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Greece and Rome: The Classics

For a glimpse at pre-history decor, visitors to Greece can view the earliest known household, now ensconced in the Goulandris Museum of Cycladic and Ancient Greek Art in Athens. Dating from around 4000 B.C., the cache--displayed in its own, rather dark room--includes a wood table, some none-too-comfortable looking chairs and stone utensils. The Goulandris itself is worth a look, having won awards for being Europe's best small European museum.

Greeks are still decorating; internationally known interior decorator John Stefanidis, though based in London, has a big store in Athens as well as an idyllic private retreat on the island of Patmos (along with other rich-and-famous), a place to relax and soak up the ambient style.

Rome's influence followed on the heels of the Greeks. The whole of Italy is crammed with historic sites of every era--a wealth of design inspiration. (I knew an American architect so smitten by ancient Roman furniture that he bought several chairs dating back to Cicero to scatter about his New York apartment.)

Visit the Villa Imperiale near Piazza Armerina, Sicily, to see acres of 4th-century mosaics--including the well-known "bikini girls," devotees of the exercises of the day. Other scenes include hunting, fishing, bathing, the labors of Hercules and a Roman circus. Even back then, Italians were into serious decoration--and those were only the floors.

Venice is very special for design, of course. In Venice, get glass, paper, handmade linens, and try to buy fabric at Fortuny.

In the 1950s, Europeans and Americans were wowed by the Italians' brilliantly daring, contemporary interiors in Domus magazine. And today, they continue to invent, startle and delight us with their creativity.