Empire of the Imperiolis

She continued: “I love to build more than I love to buy.” (More on “decorators as personal shoppers today.”) Down to the theater basement: “This is my real big saw. We have all kind of big-boy tools down here. We could actually build anything.” Ms. Imperioli was talking about her stepfather. Mr. Imperioli, on the phone, said: “I am very terrible at carpentry.” He excels in other areas. In addition to playing Tony Soprano’s nephew Christopher, he has acted in more than 30 films, written five Sopranos episodes, and co-authored the brilliant Spike Lee Summer of Sam film. “I wrote that when I was still poor,” he said.

Back to the tools: “There is such a tendency to do things on the cheap,” Ms. Imperioli said. “I abhor that. I have to have architecture in the space—a good floor, a nice ceiling, a sense of differentiation. The modernist tendency is economically based.” What about Corbusier and others? “Yes, well, modern classicism. Sparseness is not an aesthetic now. We tend to make everything from plastic and glass.” Are her interior-design clients all Empire enthusiasts? She wouldn’t reveal her clients, though her Web site shows some contemporary pieces mixed in with the Empire stuff. She said that her time is more taken up with the theater.

At first look, the cost of such upholstery—the silk, the seeming inlay—would be astronomical. A closer look revealed not gold inlay on the theater’s creamy lobby ceiling, but rather thin gold ribbon precisely applied in a cross pattern. “I used thousands of yards of ribbons,” Ms. Imperioli said. The medallions, rosettes, were painted with gilt. “You can get them anywhere,” she said. “Yes, Home Depot.”

“My father and I do 80 percent of the work. I did send out for feather cushions,” she said, looking down at a settee. The 50-some cream-colored silk-damask Louis XVI chairs for the audience members? “They’re reproductions. I bought them from a dealer. They’re clearly not antique chairs. They wouldn’t hold the 500-pound people in America.”

Their theater—which is so Méliés’ Magic Theater inside, or else 19th-century Russia—presents work (currently about three plays a year) set in convenience stores, bubble rooms, off-track betting parlors. Ms. Imperioli is nonchalant about the
incongruity. “When people come to a beautiful environment, they expect more. Somebody will put a piece of gum on the molding,” she said, indicating a piece of gum on the molding.

“All of our plays have some kind of social commentary,” she continued. “You have to be responsible to your audience. We don’t entertain; we don’t do musicals. We do plays of serious nature. We deal with a lot of dark, heavy matters.”

“We’re not opposed to doing something not realistic,” Mr. Imperioli said on the phone. “We’re interested in new plays. They don’t have to be set in modern times—we’re open. Maybe we’ll do something with a palace in it.”

Empire of the Imperiolis