from the main
street (Via Roma, a Roman highway when the villa was built and still
Cleaning the villa
First we had to clean the house. There were piles of dust and dirt
in every room from cantina to attic. The villa had been
empty for a number of years. It took a week to clean (and this was
done by the Marulli family while we were away at a cost of the equivalent
$450 at $1.00 per hour.) Mr. Marulli was the custodian, (paid $35
a month by L’Ente) but it had not been his job to
keep the house clean, but only to see that no damage was inflicted
and that the grass was mowed. He had it cut at no charge by a hand
scythe wielded by a local farmer - when the grass was long enough
to be worthwhile to the farmer to cut and haul away with his cart
and donkey -( to use as feed for his livestock.)
Repairing the broken glass in the windows
One of the first of the major things to be done were the windows.
We counted 163 windows in the villa - on the ground floor, the first
floor and the second floor, the stairways, mezzanines, and attic
and some of these were really magnificent windows, many with over
100 small leaded glass panes.
What we did was cart these windows, one or two at a time, to the
special glazier in the town of Bassano, some twelve miles to the
north of the villa. It required two years to replace the missing
panes and repair the leaded parts which were broken, and the cost
was several thousand dollars - although we did have to pay this
amount twice, as we paid the estimated price in advance and then
had to pay it again when things were recalculated at the end. Mr.
Marulli painted, varnished and oiled the wooden frames.
Electrical work on the villa
The electric restoration was a major work. What the villa had in
the way of electrical circuitry was almost nonexistent. The Beggiora
firm, father and two sons, was retained essentially to rewire the
entire villa. They started on the 13th of August. 1969. But here
we met with severe limitations on how the new system could be installed.
The walls which were original, should not be touched, but we got
permission (and a recommendation) from Superintendent Padoan to
install the wires in the walls as the appearance of the wires on
top of the plastered walls was distracting - and unlike it would
have been at the time the villa was built.
The preparation for the electrical work was done while we were
away for a while in London. I got on a plane one day and flew to
Venice and went to the Villa to see how the electrical work was
The wires were to be placed in tubes and the tubes sunk in the
walls. Why were the wires inserted in tubes? If there was a break,
the electrician could simply open a tube and pull out a defective
wire and install a new one. Also additional wires could be added
for an internal telephone system, or whatever, as needed.
Now Mr. Beggiora had given me a labor charge of $1.00 an hour.
When my bill for the electrical work arrived, I saw that he had
charged me $1.25 an hour. When I asked him why the $1.25 an hour
rate, he replied, “It was more work than I had anticipated.”
So everything was made clear to me!
Along with the three electricians, there were three plaster and
stonemasons - the Ilario Mariotto family. This group of six worked
for over six months installing not only electric lines for lighting
but also heavy-duty electric lines for electric heating plus lines
for an internal telephone system. The telephone system had call
stations in all major rooms throughout the villa so that to summon
anyone, all you needed to do was to push one of the buttons. In
the kitchen (as in the great houses which had servants) there was
the box which indicated where the call was coming from.
We contracted directly with the laborers (keeping always in mind
the permissions granted by the Superintendent) and as a rule did
not work through a general contractor. Had we worked through a general
contractor, our cost of restoration would have been double the amount
we had to pay, I feel certain.
As for chandeliers, we were able to buy antique chandeliers in
Florence. We were fortunate to find an eighteenth century Venetian
chandelier of colorless glass in Florence. We arranged for the chandelier
to be delivered and installed in the great hall. Another antique
Venetian (Murano) glass chandelier was purchased in Rome and when
it arrived, it took two men eight hours to install it. We were able
to buy several other very fine antique Venetian chandeliers with
colored glass and flowers - and two antique metal lanterns for ceilings
and two on posts for the entrance hall. We also bought new “antique
style” ceramic chandeliers in Venice and in Bassano.
As we bought antique chandeliers, we would put the new ceramic
ones (or other new glass or crystal ones) in the attic - hanging
these on a beam - and perhaps some are still there. There was one
antique chandelier in the villa - in the great hall - and when we
replaced it with the large antique Venetian glass chandelier, we
put it in the upstairs hall and put the one in the upstairs hall
on the front portico of the villa. We set up an automatic light
- on at dusk and off at dawn - for this front
portico light. We did the same for portico lighting on the back
of the villa.
