Meet the Designer: Alessandra Branca
"I pride myself that my life is work and family," says an Italian designer launching her own line of home décor.
Born in Rome to a family that traces back before Christopher Columbus, Alessandra Branca grew up surrounded by color and the idea of embellishing her surroundings, “In Rome color is the basis of everything. The food, fashion, architecture—there’s an incredible riot of color no matter where you go.”
As an Art History student, in her teens she started collecting architectural and natural history prints, and after attending Lake Forest College and marrying an American, she opened a print business. Her shop, fashioned to look like a charming home, led to requests from customers to decorate for them. Gradually that evolved into her full-time business, now enhanced by Casa Branca home décor collections.
With three grown children, she and her husband live in Chicago, Palm Beach and Harbor Island in the Bahamas, with homes often near her offices. “I pride myself that my life is work and family.” A frequent traveler, Branca is still grounded in Rome, which was her first post-Covid destination. “It was important to go home and see my family. The first thing everyone should do is to go home.”
What influences do you draw from your two disparate hometowns, Rome and Chicago?
From Rome, the spirit and passion, then from Chicago, its amazing work ethic. The combination is the “magic” that enables me to do what I do. You can have all the ideas in the world, but if they can’t be put into action, it doesn’t matter.
What was the impetus for Casa Branca?
I’ve been doing custom for clients when I couldn’t find what I wanted. It wasn’t a far step to create collections out of all these crazy ideas in my head. Why not take a step and let a bigger world come in?
What are some ways your love of travel inspires the collection?
Grasscloth is produced in Madagascar, there’s toile combining France and China, paisley from India. Our stripe was inspired by a room in Sansouci Place near Berlin, Germany.
Why do you say, “design is about living, not a picture?”
Think of design as a solution for a lifestyle, not just how it looks, but how it works: now, in the near future, in the long term. Pretty is gravy, but the basic trait is to resolve issues and create the highest functioning space we can.
Why is that especially pertinent post-Covid?
In many ways, it has revolutionized what we’re doing in interiors. We’ve all spent extended times in our homes and learned how they can best serve us. I think we’ll come together now more often in our homes and have a deeper understanding of what a home can do for us.
How has the lockdown transformed dining spaces?
We’re finally able to appreciate them. Dining rooms began to be multi-use spaces. I often make them a library—during the day, you work at the table, where later, you entertain friends at a meal. I slipcover the chairs so they’re more informal and comfortable; then when you entertain you take them off to be dressy.
What’s an economical way to redecorate a bedroom? To update the room, get great quality sheets, the best you can afford. All the decorating in the world won’t make up for yucky sheets. You spend so much time in bed, you need to take care of yourself there; get the best time out of it. And no TV in the bedroom.
Is beige anathema?
I often use it, but as a backdrop with shots of color—pillows, lampshades, French chairs. It’s a great way to dip your toe into color.
What doesn’t mix?
I’m not sure I would do paisleys and florals together. But having said that, it’s possible. You have to think carefully about what you mix. It’s like cooking: you can’t put too many spices in something, you have to learn the rules and then be creative. Too much of anything is not great.
What is your own favorite color?
You’re going to make me say red!!! Actually, it’s coral. People tend to choose the blue reds, but I love the warmer side of red; it works north and south, in the city and country, in the tropics and mountains, like that wonderful peony, a deep pinky Pompeiian red.
Why are you fond of Connecticut?
In the eyes of a foreigner, it has history and culture. Vernacular architecture, the landscape, rolling hills, drive-through villages like France and England. It’s different, and that’s what’s beautiful: keeping wonderful areas that have character.
The print version of this article appears with the headline: Alessandra Branca.
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