IN THE PINES

VOGUE Living Australia - - CONTENTS - VL

Nes­tled in the Alps and over­look­ing spec­tac­u­lar Lake Como and the moun­tains be­yond, an im­pos­ing 1910 villa glides into 21st-cen­tury life thanks to its de­sign-savvy Aus­tralian own­ers

GE­ORGE CLOONEY IS LAKE COMO’S most fa­mous res­i­dent and chose a front-row seat to savour one of the world’s most spec­tac­u­lar views — but Aus­tralian An­drea Duff and her part­ner, Robert Sch­wamberg, pre­ferred the dress cir­cle when they bought this hand­some Art Nou­veau villa. The peri­patetic pair ar­rived in north­ern Italy in 2015, hav­ing just com­pleted a cross­ing of the At­lantic Ocean to the Caribbean on their yacht. “We were won­der­ing what to do next,” says Duff, a for­mer fash­ion stylist. “We had spent many years sail­ing in the Mediter­ranean, and we had played the ‘Could we live here?’ game.”

Pre­vi­ously, Duff and Sch­wamberg had been on a five-coun­try mo­tor­bike tour of the Alps re­gion that in­cluded Lake Como. A Har­ley-David­son also brought Clooney here, back in 2001 — and like the US ac­tor, they were se­duced by the re­gion’s beauty and boun­ti­ful sea­sonal pro­duce.

Liv­ing be­side the wa­ter was less ap­peal­ing. “Be­ing right on the lake didn’t work for us,” says Duff. “There is only one main road and a lot of con­ges­tion dur­ing sum­mer. Many homes are built onto the road, and you step out into the traf­fic. We needed more space and less noise, so we headed for the hills. It’s qui­eter but with easy ac­cess to the lake.” They found Villa Casasco, a 1910 Lib­erty-style, five-bed­room villa tucked into a val­ley between Lake Como and Lake Lugano just over the bor­der in Switzer­land. Orig­i­nally built as the lo­cal mayor’s home, it had “grand and im­pres­sive pro­por­tions”, says Duff. “So we have the space and views of the moun­tains and na­ture on our doorstep.” Each of its three lev­els is a gen­er­ous 200 square me­tres, while its sprawl­ing grounds ex­tend into wood­lands with pines, larches and chest­nut trees. “It felt re­ally good,” she says. “We could imag­ine our­selves in the space. It didn’t feel too grand or big for the two of us.” It also had good bones and was struc­turally sound. “Not hav­ing lo­cal knowl­edge and lan­guage skills, we did not want to un­der­take a ma­jor ren­o­va­tion.” How­ever, their dream re­treat came with three glar­ing faults. First, the kitchen and hall­way were poky and needed a more ef­fec­tive flow. Else­where, the prob­lem was too much flow — as the house was built di­rectly onto the slab with no foun­da­tions, damp had seeped into the down­stairs walls and floors over the years.

Most jar­ringly, it suf­fered what could best be de­scribed as se­ri­ous cit­rus over­load. “The villa was painted the most lurid pos­si­ble shade of limon­cello,” Duff re­calls. “The in­side walls and ceil­ings were the same op­pres­sive shade, or or­ange — headache-in­duc­ing colour com­bi­na­tions. And the car­pet was… yel­low!”

Dur­ing a three-month ren­o­va­tion, she and Sch­wamberg lev­elled and retiled the down­stairs with a hexag­o­nal porce­lain tile, to help deal with mois­ture build-up, and also re­paired the plas­ter walls with a breath­able wa­ter­proof mem­brane. They re­moved a wall between the kitchen and the hall­way to let in more light, too, with a steel beam re­quired to sup­port the five-me­tre-wide open­ing. Else­where, they mod­ernised “dated and cheap” fin­ishes and painted both in­side and out white. “We had to get the place back to white, to un­der­stand how the prop­erty worked,” says Duff. She re­placed 1960s or­ange bub­ble glass on the in­ter­nal doors with smart bev­elled glass and changed all the door and win­dow hard­ware to a more sub­stan­tial nickel, in keep­ing with the style of the villa. She did re­tain some zany fea­tures, such as “the mad tiled bath­rooms that I have come to love. They are so 1970s, and it’s crazy that I am con­tin­u­ally adding things to make them even more dra­matic”.

Duff then fur­nished the home in what she terms “mod­ern vin­tage — a mix of Dan­ish and Ital­ian finds from our trav­els in Europe. There is a bit of a black-and-white theme go­ing on, which is ground­ing but also gives im­pact”. She in­cluded a nod to her roots, too. “Aus­tralian de­sign favours re­laxed and live­able spa­ces — I love beau­ti­ful things, but com­fort takes pri­or­ity”. Sim­i­larly, the out­door life­style Down Un­der re­flects the way the gar­den was con­ceived, “with places to stay in and out of the sun”.

The cou­ple spends a lot of time out­doors dur­ing the sum­mer, but they bunker down in the brisk win­ters. “We put the Art Deco club chairs in front of the fire­place and layer up with rugs and cush­ions for a cosy, lay­ered look,” says Duff. “We do more en­ter­tain­ing dur­ing win­ter, and then the fo­cus is the kitchen, which is large enough for ex­tra chefs and peo­ple watch­ing the prepa­ra­tions.”

Now even more peo­ple can share the fun. Duff and Sch­wamberg fre­quently re­turn to Aus­tralia to visit fam­ily and friends and check up on their farm in By­ron Bay. That’s when they rent out Villa Casasco. And what an ex­pe­ri­ence it is. “The views are just breath­tak­ing, from amaz­ing sun­sets to crazy sum­mer thun­der­storms,” says Duff. “We love watch­ing the clouds go by or the ac­tiv­ity on the lake. It’s all so beau­ti­ful.” Ge­orge Clooney doesn’t know what he’s miss­ing.

this page: in the HALL­WAY, Quaderna con­sole by Su­per­stu­dio for Zan­otta; Cassina vin­tage chair from Mi­lan’s Nav­igli flea mar­ket; ce­ram­ics bought at Mi­lan and Nice vin­tage mar­kets; art­work by Aus­tralian Sally Ga­bori. op­po­site page: An­drea Duff at the thresh­old of her villa.

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