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Italian love affair

October 23, 2003|Jake Klein

Villa Azure, the Medici, the Orsini, the Palazzo -- the list of Italian-themed housing in Southern California goes on and on.

Though the romantic names evoke a centuries-old landscape, they're actually attached to contemporary, high-density developments.

Blame it in part on "Under the Tuscan Sun," Frances Mayes' bestselling book that now, as a movie, has been thriving in the box-office top 10 since opening late last month.

According to Dora Epstein, coordinator of history, theory and humanities at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, the rise of American interest in Italian culture can be traced to two things: the late '80s and early '90s phenomenon of "yuppies becoming gourmets and discovering that there is Italian cuisine outside of spaghetti and meatballs," and the publication of Mayes' valentine to the Tuscan countryside.

The buildings here are easy to spot: stucco facades in one of three "Tuscan" colors -- terra cotta, mustard or ocher; arched windows with small, mostly nonfunctioning balconies; gable roofs; and interior courtyards with a water element such as a fountain, pool or waterfall.

"There is a broad and popular association with Tuscany as an idyllic place," says Dana Cuff, vice chair of architecture and urban design at UCLA. In the mind of the American consumer, Italian culture, she adds, is "about great wine, great food -- it's sensuous. Italy is all good in the American perspective."

Jake Klein

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