We also installed two large spotlights to shine from the garden
wall onto the front. Incidentally, the electrician, Mr. Beggiora,
put no fewer than 17 electrical outlets in the main downstairs and
hall. (This was done in the event we wished to use electric baseboard
heaters - or any special electrical items. ) He really did, although
when I got his bill, I thought he might be exaggerating a bit, until
I counted. And these are not ordinary outlets, They are special
- “magic” outlets throughout the villa. When
plugging into an outlet, there is no way that you can touch any
wire or any metal part. (This requires a special plug for the appliance
cord as well.)
We were required to install the new “magic”
outlets, which are much better than the type we have always had
in our houses in America and which are a danger to children whose
fingers seem to find their way into the outlets. The on/off switches
installed throughout the villa were also of a more modern design
which at the time had not been used in our American homes. They
were a flat type and are now used in modern homes, including ours,
Restoration of the bathrooms
Before we even started to work on the restoration, I had in mind
that we wanted to use marble everywhere that I could, and we particularly
wanted the green marble and the red Veronese marble, especially
for the bathrooms. But we had to clear everything with the Superintendent
and he gave us a quick answer, “Nothing doing.” We were
allowed to use tile only in the bathrooms (terra cotta for the floors
and a white tile with discreet edge for the walls.) The tub and
sink and toilet and bidet were also white and we found a classic
fluted column-and-shell design, which fitted the classic style of
the villa perfectly, and is still popular today.
Concerning marble, I asked a local marble dealer in our town about
using marble. He replied quickly, “No, marble is ugly. [Brutto].
You should never use it in the interior of a house. It is for ladies’
and men’s public bathrooms.”
We had received permission to replace the plumbing in the bathrooms
as well as the tile on the walls and the floors of the bathrooms-
but we were not allowed to use marble.
The interior of the house may measure 20,000 feet (my estimate)
but we modernized or installed only three major bathrooms - (actually
four if one considers the simple bathroom we installed in the basement
We selected the bath fixtures for the three main baths from a major
supply house in Padua and we selected the finest gold plated fixtures
we could find. On completion of our selection, we asked the salesman
whether we could pay in dollars. He agreed and then converted the
lire into dollars. “You owe $100, ” he told us. Our
computation was somewhat different; and, in any event, no one could
expect to buy gold-plated fixtures for $100. “One thousand
dollars” we told him. He calculated again and repeated, “One
hundred dollars.” An argument ensued and we asked him to again
make the calculation. Otherwise we were going to walk out of the
store. Finally, his calculation agreed with ours. We gave him $1,000
and not $100.
The baths had to be hooked up to water lines, and this hooking
up was done by Ilario Mariotto and family. A hot water system was
installed (circulating hot water throughout the villa) with an oil
burner in the cantina. Ilario and Sylvano redug and rebuilt the
entire drainage system under the south park.
They also connected the water lines elsewhere, including the kitchen,
which kitchen had to be done over radically. Although we were given
permission by the Superintendent to install wooden cabinets and
other kitchen fixtures, we decided to just put a kitchen sink in
the small room off the kitchen (a pantry) which had a water line
in place, and to buy refrigerators (with a wood finish) and a stove
(with matching wood finish) and put them against the wall as furniture.
We then added later an American (circa 1800) sideboard , which
had been accidentally sent along with the Italian antiques we shipped
from our collection in America to the villa.
For cabinets, (to store china and serving dishes, etc.) we purchased
a very large French eighteenth century armoire, in Florence.
The armoire was fitted with shelves and was put against
the north wall of the kitchen. It looked elegant and was a lovely
antique. There was a small cupboard already there on the east wall
with a door (screened) and we left that as it was for use to place
items needed - glasses, cups, and napkins.
We later added a dishwasher and a combination washing machine and
drier to the pantry sink area. We had a large Renaissance-style
dining table made for the center of the kitchen by a local furniture
maker and we ordered many rush-seated chairs.
The tiles were mostly original on the main floor (piano nobile)
of the villa. The villa was over 400 years old at the time we purchased
it (1553 - 1969) and one might expect the floors to be well worn,
at least in part replaced, as the years passed. This was the case
in the kitchen and the room at the opposite end of the villa and
on the eastern side of the villa downstairs, on the ground floor
(Piano Nobile). The terra cotta tiles were replaced in
the two end rooms and in the living room to the east and adjacent
rooms to the east. We took a look under the wood floor replacement
in the living room (which, by the way, is most attractive and in
the eighteenth century parquet style) and under this we found a
partial covering of original terra cotta floor tiles and the pink
sand which is what the tiles in 1553 were set in.. Apparently, many
of these original tiles were used to repair the tile floors in the
floor of the west side of the villa - as the west side appears to
be completely original as does the great center hall.
