A new arch

VOGUE Living Australia - - HOMES -

The search for a small hol­i­day home in Puglia, Italy, was scratched at the sight of a mul­ti­fac­eted for­mer to­bacco fac­tory with Gothic-like in­te­ri­ors. Ital­ian diplo­mat Gio­vanni Fav­illi and his Viet­namese wife, Giang, were look­ing for a mod­est re­treat for their fam­ily of five when they got a tip-off from a friend. “I’d read about Sa­lento — that you could find charm­ing and well-priced places com­pared to Tus­cany,” says Gio­vanni. The cou­ple felt the 400-square-me­tre prop­erty at Masse­ria Diso farm was too good an op­por­tu­nity to miss. A low-rise, rec­tan­gu­lar stone build­ing at the end of an av­enue of tall Mediter­ranean pines, its front walls are sun-bleached peachy pink fea­tur­ing faded sig­nage that gives away its pre­vi­ous life. Orig­i­nally built in the 1930s un­der the Mus­solini ad­min­is­tra­tion, the to­bacco fac­tory once housed around 100 mostly fe­male work­ers. It later be­came the tem­po­rary res­i­dence for Pol­ish sol­diers and Ital­ian in­sur­gents dur­ing World War II, be­fore be­ing used as an agri­cul­tural distri­bu­tion ware­house in the 1960s. The Fav­illi fam­ily’s home life has been al­most as di­verse: Gio­vanni’s diplo­matic en­gage­ments have meant that he, Giang and their three chil­dren, Alessan­dro, 12, Lila, 10, and Anna, 8, have moved house every four to eight years. For this par­tic­u­lar move, a ren­o­va­tion was needed to make the place hab­it­able for the fam­ily, though par­tic­u­lar care was taken to re­tain its orig­i­nal char­ac­ter. “The idea was to keep as much as pos­si­ble of the build­ing’s in­dus­trial look,” says ar­chi­tect Raf­faele Cen­tonze, “com­bin­ing it to cre­ate a re­laxed, open plan with a de­sign-im­printed in­te­rior.” To this end, the orig­i­nal shell of the build­ing was re­tained but its tim­ber doors and win­dow frames were re­placed with me­tal and glass to ref­er­ence its in­dus­trial past (rather than its ru­ral present).

Be­hind these over­size doors is an ex­pan­sive white space, open but for a se­ries of ar­eas as­signed by thick square columns con­nected by 36 star-shaped ribbed vaults and arches. Look­ing through it, the struc­ture ap­pears as a sur­real white for­est, echo­ing the real arch­ing trees that lead to the front door, but the ar­chi­tec­ture most ac­cu­rately re­sem­bles a church. In­deed, ar­chi­tect Cen­tonze chris­tened the project ‘La Grande Chiesa’ or ‘The Big Church’. Even the floor plan has a cathe­dral’s tra­di­tional Latin cross shape, with naves, transept and apse, around which lie the six en­suite bath­rooms. The scale of the place is am­pli­fied by a monas­tic in­te­rior of white paint and stone floors. “We wanted an open, light and un­clut­tered home, which is kept at its most sim­ple,” says owner Gio­vanni, quot­ing Leonardo da Vinci: “Sim­plic­ity is the ul­ti­mate so­phis­ti­ca­tion.”

White for­est, big church — Masse­ria Diso is also com­pared to an Ital­ian pi­azza by both the ar­chi­tect and the lady of the house. “And just like in a large pi­azza, the chil­dren are al­ways tempted to run around it,” says Giang with a smile. Cen­tonze ex­plains that the open space, with its arches and vaults, de­ter­mines the pub­lic meet­ing point, while each room and suite that leads away from this hub prom­ises pri­vacy.

This idea that the build­ing’s ar­chi­tec­ture gra­ciously paves the way is echoed in one of the most no­table struc­tural changes; the open­ing of the back wall onto a newly built pool. In­spired by ar­chi­tect Renzo Pi­ano and his use of axes, Cen­tonze wanted to cre­ate an axis from the gated en­trance, to­wards the front door, con­tin­u­ing in a di­rect line to­wards the pool at the end. “The ra­tio­nale is that it adds a feel­ing of flow,” he ex­plains, “and cre­ates lines of light in the space.” Fill­ing the light-filled space is an eclec­tic mix of mid-20th­cen­tury fur­ni­ture, fam­ily heir­looms and con­tem­po­rary de­signs, along with Gio­vanni’s col­lec­tion of vin­tage de­sign pieces and minia­ture car mod­els, what Giang calls “Dad’s un­touch­able toys”.

The vin­tage of their home is just as sig­nif­i­cant. There is some­thing in this build­ing’s quiet jux­ta­po­si­tions: its hum­ble, ru­ral ex­te­rior in con­trast to the grander in­te­rior for in­stance.

“We wanted to keep the soul of the build­ing,” says Gio­vanni. “We wanted to pre­serve its ar­chi­tec­tural im­print and add a con­tem­po­rary feel to the to­bacco fac­tory with­out for­get­ting its past.” The re­sult is bound to en­tice the Fav­il­lis to stay a lit­tle longer at this home.

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