A corner in the living area of interior designer Francesca Orsi’s restored palace.
With clear ideas, complete autonomy and steadfast determination, interior designer Francesca Orsi spent more than three years renovating her FORMER CASTLE. But for her, it will always be a “work in progress”.
In Guastalla, a town in the province of Reggio Emilia, Italy, the streets of the city centre are small pathways crossing each other while meeting a succession of gates; they speak of a time that appears to stand still. Here, a Neorealist atmosphere blends into a noble world with international flair, one that’s home to eclectic interior designer Francesca Orsi — the soul of atelier L’Orangerie.
Her home, an opulent, three-storey Baroque former palace, dates back to 1600, its decorative wall layers revealing a succession of changes over time. It was pure chance that led Orsi to this magnificent building: she had an opportunity to acquire it 12 years ago when she was searching for a new living/retail space, but decided to go with another option in the nearby village of Novellara — a charming 19th-century villa that still houses L’Orangerie. Then in 2013, she started longing for a new home with a garden, and the palace was once again on offer. “In that moment, without any hesitation, I understood that it had been waiting for me all along,” she recalls.
Following the death of its previous owner, the palace had been abandoned for several years. Orsi’s first post-purchase inspection was unsettling: the building was in a serious state of disrepair, and she was facing several structural issues that would require laborious reconstruction.
Fortunately, the designer’s taste for a creative new challenge grew in proportion to the issues she faced. “My job — and the passion I feel for it — helped me so much in developing a long-term vision for gravely damaged spaces,” she notes. It was her conviction to transform these spaces that bolstered her during the long and arduous renovation period, which lasted more than three years. “During this time, I was determined to proceed autonomously, without an architect’s assistance,” Orsi declares. “My ideas were very clear; I knew my goals, and I wanted to reach them on my own.” ››
“My job — and the passion I feel for it — helped me so much in developing a long-term vision for gravely damaged spaces” francesca orsi
“I wanted to create an atmosphere with evocative taste — a wunderkammer that kidnaps the gaze, regardless of the taste of those who are experiencing it” francesca orsi
‹‹ During the restoration, Orsi adopted one basic principle: to preserve the blueprint as well as the original materials, such as the plaster and the floors, as much as possible. She re-covered all of the building’s floors and retained most of the original fixtures. Large windows allow the garden to become an integral part of the home, creating a perfect synergy between the interior and exterior. Orsi enlisted her longtime collaborator, interior designer Eva Germani, to help realise her vision of a home garden. “We discussed the theme for hours,” she says. “I talked about my love for poppies, and during this long planning chat, we had already established dimensions and colours of the garden wall, where we now have a kitchen with an extremely minimal style — one of the focal points of the house. In perfect synergy with my feelings, Eva managed to paint my dream.” Summing up her overarching interior design approach, Orsi says, “I wanted to create an atmosphere with evocative taste — a wunderkammer [chamber of wonders] that kidnaps the gaze, regardless of the taste of those who are experiencing it.” Once the restoration was complete, Orsi moved on to the furnishings. She chose a mix of styles — vintage, contemporary, Baroque, Nordic and 1940s — reflective of the treasures she curates at L’Orangerie. “Hanging out in the most interesting markets and European déballages [events reserved for antiques dealers, featuring old furniture and objects], I gathered myriad furnishings, some of which were not the final products but the starting point for creating an environment,” she says. “Of course, my work leads me to continually evaluate new ideas and new sources of inspiration. As such, my house will never be finished but a work in progress — a canvas on which to sketch dreams and visions tied to my lifestyle.”
In another view of the living room, Flavia Morri brass tables; Renzo Serafini table lamp; Noe sofa by Verzelloni; 1950s sideboard from Bologna; velvet-and-linen cushions by C & C Milano; large early-20th-century golden mirror (on sideboard), along with a series of barber mirrors collected across Europe.
In the main bedroom, Art Deco armchair; washed silk-and-velvet bed linen by Eva Germani; crowns of iron leaves (on wall) purchased in Paris.