On the second floor, on the east side, we found a more recent
wooden floor, which apparently was put in to keep the feet of the
children warm in the winter months. We took a chance and started
to remove the wood, and underneath was the same fine original Venetian
terrazzo pavement that the rest of the second floor featured. Some
of the second floor rooms had the terrazzo floors painted over with
a dark brown stain.
We arranged for a floor-polishing specialist to come and remove
the paint and polish the floors on the second floor and they came
out magnificently. All of the floors were original and in excellent
condition. On the balconies it was necessary to make some repairs
to the floors but they were mainly still original as well. It was
also necessary to reset stones and blocks of marble in the wide
front and back stairways , which slope, to the gardens.
Walls and ceilings, frescoes and plasterwork
Fortunately the walls and the ceilings were, for the most part,
intact. They were covered with frescoes done by Mattia Bortoloni
- over 100 frescoes including overdoors, of which only three were
in substandard condition, but we were able to obtain expert restorers
to bring them back. The rest may have been restored almost to perfection
by the Council of the Villas of the Veneto when they owned the villa.
We did not touch the Renaissance ceiling over the main hall of
the Piano Nobile for many years. The ceiling was very high - as
mentioned - about 30 feet up. It appeared to be in excellent condition
- with original painted beams - elaborately decorated with a stencil
design - and sometimes this type of decoration is called a “Sansovino
ceiling” - popular in the sixteenth century.
The higher ceiling in the great hall above was identical. We also
had similar ceilings (with other colors predominant) in the second
floor bedrooms These ceiling beams appear to be solid, but they
are actually boxed, as can be seen from the attic window overlooking
the second-floor center hall. We had an expert do some restoration
on this ceiling. We did some restoration on portico ceilings where
needed. Another major item for restoration was the peeling gray
paint on the walls of the great halls. This was carefully removed
to reveal the original light finish - on the walls and the four
great ionic columns in the large center hall of the Piano Nobile
Doors were made where they were missing
There were no outside heavy wooden doors on the second floor - just
paned glass and part wood doors - with insets surrounding the doors
of colored glass (probably added in the nineteenth century) This
was on the second floor of the villa leading to the balconies to
the north and to the south.
On the south side there was also a door missing to the second-floor
east side stairway to the south rooms and the two balconies - leaving
an open staircase where a second-story-man could enter the house
with ease. We had these large doors made and the special “antique”
metal work created for them.
Upstairs, we took several antique bedroom doors to Florence to
repaint and decorate. Downstairs, the beautiful antique doors were
refinished and repaired where necessary.
We were told that the roof had been worked on - beams in the attic
supporting the roof had been checked and repaired by the Council
(Ente) and replaced where necessary and the shutters had
been repaired as they had been worn and broken as happens over the
years. However, after fifteen years, we again restored the shutters.
Mr. Marulli took them down and repaired them individually and put
them back and painted them.
Souvenirs of World War II
The exterior, the parts outside of the villa itself was something
else. First I noticed deep bullet marks on the plaster of the large
pillar-posts by the wall and gates in front of the villa. I inquired
as to whether these bullets had come from German planes during the
war. I was told that no, that American planes were responsible for
the damage to the posts and also for the blowing out of the windows
on the west side of the villa.
I immediately ordered that all of the damaged plaster on the posts
be removed, leaving only the bricks showing. I hoped that the townspeople
had forgotten all about the war, Only later, I found that when the
Americans finally arrived they gave food to the citizens, which
was much appreciated. One man told me that he would have starved
but for the Americans.
We were told that the German major who was occupying the villa
during the war, left on foot - walking west toward Castelfranco
as the Americans approached.. German soldiers also occupied the
barchese along the street beside the villa during the war,
but we are told that they did not harm the villa. The Mariotto family
lived in part of the building next to the villa and Ilario’s
mother cleaned the villa for the German major. Ilario was born and
raised in an apartment on the second floor of that barchese.
A central location. Advantages of having the villa in the
Even when we completed much of the restoration and were in residence,
we would go across the street to the Albergo and Caffe
Palladio for meals - and quite often, Sylvana Miolo (who with
her husband owned the caffe) would bring the meals to us
at the villa if we had company. It was a perfect arrangement - all
the advantages of living in the villa with the service of the hotel.
The custodian, Epifanio Marulli, and his wife, Elena, also lived
nearby - a block away - and could easily and conveniently come to
the villa each day as often as needed. Elena also made the curtains,
and full-length table covers for side tables as well as pillow covers,
seat cushions, and over-bed draperies. The florist (Luigina Squizzato-now
married to Fabio Scapinello) was in the piazza across from the villa,
and floral arrangements were easily made - including dried flowers
arranged for decoration throughout the villa. (The florist still
sends flowers for us to our Piombino Dese friends).
