Obama's absence from the Group of 20 meeting this week is likely to stall any progress toward remodeling the world financial system.
Upturn Thinking in a Downturn Year
by Asaf Farashuddin
Detroit, July 31, 2008 -- Long-term success is not only determined by how well a company handles a downturn, but also by its foresight in preparing for the next upturn. In the midst of a recession, corporate leaders are often forced to restructure and control expenses, but those who focus only on the immediate crisis may be left behind when better times return.
In Italy, a Church Turned Into a Vacation Home
Luca Giovannelli for The New York Times
Salvatore and Rosemary Mulia describe buying and renovating their Umbrian vacation home as a lark, as the most impulsive project they ever undertook, and as a labor of love.
The Westport, Conn., couple transformed an idiosyncratic ruin of a church into a highly personalized, luxurious vacation home — remarkably without a hitch, at modest expense and without speaking the language. They encountered no bureaucratic or legal entanglements, no logistical issues, and no aesthetic compromises.
The work began in November 1999 and was completed within a year, with the Mulias making only a handful of visits. “I have to say we didn’t have any bad experiences,” Mrs. Mulia said.
And now, they have put the house on the market and are planning to do the same thing all over again — but, this time, with a garden.
Sal, 59, and Rosemary, 56, are not architects, interior designers or real estate people; they run a financial services company in Westport. But when they bought the former church, they knew a competent architect was involved, the building permits had been secured and the structural work was complete. In addition, the Mulias had the foresight to hire a representative, an American expatriate living in the area, who could follow the project and free them from the chores of day-to-day oversight.
The church building is nestled among the white stone walls of some patrician homes near the main piazza of Trevi. It was built in the 13th century and converted into a church in 1646 by followers of Saint Filippo Neri, a priest who instituted the Oratory, a system of community centers still common in Catholic churches. The church was deconsecrated in the early 1960s.
Definitionremodel Show phonetics
verb [T] -ll- or US USUALLY -l-
to give a new shape or form to something:
We've completely remodelled the kitchen.
foresight Show phonetics
the ability to judge correctly what is going to happen in the future and plan your actions based on this knowledge:
She'd had the foresight to sell her apartment just before house prices came down.
Oratorian：司鐸祈禱會會士：由聖斐理．乃立（St. Philip Neri, 1515-1595）於1564年所創立；又名 Presbyteri Oratorri。著名的牛曼樞機即為該會會士。
The Mulias, who are Catholic, felt drawn to the building because of its history and the fact that Trevi is 20 minutes by car from Assisi, where St. Francis lived and preached. (Mr. Mulia was taught by Franciscans during his childhood in Brooklyn.)
It might confuse the average American couple who are building or remodeling a home, Mr. Mulia said, that his inspiration was St. Francis, “a hippie,” and St. Filippo Neri, “a man with a sense of humor.”
“These two men became our new patron saints,” he explained. “We wanted the house to incorporate the old and the new. We tried to combine religious artifacts with poster art and eclectic pieces. The end result is an amalgamation of our thoughts, our observations."
The building was originally about the size of a two-car garage. After renovations that increased the floor space by about a third, it now totals 200 square meters, or 2,153 square feet. The visual impact of its interior is more theatrical than devout. Like an old provincial opera house, the kitchen takes up a sunken orchestra section, a den fills the first balcony and the master bedroom peers out from the second balcony. The living room occupies center stage with a royal red sofa and armchairs facing a stone fireplace. There are two other bedrooms, three bathrooms and a roof terrace.
The fireplace is dominated by a copy of William Adolphe Bouguereau’s “Abduction of Psyche.” The Mulias paid some local theatrical set makers $5,000 for the work, which took three months. “We could say ‘No, the feet aren’t quite right,’ and they were able to adjust it,” Mrs. Mulia said. “It was like Photoshop with real paintbrushes.”
The painting is surrounded by a 17th-century trompe l’oeil fresco of twisted blue marble columns and carved wood that stretches up three floors and is crowned by a dove emanating from a burst of the sun’s rays, a representation of the Holy Spirit. The illusion of marble is repeated with rustic brush strokes on the painted wood of a side door, which leads to the dining room. Painted angels wing aloft in the vault, while back down behind a living room armchair, the graphic red painting of a forkful of spaghetti brings the grandiosity of it all a bit closer to earth.
What looks like a gilded theater box hovers at first-balcony level; it was originally the pulpit. The mail slot is an 18th-century donation box still inscribed with the intended beneficiaries: poor women in need of a dowry. The church bell sits next to the barbecue grill on the roof terrace.
When the Mulias were first shown the property in 2000, the building was being used as a garage. The church’s old stone entryway had been removed and a large hole cut in the wall to accommodate cars and trucks.
“When we first saw it,” Mr. Mulia said, “there was just a big pile of dirt, pigeons flying, an old ladder against a wall. It was like a stage set. They pointed and said, ‘Here’s the bedroom, here’s the dining room, here’s this and here’s that.’ But it was all in the mind’s eye, because there was really nothing there.”
As forlorn as it was, however, a lot of work already had been done. The owner, Marice Falcinelli, an architect, had bought the church with plans to convert it into a studio. He did not finish by the time he and his wife decided to move to the countryside with their three children, but he had made substantial structural modifications, erecting steel platforms for the balcony levels, lowering the floor of an attic to make room for a bedroom, and cutting into a large section of the main floor that was to become — at the Mulias’ request — a big, California-style kitchen.
While digging into the ground floor, Mr. Falcinelli inadvertently uncovered a crypt where locals had buried their dead. In another area he found steps leading down to a small room with Roman-era walls that the Mulias turned into a wine cellar with iron jail bars and prison keys. “We were thinking about Roman times — of Saint Peter and Saint Paul being held prisoner,” Mr. Mulia said. “It’s a pretty massive gate. You could stick a hand or head through the bars, but you’re not going to get out of there.”
When Mr. Falcinelli first showed the place to the Mulias, the couple hesitated to take on a construction site. But he gave them the keys and invited the couple to come back, which they did the following day, taking a bottle of wine and some fresh sausage up to the tiny terrace with its view of terracotta rooftops and olive groves. “As a finance person,” Mr. Mulia said, “I think in terms of money. I said, ‘If this doesn’t work out, it won’t bankrupt us,’ ”
The Mulias would not disclose what they paid for the property. But in 2000, and before the renovations, its market value would have been about 110,000 euros, or $100,000 at the time, said Luigi Marinangeli, who owns a real estate agency in nearby Spoleto. The Mulias say they spent $100,000 on renovations.
The house is on the market for 595,000 euros, or $773,500, and is listed with Casaitalia International, a luxury real estate agency in Spoleto. Mr. Marinangeli, who is not involved in the sale, says the list price sounds reasonable because property values in the area have risen by 80 percent since 2000. These days, he said, “top properties in Trevi fetch 3,000 euros per square meter.”
The Mulias said that hiring Joanna Ross, a former New York theatrical agent who has lived in Umbria since the early 1990s, was an indispensable move. She acted as their eyes and ears throughout the project, but Ms. Ross said the Mulias did much to facilitate the work themselves. “They were very easy clients to deal with,” she said. “They made decisions quickly and paid their bills on time. That had a lot to do with why it all got done so swiftly.”
The Mulias say they would happily retire at the house if it had a bit more outdoor space. They tried to buy a nearby courtyard, which was padlocked and collecting little more than weeds, but the owners would not sell.
So the couple gave up, put the house on the market and, in June, bid on a centuries-old farmhouse just outside of town.