Looking at Rooms as Love Affairs


A new book invites you into some of the world’s most sumptuous interiors, tenderly shot by photographer Oberto Gili


Oberto Gili/Rizzoli

GOOD MESS | ‘The house does not look like a museum; on the contrary, it is a very lively place that changes constantly,’ Mr. Gili writes about his own home in Italy.

One of the coolest things about photographer Oberto Gili, besides his enviable job, is that he has incredible taste. In gardens, music, houses, clothes, animals, food and women—he is Italian, after all.


Oberto Gili/Rizzoli

In Mr. Gili’s Italian house, his kitchen’s neon walls and kelly green cabinets are offset by dark-wood shelves and a worn leather chair—not to mention old jars and ancient everything else.

The first time we met he was the lensman and I was the model for a Town & Country fashion roundup of career girls at home. On the day of the shoot Mr. Gili arrived at my 300-square-foot apartment and began his scouting ritual, looking for a photogenic spot that would tell my story.

Wanting to impress, I had borrowed heavily from antiques dealer John Rosselli—art, a few accessories and a sofa from George Smith. I even last-minute-upholstered the inside of my Murphy bed in navy and white stripes.


Oberto Gili/Rizzoli

PAINTERLY APPEAL | A sculptural bronze bed in the Marrakech home of artist Claudio Bravo punctuates the pale space like black lines on a white page.

After 30 seconds inside my stunt apartment, Mr. Gili asked, “Can I see the roof, please?” Up the fire escape onto the black asphalt, I saw the first smile of the day. “This is so you Sara, no? Much better than the cute fake room downstairs.”

Busted. He knew the apartment wasn’t really filled with things I loved or even owned, and that a grungy downtown Manhattan rooftop was the more compelling story.

Over the last two decades I have worked as an editor on many photo shoots with Mr. Gili. Without fail, he gravitates toward the authentic narratives and entropic moments of real life—unmade beds, dishes in the sink, towering stacks of paperbacks.


Oberto Gili/Rizzoli

INDOOR GARDEN | Snapped by Mr. Gili, landscape architect Paolo Pejrone’s turquoise living room plays bright color against neutrals and shape against scale.

The photographer’s latest coffee-table book, “Home Sweet Home: Sumptuous and Bohemian Interiors” (Rizzoli), is a compendium of his top 32 shoots. There’s the New York apartment of junk-loving maximalist Mary Randolph Carter, senior vice president at Ralph Lauren, alongside old-world collector Gian Enzo Sperone’s Italian country house where every room is a nuanced still life.

Grand and not so grand, famous and otherwise, we get a voyeuristic peek into what real style looks like. “I don’t like to move things around to redecorate the picture,” Mr. Gili tells editor Susanna Salk in the book’s introduction, “I love the mess. The rooms should reflect the person who created them, not me.”


Oberto Gili/Rizzoli

LOOSE AND LOVELY | A flower arrangement in Mr. Gili’s Italian house is a casual mix in a not-too precious vase.

But don’t just look at the pictures. Steal the ideas. Like artist Anish Kapoor’s poetically minimal living room in London that manages to look cozy despite having only four pieces in it: shabby chic daybed, side table with interesting books, sculptural reading lamp and a warmly patterned area rug.

And for the courageously cool, Betsey Johnson’s acid-hued grunge loft from 1972 has even less stuff, but works a bold color palette that needs little else. Personally, I’m copying the red and cream striped armchairs that read as neutral in Paolo Pejrone’s Italian house.

Most of the decorating theft will come from Mr. Gili’s own country house and studio in Piedmont: threadbare American flags as makeshift slipcovers, wall-mounted marlins next to Italian candelabras, starfish glued to marble mantels, grass-green window frames against blue walls, pillows tied with silk scarves.

“I believe that without a love affair between you and your home, you will never have a great house,” Mr. Gili told me recently via email. “You should be in love, or sometimes hate, with everything—paintings, objects and furniture—they bring up memories and experiences that is the film of your life.”

—Ms. Ruffin Costello is a freelance writer and design consultant based in New Orleans.