The land outside of the villa occupies only a few acres. This
wouldn’t be much for a well-to-do owner of a villa - and originally
there were hundreds of acres of farmland to the south of the villa.
The Cornaro family owned the villa until 1807 and the coming of
Napoleon - at which time it was sold and an inventory was made of
everything in the villa. Dr. Douglas Lewis discovered this inventory
in his research on the villa along with many boxes of letters and
documents concerning the history of the Villa Cornaro housed in
a library in Venice. The villa is well recorded down to minute details.
Fortunately for us, the villa is almost in the center of the small
town of Piombino Dese. This was perfect for us, as those who helped
us, (the custodian, and the various specialists and workers), all
were within a few minutes walk of the villa and could come quickly
if there was a problem. It rarely took longer than fifteen minutes
for someone to arrive and fix a problem. We had no phone for years,
but we could walk to the hotel across the street to call - or could
walk to the Marulli house a block away to phone or ask them to help
with some special emergency. Another advantage, the train, eastbound
to Venice or westbound to Bassano, was about a block away from the
It took us less than half an hour to get from the villa to Venice
and to be on a boat on the Grand Canal.
Being in the center of the town had many advantages. Owners of
great villas situated in the countryside amid acres of farmland
at this time, with more people going to work in factories, did (and
do) have difficulty in getting help - while we had little or no
difficulty as it was not necessary to get people to live at the
villa as their homes were nearby. When we did have to arrange for
the Venetian specialist workers to live near the villa for a few
months to do the cleaning and repair to the front of the villa,
this could easily be arranged at the little hotel - the Albergo
Palladio across the street. Actually, as it turned out, our
local workmen were better able to do this resurfacing repair work,
and they continued doing it after the Venetian specialists left.
Restoration of the gates and security
Another major piece of restoration was the restoration of the gates.
These were ornamental as well as massive. In front of the villa
were three pairs of elaborate wrought iron gates, the center crowned
with a stemma (family crest) which Julie got up on a ladder
and restored. Beside the villa was a West gate to use when entering
through the barchese; and at the south end of the park
on the other side of the bridge was a gate and gate posts (one of
which was inclined like the Tower of Pisa.) The major front gates
weighed at least 1,000 pounds. The gates were badly rusted and parts
Some tips of the spear-like finials were missing completely. These
gates were taken to the metal repair shop. Mr. Bartolozzi lived
(and had his workshop) not a block away on the Viale Stazione.
He was used to handling (and making) large metal fences and gates
that people felt they needed to keep housebreakers out. Because
he specialized in big metal work, he was set up to handle our repairs
and replacements and to do the work rapidly and at a very reasonable
cost. Mr. Marulli then lacquered and oiled the gates each year with
his special formula.
Later, when we had break-ins at the villa, we added an alarm system
and Mr. Bartolozzi made the bars for the windows which secure the
shutters. He created a clever design, strong but unobtrusive and
out of sight when the windows and shutters are open.
Stones, brick walls, and uncovering a fountain
There was a lot of work to be done on the brick walls all around
the villa, and Ilario Mariotto handled this work. He started by
taking off the posters and billboards on the front brick wall, and
Mr. Marulli ordered a sign (a type of special license we paid for)
which prohibits the placing of billboards on the property.
In addition, when we were not in residence in the villa, Ilario
got the idea that a stone sidewalk should be built around the entire
villa as was the custom before gutters were used. (We also added
new gutters where they seemed needed.) The stone walk would catch
the rain from the roof and keep the basement (cantina)
dry. He used smooth rounded river rocks in the antique manner and
it looked very good. I couldn’t do much about it, since when
we arrived at the villa the work had already been completed. Fine!
Along this same line, he did rockwork in a fountain that was uncovered.
On the grounds there was a lot of “uncovering” to do.
First the walk from the front gate to the front stairs of the
villa. This apparently was fashioned with large square cut marble
stones, but it had become covered with grass. To Ilario Mariotto,
this seemed not to be right for an important villa. So he started
to remove some of the grass to see what lay beneath. He was exactly
right. Under the grass was a cut marble stone walk, a fine part
of the entrance to the front of the villa.
For further “uncoverings,” we went around to the back
of the villa as a small portion of the grass in the center seemed
to be different from the rest of the grass in the south park.
of the villa What emerged was a large circular fountain of carved
stone. We traced the water line and discovered that there was a
well and so we had it professionally deepened enough so that a steady
fountain of fresh water came out of the artesian well. (We would
fill pitchers of cool fresh water daily for the house from the fountain.)
