Adriana Trigiani, an award-winning playwright, television writer and documentary filmmaker, whips up the laughs in her latest novel, "Rococo." She tells the tale of a popular New Jersey interior designer offered his dream job — decorating the town's church. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity takes him from his small hamlet to the capitals of Europe, with a cast of sexy characters in tow. Read an excerpt:
Part of chapter one: ’The Duke of Decor on the Jersey Shore’1970
I want you to imagine my house. It's a classic English country cottage, nestled on an inlet overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in the borough of Our Lady of Fatima, New Jersey, about five miles north of Interlaken. The fieldstone exterior gives the illusion of a small fortress, so I softened the overall effect with white hyacinth shrubs and a blanket of sky-blue morning glories cascading over the dormers like loose curls on a cherub. After all, a man's home must first be inviting.
Every morning at sunrise a honeyed pink light fills the front room, throwing a rosy glaze on the walls that cannot be achieved with paint. Believe me, I've tried. I settled instead for a neutral shade on the walls, a delicate beige I call flan. When the walls are tame, the furnishings need to pop. So I found the perfect chintz, with giant jewel-toned flowers of turquoise, coral, and jade bursting on a butter-yellow background, to cover my Louis Quatorze sofa and chairs. The upholstery soaks up the light and warms the room better than a fire blazing in the hearth. Anyone who says you will tire of a bold pattern on your furniture is a fool. The right fabric will give you years of joy; it can become your signature. Scalamandre's Triomphe #26301 has my name on it. My day begins at dawn as I take my cup of strong black espresso outside. I learned this ritual from my mother, who worked in a bread shop. Bakers are the great philosophers of the world, mostly because they have to get up early. When the world is quiet, great art is created-- or, at the very least, conceptualized. Now is the moment to sketch, make notes, and dream.
From my front porch, a dignified, simple portal with a slate floor (I laid the charcoal-gray, dusty-mauve, and smoky-blue slabs myself), I watch the colors of the sky and sea change at the whims of the wind. Sometimes the ocean crashes in foamy white waves that look like ruffles. Then, suddenly, the light is gone and everything turns to gray satin. When the sun returns, the charcoal clouds lift away and the world becomes as tranquil as a library, the water as flat as a page in a book, Venetian glass under a blue cloudless sky.
What a boon to live on the water! Such delicious shades and hues! This is a template worthy of the greatest painters. The textures of sand and stone could inspire incomparable sculptures, and the sounds-- the steady lapping of the waves, the sweet chirping of the birds make this a sanctuary. I soak up the view in all its detail and translate this glorious palette to the interiors of local homes. You see, I am the Town Decorator.
Many have compared our little borough to the village my family emigrated from, the enchanting Santa Margherita nestled in the Gulf of Genoa on the Mediterranean coast of Italy. I've been there, but I favor my hometown over the original. Italy, despite its earthiness and charm, can never be New Jersey. Here we value evolution and change; Italy, while it warms the heart, is a monument to the past. In America we change our rooms as often as our fashions. In Italy you're likely to find throw pillows older than the Shroud of Turin. It's just a different way to live.
Part of my job is to convince my clients that change is good, then guide them to the right choices. I remember when I installed a velvet headboard on my cousin Tiki Matera's double bed (she was plagued by insomnia from the cradle) and she told me that, for the first time in her life, she felt so secure that she slept through the night. That Art Deco touch changed her room and her life — not a small thing. That's the business I'm really in: creating appropriate surroundings to provide comfort and that essential touch of glamour. I built my company, the House of B, and my reputation on it. HOB stands for the eye of Bartolomeo di Crespi and the guts of beauty itself: truth, color, and dramatic sweep, from slipcover to oven mitt. I don't fool around. My work can't be defined by one particular style. The rococo period where French design and Italian flair came together make my heart leap for joy in my chest. But, I love them all: Chinese Modern, Regency English, French Norman, Prairie Nouveau, Victorian (without the precious), Early American (with the precious), all the Louises from I through V (Vuitton, of course), postwar, prewar, bungalow, foxhole, and even the occasional log cabin. I can go big and I can do small.
I work from the inside out. Truly great interior design includes the rooms you live in and everything your eye can see from your windows. I often bring the colors from outside indoors, which soothes the eye and creates harmony. I may install a reflecting pool outside your living room to catch the moonlight, or plant a garden of wildflowers with a rose arbor anchored over a flowing fountain beyond your kitchen window, or perhaps place a wrought-iron loveseat surrounded by lilac bushes outside your bedroom for a midnight rendezvous. Your home should inspire you to greater heights of emotion. It should crackle with color and pizzazz. Every detail is important; every tassel, tieback, and sheer should say something. Under my trained eye, stale corners become Roman baths, while bland entryways become magnificent foyers and crappy pasteboard ceilings become frescoes. Let's face it, I can take a ranch and turn it into a villa. In fact, I did that very thing right on Vittorio Drive, three blocks away. My life as a decorator began not with a sudden flash of inspiration, but with a problem. I was born without symmetry. This is not my real nose. As soon as I was old enough to pull myself up onto the stool in front of my mother's dressing table (an Art Deco red enamel vanity with a pink velvet seat circa 1920), where I could pull the side mirrors in to study my face from three angles, I realized that something had to be done. From the east, my nose looked like a fin on a Cadillac, from the west, a wedge of pie, and dead on, a frightening pair of black caverns, two nostrils so wide and deep you could lose your luggage in them. It had to go.
As an Italian American, I was born into a family of prominent noses. The di Crespi clan was known for their fish (Pop had a dinghy for clamming and crabbing, and a storefront in town to sell his catch) and their profiles. We were not alone. Our neighbors were also of Italian descent, many from the same village, and they too had versions of the Schnoz. The variations included all possible shapes, angles, and appointments, all with the same result: too large.
I was raised to be proud of my cultural and nasal heritage, so it wasn't shame that brought me to the surgeon, it was a desire for perfection. My instinct is to create balance. Faces, like buildings, require good bones.
As soon as I could save up enough money (I worked after school and for five summers in the Mandelbaums' bank as a coin sorter and roller), I took the bus from Our Lady of Fatima (or OLOF) to the office of Dr. Jonas Berman on East Eighty-sixth Street in Manhattan. I was eighteen years old with a spiral-bound sketch pad under my arm and a checkbook in my pocket.
First, I'd drawn a self-portrait in charcoal, showing my original nose. Then, in a series of detailed drawings, I fashioned the nose I wanted from every angle. Dr. Berman flipped through the pad. Amazed at my artistic skill, he cited Leonardo da Vinci's pencil sketches of early flying machines as being substandard to my talent. If I was going to have rhinoplasty, I wanted to make sure I had the nose of my dreams. I didn't want a hatchet job that would leave me with a Hollywood pug. I wanted regal, straight, and classic. In short, Italianate without the size. I got exactly what I wanted.
Excerpted from "Rococo," by Adriana Trigiani. Copyright 2005. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of Random House Publishing Group.