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In Conversation With


James Valeri & Matthew Adams. Photo by Chiara Barzini.

In search of a change of pace and lifestyle, Italian American stylist, James Valeri, and his husband, Matthew Adams, left New York for the quiet seaside town of Orbetello in the South of Tuscany. Nestled in-between the foothills of Grosseto and golden, sandy shores dotted with green palm trees, the charming peninsula town is steeped in rich history and culture. A more than apt setting to bring together James’ Italian heritage and discerning taste with Matthew's more than 30 years of hospitality experience, culminating in the birth of Casa Iris. A 16th Century Palazzo turned Bed and Breakfast.

From soft pastels and original frescos restored by none other than the same team that has worked on the Sistine Chapel; to 17th Century marble sinks and specially commissioned brass fixtures handmade in Rome. James and Matthew left no stone unturned as they restored the 500-year-old Palazzo and honored its historic allure. Imbued with classic elegance, Casa Iris has now become a must-visit amongst its globetrotting, discerning clientele and is a B&B experience like no other.

Why did you decide to leave New York for Italy? What year was this?

1996, for a change of life… a different environment outside of America where the values are very different.

What inspired you to get into business together with this B&B?

It was a passion project for us both. For James it was a chance to try his hand with décor and design and for Matthew it was a chance to use his 30 years of hospitality experience in a new way and in a serene environment.

Photo by Serena Eller.

How did the two of you meet?
We met in New York while I was back and forth from Oregon opening a restaurant. We connected through an online dating app and fell for each other instantly. Within two months we were living together in the East Village.

What were you both doing at the time?

Matthew - I was a Director of Operations for Pok Pok Restaurants.
James - I was a freelance stylist for fashion also burning the candle at both ends to launch my magazine, Document Journal (which I have since sold).

Photo by Paolo Di Lucente.

Palazzo Raveggi has been in James’ family for nearly 100 years — did you know all along what you wanted to do with it, transforming it into a B&B?

Not really. We came to Italy looking at farms initially, but the projects were overwhelming. The family home had been on the market for a couple of years, so we took a closer look at it and saw the potential.

Any tips for others who might like to renovate a property into a B&B?

Yes, do all the research you can about the property, the zoning and the local laws. This country is full of surprises. Also, budget yourself a lot of patience.

In what ways has your life changed for the better since you made the transition from New York to Italian B&B owners?

We enjoy a healthier, calmer life, more connected to the earth and people.

Photo by Paolo Di Lucente.

What’s the most stimulating part of your job?
The relaxation and satisfaction of our guests.

What part of your job takes you to a place of zen?

The moments in a day when everyone has checked out and we have some time before check-in. Experiencing the house empty, the smell of fresh flowers and a breeze coming through the curtains. It’s a small moment of rebirth.

Photo by Paolo Di Lucente.

What are the highlights of your careers to date?
Matthew - Helping to win a Michelin Star while I was Operations Director for Pok Pok Restaurants in NYC.
James - Hosting Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons at my table for a launch party of my magazine.

Polaroids from the Document Journal ‘Launch Party’ by Maripol.

During renovation, you mention paintings from three different ages emerged: the late 1700s, the 1800s, and the Art Nouveau period — can you tell us a little about that?
The building is 500 years old. Over the centuries the fashion would change and the paintings would be updated. We aimed for the layers that were most intact.

Photo by Paolo Di Lucente.

If you could own any piece of art or furniture, regardless of the price, what would you choose?

James - The Problem Paintings by Urs Fischer.
Matthew - Three Studies of Lucian Freud by Francis Bacon.

You live and work in an idyllic holiday destination — where do you like to holiday personally?

Palmarola Island, in Italy.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Matthew - Electronic gadgetry.
James - Gelato.

Photo by Paolo Di Lucente.

If you could host a fantasy dinner at Casa Iris with any guestlist (dead or alive), who would be there?
Oscar Wilde
Sharon Stone
Zelda Fitzgerald
Gore Vidal
James Joyce
Dave Chapelle

Photo by Paolo Di Lucente.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
I don’t know that it exists. I feel that friction is an ever-present force that we all deal with in one form or another. It shapes us… makes us who we are.

Photo by Paolo Di Lucente.