Ilario created a stone pavement in the “antique” Roman
style for the bottom of the pool surrounding the fountain using
the smooth rounded stones and creating a geometric pattern.
We planted flowers around the stone rim of the fountain pool and
this made a pretty center for the south park of the villa. A well
that served the house was deepened, filling the water tank.
The park and front garden
We added two rows of six evergreen trees along the center of the
park - and these grew to be very impressive until lightening struck
one or two after we left, and so they were removed, but for twenty
years, they were impressive. When we bought the villa, there were
many fruit trees growing all over the park and these were cut down
under the order of Dr. Douglas Lewis so he could get a good photograph
of the south side of the villa for his book. Actually, this made
a pretty expanse of green lawn and a good view of the villa, and
we added the evergreen trees.
The bridge is an added bonus and we, at one time, believed that
Palladio also designed it. At one time the stream had been wider
and the villa owner and guests would put their boats out and row
around a bit, but the stream had become lower over the years (except
on the rare occasion of a very large and heavy rain storm).
We asked Ilario Mariotto to repair the bridge, and this he did
quite expertly, using antique bricks (of which he had gathered a
large supply for us from neighboring houses that had been torn down)
and he also created a stairway.
From an old photograph, it was seen that there was a stone stairway
down to a landing so that boaters could board the boats in the little
lake. So Ilario reconstructed the stairway and the platform exactly
as the photograph showed it - with the oval river rock stones and
Ilario also did the restoration of the window on the west stairwell
where the metal door had been put, going out to the children’s
wooden shed outhouse toilets. He also removed the toilets and he
restored and rebuilt the garden wall beside these and removed a
large ugly bird aviary. He also put a “new” (antique
tile) roof on the lavanderia (laundry house) outside the
villa by the west gate.
As for the front garden, Mr. Marulli replaced the boxwood bushes
where they had died and the oval floral gardens, edged with boxwood,
were planted each Spring with red flowers. Large terra cotta pots
were purchased for the front and back stone stairways, and flowers
were placed in these seasonally (pansies in the spring and begonias
and geraniums thrived in the summer and fall).
The walls on the outside of the villa and graffiti on the
south portico and in the attic
For the repairs and restorations, we had to get permission from
the Superintendent, as mentioned earlier. Until we secured these
permissions, and usually these were in writing, we could do nothing.
The law dealing with national monuments is very strict in Italy.
For violations, one might even be sent to jail, and certainly fined.
Not that we wanted to remove them, but if we had wanted to, we
could not. The graffiti on the south side of the villa
(and in the attic) were quite old. Written on the south portico
walls in red chalk crayon were some dates of family births and special
events - dating from the 1600s. There is also a lot of graffiti
in the attic - some of it, I am told, written by servants, and some
later bits are written by soldiers. There is a large seventeenth
or early eighteenth century line drawing of a gentleman with a tall
hat and wearing high heeled boots and this is partially covered
over by a later strip of smooth polished plaster put on the wall
in the eighteenth century to discourage the mice from climbing the
wall and reaching the ceiling rafters.
The very large rafters and the ceiling and roof flat terra cotta
tiles (under the curved roof tiles) are exposed underneath and can
be clearly seen from the attic rooms.
The late Jeane Dixon, whose prophesies are well known, was a good
friend and although she never came to the villa, she described it
to us and also told of the attic rooms where some of the servants
lived and how they would look below (through inside attic windows
to the great second floor hall) to see what the people were doing
below. She also told us that the riding horses and carriage horses
many years ago, before the age of the motor car, would drink water
drawn from a well at the front of the villa . (and there are wells
by the steps at the front of the villa which we actually never reopened.)
Now as to the outside of the villa, Palladio placed the villa so
that the long side (center block and wings) would face the north
and most of the tall windows are on the north. On the southern side,
which much of the time faces the sun, it is hot in the summer and
there are few windows. Windows are in the large original worn brick
circular stairwells - which act as a buffer against the heat of
the southern exposure. On the southern side, the double level columned
portico is recessed so that the tall windows in the portico (upstairs
and downstairs) are shaded. The sun reaches the north side of the
villa only slightly in mid-summer. On a late fall or winter day,
or early spring day, the sun comes quite far into the great halls
from the four tall windows on the south porticos and is a beautiful
Little did we realize that it would be almost all but impossible
to repair, clean and restore the north side of the villa. For years
we were denied permission to clean it. We could only do some obviously
necessary restoration including filling of broken areas and the
recarving of a missing piece of the capital. Fortunately, after
about ten years, a new Superintendent of Monuments was appointed,
Arch. Gabriella Gabrielli Pross, and she was a great friend of the
villa and of us and saw no reason that the villa could not be restored
on the front. She did, however, require that we get specialists
from Venice to come and do this the way that it was originally done.
