Former Miss Italy, Creative Director & Founder of Martinuzzi Interiors
Before becoming an award-winning interior designer, Barbara Martinuzzi had a career as a model, being crowned Miss Italy at the age of 17. Though challenging, for ten years, modeling afforded her independence. Making the decision that the world of fashion modeling was not for her, Barbara moved to Zürich, Switzerland, where she founded Martinuzzi Interiors. Her intuitive and eclectic designs have been recognized throughout Europe and the United States.What an amazing home you have overlooking Lake Zurich. As I sit here with this incredible vista, clouds breaking on the horizon, I thank you very much for opening your home for ELYSIAN’S European launch. What a masterpiece you have created here with your expertise in home décor and interior design. Thank you, Karen. Why are you selling this magnificent home? This home is too big for me, with just my little doggie, Otto. I would like to move to something smaller and closer to town. It has been said that your untraditional childhood manifested in your creative ability? My parents never married. In the ‘70s my mother’s journey was definitely considered unique because she did not marry my father. They just fell in love. My father was 25 years older than my mother, and though their love story did not last long, it was very intense. I am the result. Did you have a good relationship with both of your parents? I did not have much contact with my father. I saw him when I was small, two or three years old, but we lost contact because he was living with his own family. I grew up with my mother and my grandmother.
You have achieved great success. At some point later in life, did your father re-enter your world?
For a while, yes.
And how did that feel?
It felt quite strange. In front of me was a person that was supposed to be my father, but he was someone I didn’t really know. Our conversations were distant, like meeting a stranger. Italy has a more rigid culture, perhaps, than many countries. How did your mother survive in that strict environment and the judgment that accompanied it? It is a good question because she was a rebel compared to other woman in the 1970s. It was a time when female power and independence from the male world was evolving. Mother acted independently her entire life, long before it was acceptable.
Was she an artist?
She was an artist, a painter, actually. She painted for ten years but stopped a few years ago. Before that, my mother was an entrepreneur. She opened a restaurant in Rome and managed it for two or three years. We moved to Turin, and from there, she worked for a real estate company until she opened her own company.
Was she successful?
She says her biggest success was related to me. She didn’t really want to have a career. Her career was to sustain me in my studies and in my education. That was her biggest goal. I think she felt she was successful.
Did your mother ever find love again?
Sad to say, but no.
And what do you do to make sure that doesn’t happen to you? I don’t think about it. I just live my life happily and am not looking for love. Love comes when you give love. What you put out . . . comes back.
Does she come to Switzerland often?
Well, she did in the past especially when the kids were smaller. She enjoyed her time as a grandmother. We have regular contact with her. She has always had an important role in my life.
Is there a lesson that you took from her life’s experiences?
Yes, absolutely! The same way she accomplished her successes with determination and drive I try to reach my goals with the same mindset. The pageantry world.
When did you first know that you were exceptional in that arena?
I felt like a normal child with nothing more special about me than my peers. I didn’t have confidence in myself even when I went into modeling. When I participated in the Miss Italy contest, I was not confident in my beauty.
Why is that?
Because my sense of beauty comes from the inside. It’s not visual or aesthetic, which probably is what other people saw in me.
Is that why your design work is so ensconced in the individual’s preference? The belief that beauty is inside out?
Correct. Every individual and every project is different. The aesthetic reflects the entirety of the owner’s soul. Maybe it is my design, but it is their vision. It is not my project just the imprint of the design.
How did you first get involved in pageantry?
Strangely enough, it just came by chance. I was in Turin at a disco club with my mother and some friends. I was only 17 years old. The Miss Turin competition was happening, and they saw me and invited me to participate. So, for fun, I went on the stage, and I won. The next day I was told to leave for the finals of Miss Italy in the Miss World contest. It was a surprise, but I packed my luggage, and I went.
And your mother went with you?
Yes, we went to Trento and participated in the contest.
And then you won the title of Miss Italy?
And then I won again.
Were you surprised?
Absolutely. I was a student and not involved in fashion or the modeling industry. I had not expected to be there. I just found
myself on that stage with a crown.
You modeled afterwards?
Yes. Then I started a modeling career.
And how long did you model?
Another ten years. It looks like my life goes by in tens.
During your modeling tenure, were there difficult times?
Oh, yes. Because competition is stressful… and to live every day where your future depends on casting or being chosen for certain publicity is hard. There are moments where you feel unsure and tired. To be successful, you need a lot of determination and discipline.
Most women that I have known that have been in the modeling world have had challenges with food. Food can become a big issue. Did it ever become so for you?
And it’s something no one talks about, do they?
No, because there is a kind of shame, unfortunately, associated with eating disorders. Even today, it is a big problem; anorexia or bulimia.
Did you experience either?
I experienced bulimia for one year. Nobody knew what that was, and I lived alone with it, not understanding why I felt that way.
How did you come through it?
I decided that the fashion world was not my world. The moment I decided to step back from all the constriction, restriction and rules, and get back to my life with myself, I started to find the balance.
Balance. Do you regret the years as a model, those ten years?
No, I don’t regret those years because they were also amazingly fun. I travelled and met so many people. From age 17 years old onward, I was basically independent and self-sustaining.
And that was always so important to you.
