Sunset is Monica Damonte's favourite time of day. Two years ago, it was the soft light of a sunset filtering through the large living room windows of the interior designer's holiday home in southern France that made the house feel truly hers.
"I felt so warm and serene ... I couldn't resist it," she says, quoting the late novelist and politician Benjamin Disraeli: "There is no love but love at first sight."
When she first saw the villa in Gassin, a small medieval village in the heart of Provence, she knew there was something special about it. Beautifully isolated in the green, lush countryside in the south of France, a few minutes from lively Saint-Tropez, the villa is a romantic haven, surrounded by sprawling vineyards and gentle hills, the air redolent with the fragrance of rosemary and oleander.
For Damonte, there could be no better place to escape to for a quiet holiday with her partner Carlo, his son Andrea and her two daughters Victoria and Ginevra. "I immediately felt that this could be a safe shelter for my family, a place to be when all you wanted was tranquillity," she says. "The magical thing about this house is its easy ability to adapt to our needs every season, each time we visit. It just fits naturally into any moment of our lives."
As a reputed interior designer from Liguria in northern Italy, Damonte leads a busy life. In addition to owning Odulio boutique in Alassio, she is no stranger to celebrity, with an impressive portfolio featuring consulting and collaborative projects with clients the likes of filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola. Her sophisticated style and emphasis on bespoke design serve as her professional code and ethos, so it comes as no surprise that when it came to her own holiday haven, she held nothing back.
Confronted with the home's initial state - a sober yet nevertheless intimate Mediterranean villa - Damonte first imagined how she wanted it to feel. "I wanted to produce the sensation of a warm hug," she says. Using that as the underlying design concept, she set to work.
The house has since doubled in size and now includes a top floor to accommodate guests. However, Damonte was careful not to lose the calm and soothing intimacy that so beautifully characterised the villa. As such, the smoky walls and dark wooden floors - which could so easily have made the space feel heavy - were paired with soft fabrics in jewel tones that leaned more towards opulence than sombre gravity. Similarly, bright touches of brass lifted the décor and lit up the interior. The overall effect now is one of bourgeois elegance and lush comfort.
Not a single room in the house was designed purely for function - rather, Damonte wanted the family to fully enjoy each space, whether they were warming themselves in front of the fireplace, relaxing in the kitchen while sampling the local cheese and jam, or in bed having a leisurely lie-in.
"It's our special cocoon - we would come here every weekend and during the holidays to spend time together, having fun doing nothing," Damonte says. "What I love the most is sitting in the living area on my beloved Eames lounge chair, just reading and looking out at the garden." Her limited-edition Eames chair has accompanied the designer on many a move, and she loves it for its timeless, classic style.
She's also a fan of British designer Tom Dixon, and his sleek black stools are instantly recognisable in the chic kitchen space. But many of the other pieces in the home were designed by Damonte herself, including the tables in the kitchen and on the outdoor terrace, and the modern, geometric fireplace in the living room.
This exquisitely designed home makes the surrounding natural beauty all the more palpable, and the peaceful scenery is one of Damonte's favourite features. "From my bedroom you can see the sea and the Bay of Saint-Tropez, not to mention the rolling hills with the vineyards of Château Minuty in the morning light - one look is all it takes to re-energise yourself," she says.
"It's wonderful to feel isolated in the countryside, yet still be only a few minutes away from the glamour of the French Riviera. The beauty of spending our free time here is being able to alternate the lively atmosphere with private moments of solitude and relaxation."
The villa is a haven and holiday home, so it's no wonder the Damonte family visits it often to get away from their everyday lives. "It's my refuge," the designer says. "I can stay here for hours reading ... indulging in the sensation of complete rest, the changing colours of the sky. It's magical."
Edited by Jacqueline Tsang
Designer Monica Damonte, her partner Carlo, his son Andrea, and her daughters Victoria and Ginevra
Favourite Indoor Spot
Sitting by the window on her treasured limited-edition Eames chair, gazing out at the garden
Favourite Outdoor Spot
Gathered with loved ones in the garden, sheltered by lush greenery, dining at the outdoor table Damonte herself designed