We retained a team of three plaster experts to mix the special
formula (specialists in marmarino and antique surfaces)
to come from Venice and stay and do the work. Arrangements were
made for them to stay and have their meals at our expense at the
little hotel (Albergo Palladio) across from the villa.
First, however, the villa was pressure steam cleaned and a solution
to cut into the mold and remove it was added to the steam. We learned
a lot about Andrea Palladio’s special mixture as well as his
use of brick dust under the plaster formula - which kept the plaster
dry. However, at first the experts put too much brick dust on, in
our opinion, as the pink brick dust showed through the plaster finish
slightly (particularly when wet). The plaster formula included sand,
marble dust, very small pieces of marble, brick dust, calcio (chalky
plaster) and a binding material like cement.
We put the experts up as boarders at the Albergo Palladio
and supplied their weekly paychecks (which were considerably higher
than we had been paying for our local labor.) But the change was
magnificent. The villa looked cream colored and breathtakingly beautiful
when the work was finished. However, the superintendent would not
let us put a thick coating of marmorino on the top surface
and so it will not last as long as it would have if we had been
allowed to used the marmorino (which is strong - and smooth
- like a coat of marble.)
We were amused (and a little jealous) that the owner of the Villa
Rotunda went ahead and restored the Villa Rotunda while we were
restoring the Villa Cornaro and did it his way - with the use of
a thick marmorino finish - and he refused to go along with
orders. The story made the newspapers.
They nearly fined him and almost put him in jail, but he is an
important person and said that he was paying for this himself -
not asking for funds from the government - and he would do it the
way he wanted to!
In our case, we did suggest to the experts that they use less of
the brick dust and we assisted our local specialist, Angelo, with
the mixture. Mario Formentin acted as our local general contractor
for this and did a good job. The front of the villa was covered
with scaffolding while the work was being done. The Superintendent
did have someone come from her office to see what we were doing.
The representative apparently felt that our work passed muster,
and we were not stopped. We also did restoration on the east and
west side of the villa where the plaster had been damaged or chipped
We had an earthquake and then we restored the small cracks on
the south side of the villa. The villa was not much damaged (just
a few cracks) because it sits on a virtual lake of subterranean
water and when the earthquake came, the villa just moved easily
back and forth and did not shake.
Dr. Douglas Lewis and Mr. Marulli were in the villa when one of
the earthquakes struck. The big door to the south portico on the
second floor opened and the floor started to tilt. They ran down
the stairwell and outside to the south park - and looked - and watched
in horror as the villa rocked back and forth.
Collecting antique furniture for the villa
Next, the antique furniture. We started to collect antique furniture
of the eighteenth century in 1955, long before we purchased the
villa in 1969.
We particularly chose painted Italian furniture and we collected
as much of it as we could find - where we lived in Washington, D.C.
and in New York. Much was bought privately as well as at auctions,
particularly the smaller auctions in New York. We also purchased
from dealers - particularly after buying the villa, when we purchased
a good number of pieces (virtually a truckload at a time) in Florence,
and we continued to buy antiques in Florence over the years. Some
was stolen in break-ins.
We also bought antiques in Venice, and we were fortunate to have
found some sixteenth century pieces in Washington, New York and
Boston. One Renaissance bed was purchased from a dealer in Boston
who had obtained it from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. We sent
many antiques to the villa from the United States. We did send some
back when antiques were stolen, but then we purchased additional
antiques in Italy.
The end of our ownership of the Villa Cornaro
To go back for a moment to the purchase of the villa. When we bid
on the villa, we thought we were offering a fair price. The Council
(Ente) rejected our bid, But then we were determined to
make the villa our European home and we felt that the villa needed
us as well, and that we were uniquely suited to appreciate it and
restore it and furnish it. Thus we bid more than the asking price.
We finally got the O.K. to buy the villa - signing the papers a
year later (July 3, 1969). Originally we had thought that it would
not take a long time to get the final Italian government approval
- from all of the necessary authorities.
So now how about selling it? And why did we want to sell it? Actually,
we had not planned to sell it, but when we ran into problems with
the local mayor and council (Sindaco and Consiglio) who
wanted to expropriate it from us and make it into a town civic center,
we realized that we needed to get it into a higher price category.