Turin is also important to you. Why?
Turin is a very interesting city. I loved it. I grew up and did all my studies there. I was always fascinated with the culture and history, which is still evident in every street. Living in that city was interesting and challenging. The French influence was also present and became part of my growing up and adolescence. While I have good memories there, I will not go back to live.
I will not go back to live in Italy. Even though my heart is still Italian, I don’t feel like I could adapt to the Italian rituals.
Because I feel different. I am more comfortable in Switzerland with more structured and more organized habits. In Milan or Rome, I feel lost, which is a contradiction because I also want to travel again. I’ve been in Switzerland for 20 years, and I want to explore the opportunities to work and lead in the rest of the world.
You have two boys?
I have two boys, one who just graduated from high school and the other who graduated from university this summer.
You are a single mother?
Miss Italy, world-renowned designer, entrepreneur and expat… and single mother. How do you manage?
It is a feeling of “well-being” and security, knowing that you depend only on yourself. You create your own happiness, day-to-day, without depending on another person. As a single mother, there are more challenges because kids want to be a part of a family, and my boys grew up in a family. Recently, I became a single mother again, but they always had a family environment. I guess now this nucleus or traditional structure is a bit less important for them. Having a single mother provides a good example of how a person can carry on many tasks at the same time successfully.
Do you see yourself marrying in the future?
Never say never.
How many hours do you work a day?
It’s difficult to say because my brain never stops working. I think about projects always; when I leave the office, in the evening or in the morning when I wake up.
Do you work seven days a week, or do you take time on the weekends too?
I don’t work in the office seven days a week. I often work half a day from home, which is more relaxing. I don’t count that as a workday. I take some days off from the office though on a weekly basis.
Do you meditate? And does that work for you?
Yes, I love it. I think meditation is an important tool to help our brain de-stress, relax and open up. Meditation creates a new point of view.
How do you stay so fit?
I participate in sports but am not really regular. I love to get myself fit. I go running, or I do cross-training in the gym. I try to keep myself moving even if it is just walking with the dog.
Where is your favorite place to vacation?
I love the Mediterranean. I am in love with the Maldives, where I have been going since I was 18. I love Africa, but I’m more attracted to Asian surroundings and the Asian culture.
Do you require quiet time, alone time, to be balanced?
Absolutely. Two or three hours dedicated to all my tasks and getting organized.
Professionally, has anyone helped you in a mentorship capacity?
No person comes to mind. I really grew this business alone, from nothing. I did not even know how business worked when I decided to open this company ten years ago.
You have won so many awards and are recognized in Europe, Switzerland and in the United States. Of the awards that you received, what was the one that made you the most proud?
All of them but the first one stands out. It was absolutely unexpected. The award was for the penthouse in Dottikon. I won the Best Interior Design in Europe.
When you learned you won that award, what did you do?
I had no words. I probably screamed with joy.
Ten years from now, what will you be doing?
Hopefully, I will be doing the same job but more work on a global scale and not just design work here in Switzerland. My goal is to expand my business and do interior design projects in different cultures. It’s inspiring and challenging, and it’s absolutely something I want to experience now in the second half of my life.
When I look at your aesthetic, you incorporate Asia, the Middle East and other cultures with very clean lines… almost an overtone of modernism. Your work is very eclectic. How do others describe your work?
I have heard different comments about éclectisme. Yes, and it’s true. My work stems from memories of my trips and travels when I was younger.
What is your process? How do you learn their “inside,” so you can build the outside or vision?
It is important to know as much as possible about the client and their lifestyle. Does the client want to change lifestyle, how many children, and other relationships . . . There are so many questions and details important to know before you have a vision for that interior.
How long does it take for you to get that vision?
Normally, it’s the first thing that comes into my mind. Sometimes a vision comes during the meeting, sometimes right after.
Do you draw it, sketch it or do you write?
I sketch first. I write down the important briefing details, and then I start to draw.
Do you work first from palette/color, texture or space?
First of all space. Layout is the first step. The color and the materials follow.
Is there another part of the world, other than where you vacationed, that is attractive to you, and you could see yourself living?
I’ve always played with the thought of eventually moving to Los Angeles. I think my style and vision compliments the taste of clients in Los Angeles allowing me to work freely with no restrictions. I’m also a big fan of the active and outdoor lifestyle which moves the city.
When you travel, do you spend your time on adventures, relaxing or just watching?
Well, it depends upon where I am. In the Maldives, I like to relax, but in Los Angeles, I would like to both watch and be active.
So, it really is situational for you?
What is your greatest accomplishment?
My kids, of course. They are my proudest and my biggest accomplishment.
As you enter this next chapter of your life, can you give me one word that describes what you are looking for?
And do you translate excitement into your work?
You also translate excitement into every aspect of your life, don’t you?
Twenty years from now, where will you be?
I will be maybe in the Maldives doing the design of a resort.
If you could ask God one question, what would you ask him?
I would ask for peace and equality to all children in this world.
What piece of advice would you tell a young independent woman, like your younger self?
Never stop believing in yourself. That’s the first rule. Whatever suffering you face, take it as reinforcement instead of letting it destroy you. Suffering has a transforming energy that can compel you forward.
Is that what you did?