WILD AT HEART
Interior designer Olimpia Orsini has created a magically surreal lair in her home away from home in Rome’s bohemian Campo Marzio.
CLIMBING THE 70 STAIRS to interior designer Olimpia Orsini’s top-floor apartment in the arty Rome quarter of Campo Marzio, where the film director Federico Fellini also once lived, is no mean feat. Yet, once inside, it’s an experience altogether transporting and magical, as if stepping into the otherworldly lair inhabited by Titania, Shakespeare’s Fairy Queen in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Orsini herself is rather sprite-like, too. As she comes to the door with Giacomo, one of her two West Highland White Terriers, cradled in her arms, and a wreath of fabric flowers crowning her long blonde hair, a glint of mischief sparks across her feline aquamarine eyes. For the past 30 years, since first graduating in Jungian psychology and then taking a sidestep into theatre design in New York in the mid-1980s, Orsini has forged a reputation for teaming the distressed beauty of 18th-century pieces with some daring (and often challenging) contemporary art. Her home is at once breathtakingly dreamy and Dalíesque — described in the Italian press as a“wunderkammer [cabinet of curiosities] for the soul”. A taxidermy swan sports a pearly Chanel necklace, while a faded Gustavian chaise longue juxtaposes with an African fertility goddess and moody monochrome nudes by French-Romanian photographer Irina Ionesco. A dark cloud by Italian designer Denis Santachiara hangs poignantly over Orsini’s bed, yet her bedroom cupboards are scrawled in red lipstick with childlike expressions of love and joy. With its mezzanine design and high-pitched ceiling, the apartment has proved the perfect place to showcase her treasure-trove of old and new finds — some collected on her travels to such exotic places as Turkey and India, and others from regular rummages through flea markets in France and Belgium. “Everywhere I go, I find something — objects seem to call to me, especially plaster busts, which somehow I feel need me,” Orsini says. The designer’s projects have taken her from Paris and Milan to Kenya, and she buys pieces according to her own taste. “Not for the client but for me — then if they like it, that’s okay!” She sources the very best fabrics from Florence and draws on a team of artisan plasterers, carpenters and painters for her project work. For each interior design commission, “I want to make each house feel unique — a home must mirror the person who lives there”. Yet, once Orsini has agreed to do a house, “I change everything,” she says with a laugh. “I don’t just put in the furniture. I change the walls, the floors, the ceiling.” In almost all projects, she works with a signature backdrop of white and gold, as here in her own apartment, because “it allows objects to shine”. ››
this page: in the LIVING ROOM of her Rome apartment, Olimpia Orsini sits in front of a handpainted 17th-century canvas screen; side table is a piece of a 16th-century wooden church altar. opposite page: in another corner of the LIVING ROOM, theatre curtain is part of an 1870 French theatrical arazzo; carved grotto chair from 1700s Venice; 1870 painted wooden root; antique Handel lamp from the US; glass bubble sculpture by Antonio Cagianelli; 17th-century fish sculptures; painting by unknown artist. Details, last pages.
this page, from top: in the LIVING ROOM, taxidermy swan with Chanel necklace. In another corner, 1870s Napoleon III lamp on the mantelpiece; small monochrome photograph by Irina Ionesco; Russian crown atop an 18th-century plaster bust. opposite page: also in the LIVING ROOM, chandelier from Paris flea market; eyeball lamp by Marco Consolino; Anselm Kiefer ‘Sappho’ photograph by Claudio Abate; Paolo Maione Papa sculpture (far right).