Home is Where the Art Is: Master Craftsman Finds Canvas in Edinburg Road Home
In effortless fashion, any corner of Gilda Rorro Baldassari’s Hamilton home can charm an eye for detail.
From the outside Tuscan-inspired façade to the ornate interior molding and woodwork – every nook, cranny and crevice is the signature handiwork of 83-year-old Giuseppe “Joe” Damiano.
Damiano is an unlikely craftsman behind the exquisite novelties that stretch from the floorboards to the ceiling of Baldassari’s Edinburg-Road dwelling.
Quiet and a bit weathered from time, Damiano sports a collection of sooty nails and a crown of feathery white hair.
His is a dormant smile, one that must be earned in order to fully appreciate.
“I’ve got to be doing something all the time,” Damiano said. “It’s just in my nature.”
Almost daily, one can find the Trenton native seated atop a five-gallon bucket, sipping his espresso, his still well greased wheels spinning on which of Baldassari’s projects to tackle next.
Sketchpads are practically forbidden from this brainstorming ritual as Damiano drafts the blueprints for each new undertaking in the confines of his head.
“I don’t put nothing down on paper,” Damiano almost defiantly states.
There’s also seemingly no end date to Damiano and Baldassari’s arrangement, as a new endeavor, both big and small, undoubtedly surfaces once the latter has come to completion.
His closest friends say his trade secrets are likened to a grandmother’s secret sauce recipe, closely guarded and yet to be shared.
Damiano grew up one of 13 children, appropriately in the city that makes.
His Naples-born father, a renowned carpenter in his own right, passed his skills along to Damiano – some say by nature, others by nurture.
“It must be in my blood,” Damiano weighs in. “My father used to always say, ‘You do the back as well as you do the front.”
As a young boy, Damiano longed to enroll in art school; a dream that never came to fruition but nonetheless was culminated in other ways.
While he spent those formidable years meddling in mediums like sculpting and whittling wood, he fell into the nine-to-five grind working for a contractor in Levittown, Pa.
He spent a short stint in the U.S. Army, but eventually returned to his roots, his hometown and his trade.
While any number of solidly constructed homes stand as a tribute to his craftsmanship, Damiano really came into his own by way of local renovations.
He and Baldassari owe their connection to her late husband.
The Roman-Hall owner had once enlisted Damiano’s help to recondition and remodel his own businesses, much to the amazement of his guests and patrons.
“It’s a slow process because everything he does is by hand,” Baldassari said. “He doesn’t cut corners. It’s very rare for a person in this day and age to do what he does.”
It wasn’t long after the Baldassari’s nuptials that Damiano began to convert her Hamilton residence into a Tuscan villa.
Today, no one might guess that only a few years back, a fire wiped out the lion’s share of that work.
Patterns and designs, inlays, stained-glass windows, moldings and high-quality marble, granite and antique woods have since risen from the ashes, christening the rebuilt structure.
Events and landscapes throughout the world and history inspire Damiano’s work, from ancient ruins to the Statue of Liberty to Hailey’s comet.
During a backyard tour, Baldassari points out a fountain with pastel-hued groundwork that boasts an optical illusion technique, trompe l’oeil: a French phrase that translates to “deceive the eye.”
“I was told that only eight people in the world know how to do this,” she said of the impeccably laid patterning.
Damiano’s materials are just as diverse as his talents, with items like Trump-casino scraps, 7-Eleven glasses, a 400-year-old Spanish churches’ mosaic and even glass beads from the dollar store carefully embedded throughout the ground’s designs.
Among his greatest assets is Damiano’s ability to breathe new life into repurposed materials.
Left for refuse in a dumpster, stained wooden supports in Baldassari’s downstairs kitchen lived out much their days as table legs.
Another of Damiano’s recreations is on display as a multilayered eight-sided mantle centerpiece, odds and ends of three mirrors patched together in a single masterpiece of glass.
Even a recycled tree grate now serves as a stone-accented outdoor bench.
“It’s all so labor intensive,” Baldassari said. “You can’t hire someone to do this type of work. He does it out of love.”