smooth SAIL­ING

A for­mer bishop’s boathouse ad­ja­cent to an an­cient basil­ica in Venice has been mas­ter­fully ren­o­vated to marry the old with the new.

VOGUE Living Australia - - Art & Design - By FIONA Mc­CARTHY Photographer by FELIX FOR­EST

My hus­band went out to buy a fridge and came back with a house.” That’s the joke Ital­ian de­signer Ilaria Miani likes to tell about how her hus­band found Casa L’Arse­nale, their el­e­gant three-storey, six-bed­room villa on one of the old­est is­land dis­tricts in Venice. About eight years ago, he’d come up empty-handed af­ter a long day’s hunt­ing for a re­frig­er­a­tor that would suit the cou­ple’s small apart­ment on the Vene­tian is­land of Guidecca. He sought a moment’s peace in the gar­dens sur­round­ing San Pi­etro di Castello, a basil­ica that dates back to the 7th cen­tury, and it was here, next to the an­cient church — the cathe­dral of Venice un­til 1807, when Basil­ica San Marco claimed that honour — that Gior­gio found what was once the bishop’s boathouse for sale. “Gior­gio bought the house right there and then, with­out telling me,” ex­claims Miani. “He said, ‘There’s noth­ing to do to it, you’ll see — just the floors.’ ” In truth, “ev­ery­thing was rot­ten”, she laughs. “It took us three years to ren­o­vate and we had to sell three houses to pay for it!” Luck­ily one of Miani’s pas­sions, and in­deed great­est tal­ents, is breath­ing new life into an­cient struc­tures that have seen bet­ter days ( see page 172). As one of Italy’s lead­ing in­te­rior de­sign­ers, she is sought af­ter for her sen­si­tive ap­proach to restora­tion and sin­gu­lar flair for mar­ry­ing tra­di­tional build­ing tech­niques and crafts­man­ship with clean, con­tem­po­rary in­te­ri­ors. Hav­ing orig­i­nally trained as an art his­to­rian and gal­lerist, Miani first turned her hand to in­te­rior ››

“I looked back­wards to find the build­ing’s story. This al­ways gives me all the in­spi­ra­tion I need”

‹‹ de­sign in the early 1980s, when she cre­ated a small work­shop at the bot­tom of her house in Rome, pro­duc­ing frames for paint­ings when she couldn’t find any she liked. “At the same time, Gior­gio and I had started to do up farm houses in Tus­cany to rent out,” she ex­plains. “So I be­gan de­sign­ing all the things I needed for that — ev­ery­thing from ta­bles, chairs and so­fas to plates, nap­kins and trays.” In Venice, faced with a house in a state of se­ri­ous dis­re­pair and stripped of its orig­i­nal de­tail­ing af­ter years of ne­glect, Miani did as she al­ways does: “I looked back­wards to find the build­ing’s story. This al­ways gives me all the in­spi­ra­tion I need.” She searched the city’s mu­se­ums for an­swers and found them in paint­ings of Venice by the great 18th-cen­tury masters Francesco Guardi and Canaletto. In one paint­ing she saw the boathouse had a ca­vana (boat shel­ter), long since walled up and sub­di­vided, so Miani sought per­mis­sion to re­open it. In an­other, there was an al­tana (roof ter­race), “so we asked to redo that, too”. She kept the decoration sim­ple, cre­at­ing a cool, sooth­ing oa­sis of ex­posed brick, sal­vaged woods, and smooth sem­i­nato floors (lime mixed with ground pieces of mar­ble and coloured pig­ment — or ter­ra­cotta in the ca­vana — and then pol­ished) against an all-white back­drop of walls, fur­ni­ture and cur­tains. Fur­ni­ture is loosely cov­ered, long sheer cur­tains flut­ter in the breeze, and mod­ern art lends an un­ex­pected twist — like the punk paint­ing by Miani’s el­dest son, Or­lando, boldly tak­ing cen­tre stage in the kitchen. It’s the per­fect re­bel­lion against the lav­ishly dec­o­rated and gilded in­te­ri­ors of the palaz­zos that fa­mously line the Grand Canal. Miani has lent many of her sig­na­ture de­sign touches as well: ceil­ings sup­ported by thick, grainy beams; cus­tom- designed fur­ni­ture (the de­sign of the wrought-iron four-poster beds are in­spired by those Miani grew up with at her grand­mother’s house, the his­toric Villa dei Col­lazzi, out­side Florence); and a tex­tu­ral mix of the rough and pati­naed with the sleek and smooth. Bot­toms of an­tique cup­boards have been cropped and steel kitchen shelves el­e­vated to cope with the rise and fall of the canal wa­ter out­side; wood used in the ca­vana and loft was res­cued from a builder’s yard. “When they redo a house here, they think the salt is in ev­ery­thing so they throw it all away,” she says. The “very an­cient” green of the din­ing room floor was in­spired by Venice’s Palazzo Gri­mani. For Miani, it’s proved the per­fect place not only to rest and re­lax (it can sleep up to 16 with mul­ti­ple spa­ces to eat, cook, sleep and en­ter­tain) but to work, too. “It’s so quiet and I like be­ing able to walk ev­ery­where,” she says. “It feeds my love of art and ar­chi­tec­ture, old and new. Venice is a city that is truly very dif­fer­ent — here, the spirit of ev­ery­thing floats so freely.”

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