Antonio and Carla Sersale know how to throw a great party. For more than two decades the couple—both warm, gracious masters in the art of hosting and hospitality—have been the stewards of Le Sirenuse, the famed hotel glamorously perched on the Amalfi Coast in Positano.
Antonio learned the business from his father Franco, one of four siblings who founded Le Sirenuse in 1951 and turned the crimson palazzo into a haven for Hollywood stars since the days of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. The secret to its longevity, then and now, is a steadfast commitment to the idea of dolce far niente, the elysian pleasantness of doing absolutely nothing except enjoying yourself. The Sersales sought to capture the same spirit at their residence in Rome, and they did so almost from the beginning.
“We like to entertain in the house very much in the same style that we would in the hotel,” Antonio says. “The style is the same, the lighting is the same. It’s got this great feeling. You walk in and it’s very cozy, but it’s very elegant.”
When they moved into their richly layered but decidedly unstuffy apartment, the Sersales decided to host a housewarming party. Except an Italian housewarming is unlike any other. On two stories and covering 1,600 square feet, their home is comfortable but not monumental, the living room fine for a party of 70, but not a bacchanal.
“We thought the living room was enormous, so we invited 300 people,” Carla says. By the time the day rolled around, their furniture had yet to arrive, and, due to ongoing construction, they had no power. So the Sersales sprang into action, renting some furnishings, lighting the entire space with candles, and asking their neighbors for permission to use the courtyard for the overflow of guests. In no time the living room became a dance floor.
“There was this crazy friend of ours who was going around constantly blowing out all the candles,” Antonio says. “He was drunk, and I started screaming at him, because we would have been in the dark,” Carla says with a laugh. “It was a great party.”
For the family, entertaining is not just a birthright but a love language, one that has been suspended while Italy grapples with the coronavirus pandemic. (December marked the first time in years they didn’t invite friends over for an annual holiday gathering featuring the mandolin and guitar duo from Le Sirenuse and waiters from Rome’s exclusive Circolo della Caccia club.) And their Rome residence is a deeply personal affair, an expression of their heritage and intertwined histories. The couple, whose parents were close friends, met in Milan in their youth before starting to date in their mid-twenties.
They settled in Rome only in 2005, after their sons Aldo and Francesco went off to boarding school and after Antonio’s life became less peripatetic (his earlier years had included stints in Mexico, Iran, England, and Switzerland). They spend the high season, March through October, in Positano, and the winters here.
Rome is, in a way, a getaway for them, as well as a place from which they can easily get away. “Whenever we have a flight,” Antonio says, “we come and spend the night here. It’s very much our base.”
Located in the city’s venerable center, just three blocks from Piazza Navona, the mid-19th-century property came with its own rich past; it hadn’t been touched for nearly 40 years by its previous tenants, the late parents of Giuliano Ferrara, a famous newspaper editor and politician who served in prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s cabinet in the 1990s.
The Sersales immediately got to renovating, adding a fireplace, custom-fitted bookshelves, honey-colored unglazed terra-cotta floor tiles—like the ones on the terraces at Le Sirenuse—and a ceiling fresco to frame the living room by the artists and decorators Barbara Gulienetti and Benedetta Proto, who hand-paint many of the details at the hotel. They are just two of the Rome-based artisans—the upholsterer, the framer, the lighting expert, the painting restorer—who also refine the aesthetic of the Sersales’ pantheon in Positano.
For the couple, the personal and the professional go hand in hand, like the caviar blinis and Negronis at Aldo’s Bar at Le Sirenuse, a juxtaposition that is brought to life by their eclectic collection of objets and artworks, each of which has its own backstory. There is, for instance, the handblown Murano glass by Carlo Moretti, who also produced the champagne glasses for Aldo’s. And then there are the sculptures by the artist Giuseppe Ducrot, who created the yellow fountain at Franco’s Bar. In their kitchen, the site of many a tête-à-tête and Carla’s preferred workplace, the table and the chairs were designed by the late architect Gae Aulenti, who also conceived Le Sirenuse’s spa.
Covering the walls in the living room and two of the bedrooms are suzani textiles from Central Asia collected by Antonio and his father and, in more recent years, by Antonio and Carla. Rather than place them behind glass, they chose to hang the works uncovered on nails. The frailty of the suzanis is part of their appeal. “A painting can last generations,” Carla says. “These suzanis probably will not outlast us.”
Federico Fellini once said that the allure of Rome is that every corner feels like a private apartment and everyone, no matter their creed or provenance, feels at home. But it’s also true that some residents make the city their own, poco a poco, weaving their stories into the fabric of an ancient garment of history. The Sersales did so after many three-hour drives from their paradise by the sea, and now there’s a piece of Positano in Rome forever.
“In Positano, we live in the hotel, basically,” Carla says. “Our life revolves around the hotel. So it’s nice sometimes to have a base that is ours.”
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