We had not paid a great deal for the villa, and the town council
saw this low figure and thought that they could expropriate it.
However, the Superintendent of Monuments in Venice and the Minister
of Culture in Rome did not want to have the villa in the hands of
the town. The town had a reputation for allowing their properties
(such as their town hall and their library) to run down and then
they would ask large sums from the government for restoration -
something like a “cash cow.”
We fought the town for eight years, (and have large boxes of papers,
reports, and letters to show for it) and finally (with the help
of the Minister in Rome and Superintendent of Monuments in Venice
and the American Ambassador) got the matter under temporary control,
but were afraid it would pop up again and unless the price were
higher, the town might find it easy to expropriate. The town would
have to pay (by law) as much as the last sale price and, thus, in
an expropriation could not pay less than the latest owner had paid.
So we advertised the villa for sale and were not flooded with
offers, but did get a few. The most excitement came from the town
Mayor (Sindaco) who said we were putting it up for auction.
We were not putting it up for auction, but asked Sotheby’s
to handle the sale through their international real estate division.
We had given them a price, but said that the sale was subject to
the approval of the buyer - our approval of the buyer. We were offering
our Titian at auction through Sotheby’s at that time, but
not the villa.
As it turned out, Sotheby’s sold both in 1969 for about the
same price - the Titian, however, brought a bit more than the villa.
Over the twenty years that we owned the villa, we had fitted into
the life of our little town of Piombino Dese. In fact, I counted
at least 159 people I called by the first name. Several little girls
were named Giulia for my wife, Julia, and several little
boys were named for me - Riccardo. We were invited to our
neighbors’ homes for elaborate five course meals and we entertained
about 125 neighbors at a reception at the villa each year when we
came to stay at the villa. It was an easy thing to do, as the Miolos
brought everything to the villa from the Caffe Palladio across
the street. Their two sons, Leonardo and Riccardo, would serve -
as did Sylvana, who prepared everything.
At any rate, we got significant offers. One was from an Italian
lady who wanted the villa for her son. However, she thought the
villa looked too much like a museum and wanted to furnish it more
casually. Unfortunately, her son was killed in an automobile accident.
A second important prospective purchaser was an American woman with
a large business involved mainly (as it seemed) in company takeovers
and advice on such. She had several large homes - Palm Beach and
Connecticut and New York (Tuxedo Park), but we felt that she really
did not have the time to keep track of the villa and manage the
problems that would come up.
The third prospect was a publisher of an important architectural
magazine in Germany. We wanted to be sure that the German buyer
would be welcomed into the town, and so we spoke to a good friend,
perhaps the most admired woman in the town, and asked her advice.
She felt that there might be some antagonism to a German buyer,
and so we went on to the next prospective buyer, and this buyer
was actually two people (or so it seemed). One was a Central European
couple and the other was a native of Hong Kong. They offered a handsome
price and seemed most determined to buy, but we felt that this buyer
(or these buyers) would not fit into the town and that they would
therefore never be happy in the town - and also their interest was
more in the Art Deco period. They didn’t want the Italian
antiques and we were not even sure that they would open the villa
to the public. We never signed anything with the Italian government
that said we would have to regularly open the villa to the public,
but we did, and we enjoyed doing it, and we wanted this to continue
to be the practice - as the villa is such a masterpiece (and the
design is so copied, worldwide).
The buyer, Carl Gable of Atlanta, Georgia, with his wife
So then we moved on to our final prospective buyer, a couple from
Atlanta Georgia, a prominent corporate lawyer and his wife. We felt
after various discussions and get togethers that these were the
ones who would be best for the villa and for the town and would,
in all likelihood, carry on things as we had.
In fact, we wanted them to be the buyers, whether or not they
would reach the offer of the European and Hong Kong prospects. They
didn’t offer that much, but we induced them to buy by including
most all of the furniture in the house. (They could move in with
just their suitcases and tooth brushes).
We thought that selling the villa would be easy - certainly easier
than buying it. It was easier, but not much.
For us to buy the house, the Minister of Finance, Columbo -(later
Prime Minister Columbo) had to sign two orders. One order was to
sell the villa and the other to authorize the government’s
selling it to us.
Now to sell the villa to our prospective buyers, the Minister
of Culture had to approve. But it was not simply to “approve”.
If the Minister wanted to, he could purchase the villa for the same
amount of money as our prospective buyer (Carl Gable) had offered.
Everyone held his breath waiting for the Minister’s decision.
