Photo: Courtesy of Liberty Entertainment Group
Nadia Di Donato Loves a Good Story, As Long As It’s Non-Fiction
The Toronto interior designer is a big fan of the Jean Sasson's Princess series and can't wait to read "The House of Gucci" / BY Shinan Govani / January 13th, 2022
A self-described “very visual person,” Nadia Di Donato needs to be transported somewhere when she reads a book, much like her design work at the Liberty Entertainment Group (one of Canada’s most successful hospitality groups, with venues on both sides of the border). The creative director has been working alongside her husband, CEO Nick Di Donato, since the company’s inception in 1987. She is the secret weapon, you might say, as she oversees event production and has received tons of awards for her work.
Exhibit A: The prestigious LIV Hospitality Design Award she nabbed in 2021 for BlueBlood Steakhouse in Casa Loma, a Toronto landmark. She added that interior design award in the historic and heritage category to two more she won for the pop-up restaurant Don Alfonso 1890 in the castle’s conservatory.
Di Donato catches us up on what books continue to inspire her, and make her dream.
What’s the best book you’ve read this year?
I spend most of my time perusing photos of the creative world – be it design, art, interiors or fashion – so when I find a good read it must have special meaning. I’m not a lover of fiction; generally most of my reads are biographies, true stories and histories.
In February 2021 I read The Last Duel: A True Story of Trial by Combat in Medieval France, which was written in 2004 by American author Eric Jager. Set in December 1386, it is a compelling story of the last officially recognized judicial duel trial by combat, where guilt or innocence was determined, as a sign of God’s will, by whichever combatant survived the duel. I would have never selected it, but my son was reading it (an ancient history major and lawyer, it was perfectly suited for him). Yet, it encompassed my favourite elements: It was a true story, set in a fascinating period of history and, most importantly, at its essence it debated the complicated issues surrounding the rape of a woman.
Although film adaptations of books may not do them justice, I recently watched the film version of The Last Duel, which masterfully showcased three distinct different perspectives of the same crime, as interpreted by the accused, the victim and her husband. Is perception reality? It’s a good question for a creative.
What book can’t you wait to dive into?
I just downloaded The House of Gucci but haven’t had a minute yet. I can’t decide whether to read the book or see the film first – do I choose the written word, or the visual expression?
What’s your favourite book of all time?
The Princess series by Jean Sasson has stayed with me. I have read and re-read Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia (2010), Princess: More Tears to Cry (2014), Princess: Secrets to Share (2015) and Princess: Stepping Out of The Shadows (2019), each time feeling an incredible depth of emotion. I’ve shared them with many girlfriends, and I still am drawn back again and again to learn more with each read.
It is based on the factual and spiritual journey of the protagonist Sultana, a Saudi Arabian princess, and examines timely and important issues including civil rights, faith, family, friendships, freedom, love, hate and personal self-discovery. I find new meaning on each read as I ponder my own life and growth, while reading Sasson’s descriptions of Sultana’s life – and her ultimate triumph – despite the horrors of oppression, control, human-rights violations and sexism (and more) that are prevalent in the culture.
What book completely changed your perspective?
The Secret by Rhonda Byrne (2006). Years ago, after much hesitation, I picked it up to see what all the fuss was about. With much skepticism, I finished the read in a few hours. The notion that thinking about things will make them happen in one’s life? Nonsense. Though many swear by it, The Secret‘s far-too-simplistic statements and misplaced clichés, silly quotes and superstitions aren’t new and not a secret to me.
Years ago, I lost both my mother and my sister to illness. While struggling with the loss, I needed to make a conscious and clear choice between falling into a black hole or channelling my emotions into creativity and my thoughts into positivity and empowerment. Strangely, The Secret continues to mentally surface when I’m confronted with challenges or opportunities. Hidden knowledge or common sense? What matters is that this book – in all its silliness – still resonates in the recesses of my mind.
If you could have dinner with any author, living or dead, who would it be?
Needless to say, my interviewer and Boldface Names author, Shinan Govani.