He had much material to go over, detailed background of the buyers,
including their education, culture and financial standing. We pointed
out to the Minister that the Gables had a son who was a student
of architecture and who was particularly interested in having his
parents buy the villa. A daughter was a lawyer. They also had a
second son who was, as I recall, studying to be an engineer. The
whole family seemed to want the villa.
In the end, after some weeks, the Minister of Culture decided
to permit Carl Gable to buy the Villa Cornaro. We felt that Sally
and Carl were the best buyers and we feel even more that this is
true today. We were there to greet them when they came in late October
1969, after signing the papers, to receive the keys and we stayed
with them for a few days to show them everything. We also gave them
a party - to introduce them to their neighbors - inviting the townspeople
to come and also we invited a harpist to play in the great hall.
The guests brought many bouquets of flowers and these were decorating
the reception rooms when we left. They have maintained the villa
beautifully - opened it to the public, sponsored benefits, entertained
neighbors, and recently did major replacement work on the roof and
expertly restored the family portrait statues to reveal the original
marmarino finish. The Gables have established an excellent
set of web pages for Palladian villas and Carl Gable has written
a book on Murano Glass.
The maintenance of the villa over the years
What about the maintenance of the villa over the years? Fortunately,
we were able to secure (inherit actually) a good custodian, Epifanio
Marulli, whose reputation in the town was excellent. He could repair
almost anything from electrical problems to plumbing, could do carpentry,
and could do gardening and use the power mower which we purchased
for him to use. He would polish the wooden floors to a brilliant
shine with wax and buff the floors with our electric buffer.
He would wash the tile floors and paint and varnish the wood frames
on the windows. repaint and restore shutters as needed, oil and
varnish the gates, and white wash the cantina (almost annually)
repairing the walls where occasionally, with the dampness, plaster
fell off. Mrs. Marulli (Elena) would help him clean the house, and
would wash the curtains and she and Mr. Marulli would rehang them
on the rods and rings that Mr. Marulli had selected and put up.
She also made these curtains for the villa and made many special
things for us like the Italian flag we always put out on the flagpole
(attached to the second floor front balcony) on special occasions.
The flag was made (and first displayed) the year that the Italians
won the International Soccer Championship. She would dust and polish
the furniture, cut flowers from the garden, and water the geraniums
in the pots on the villa steps - front and back. If we had a party,
she and Mr. Marulli would see that everything was spotlessly clean
When we were to arrive at the villa, the Marulli family would have
the villa open, the shutters and windows open, flowers on the center
hall table, everything clean and polished and the beds freshly made.
Mr. Marulli would meet us at the airport in Venice - or at the train
if were coming from Milan - and act as our chauffeur for whatever
reason we might require a chauffeur. The Marullis were like our
family and would invite us to their home on special occasions and
to family weddings. (We still keep in touch.)
Mr. Marulli (Epifanio) could set the burglar alarm, and managed
to keep the housebreakers away all year long. He and Mrs. Marulli
kept a set of keys to the villa and when we were not there, they
kept everything in order and managed any emergencies. They also
opened the villa to visitors during the afternoon on the weekends,
May to September, and to groups by special appointments.
Later, the Miolos (Giocomo and Sylvana, Leonardo and Riccardo)
took over this, but for most of the years we were in residence,
the Marulli family would come and open the villa shutters in the
morning and come and close up the villa in the evening and open
the villa to visitors.
The villa is an Italian national treasure, There were no property
taxes on it. We could have borrowed money from the government to
restore the house ( and at a low rate) and we have heard of many
villa owners who received an amount of at least 20% of what they
had borrowed after making the last repayment - and in some cases
an outright gift of funds necessary to restore a national monument.
We were absolutely required to have fire insurance and in 1969
it cost $13 a year! We did add insurance for visitors and antiques
and liability for employees, etc., and the insurance did go up very
considerably - but at first it was $13.
At $1.00 to $1.25 per hour for restoration, and even with some
pay rises for restoration done over the years, our total outlay
was far less than it would have been if restoration was started
twenty years later - when we sold the villa in 1989. On that date,
the plumbers, woodworkers, electricians, etc., were up to $22.00
and hour. So at the rate of $22 an hour, what would our restoration
costs have been in total? Somewhere between $2,000,000 and $2,500,000.
What it would cost today to do what we did, one can only guess,
and few could or would afford it?
As a postscript, the amount of funds we received
from the sale of the Villa Cornaro was put into a charitable remainder
unitrust, which will benefit various charities and colleges and
universities, including the American Red Cross, The Salvation Army,
Harvard University, The American University, Washington University,
George Washington University, and CCNY - The City College of New
York founded by my great Uncle, Townsend Harris when he was President
of the New York Board of Education.