Can the beauty of tra­di­tional ar­chi­tec­ture be en­hanced by the aes­thet­ics of con­tem­po­rary de­sign? This villa in Italy, whose his­tory dates back to the 1850s proves that it can.

India Today - - News - By LUIGI CAVALLI

Villa Al­topi­ano in Italy was built in 1850 and has been in­hab­ited by a num­ber of fam­i­lies over the decades. In the 1950s, it was bought and lived in by a Bolog­nese fam­i­lye who stayed there for around 20 years. It later be­came the head­quar­ters of the club that over­saw all the vil­las in the area. The club was closed in 1990 and the house sold to a hold­ing com­pany that let it fall into a state of ruin, which con­tin­ued un­til I bought it in 2009-2010. The restora­tion work took three years. Us­ing old doc­u­ments, we were able to re­turn it to its orig­i­nal splen­dour by restor­ing the fres­coes, win­dows, gables and bat­tle­ments. We dec­o­rated us­ing yel­low and orange, the same colours used in the 1800s—these colours were typ­i­cal of the ar­chi­tec­ture of the big palaz­zos in Bologna and the sur­round­ing province in that era.


You en­ter the house through an al­ley that’s about 50 me­tres long. The en­trance is on the south side of the prop­erty, as it was orig­i­nally in 1850. On the left side of the ground floor is the kitchen and a din­ing room for day­time use. There’s an open log­gia at­tached to the en­trance which takes you to a long vaulted cor­ri­dor, lead­ing to the bed­rooms and even­tu­ally open­ing out into a large lounge with a won­der­ful hearth. My of­fice is lo­cated to the left of the lounge, while my bed­room is to the left of the of­fice. It fea­tures a mag­nif­i­cent fres­coed ceil­ing de­pict­ing an­gels and birds chas­ing each other against a back­ground of blue sky. The stairs lead­ing to the base­ment and up­per floor are lo­cated in the mid­dle of the cor­ri­dor. The top floor—or the pi­ano no­bile (the prin­ci­pal floor of a large house, usu­ally built in one of the styles of Clas­si­cal Re­nais­sance ar­chi­tec­ture)—has space for six guest bed­rooms with en-suite bath­rooms and a large liv­ing room. If you keep climb­ing, you reach the tower, which my wife and I de­cided to turn into a mu­sic room for our grand­chil­dren. All four of them play an in­stru­ment, whether it’s the gui­tar, the pi­ano or the drums. Down in the base­ment is where you en­ter the real his­toric part of the house, with its stone floor and walls. We cre­ated the cel­lars down there—the con­stant tem­per­a­ture across sum­mer and win­ter makes them per­fect for stor­ing our favourite wine. There’s also a TV room, gym­nas­tics room and cards room down there. I wanted to keep the hooks on all the ceil­ings—these were orig­i­nally used to hang game and hams, and we still use them to hang cured meats to this day.


There are a num­ber of art works spread across the villa. The ma­jor­ity are by artists be­long­ing to the Wun­derkam­mer Vi­sion­naire (started in 2011, it is a branch of Vi­sion­naire de­voted to con­tem­po­rary art projects), par­tic­u­larly Michele As­tolfi, from whom we have over 10 works. The other art­works are largely by young con­tem­po­rary artists from Italy, China and France.


My favourite room in the villa is the space that was orig­i­nally the party room. The ceil­ing was cov­ered in a fresco de­pict­ing gar­dens with an­gels chas­ing each other and birds fly­ing against a blue sky. It’s our mas­ter bed­room now.


From an ar­chi­tec­tural per­spec­tive, we wanted to un­cover the orig­i­nal struc­ture and dec­o­ra­tions, in­clud­ing two trompe-l’oeil doors from the 1800s. In terms of the in­te­rior de­sign, we mainly opted for Vi­sion­naire be­cause it is one of the few brands on the lux­ury mar­ket ca­pa­ble of com­ple­ment­ing both his­tor­i­cal and con­tem­po­rary ar­chi­tec­ture. In fact, I was able to fur­nish a large por­tion of the house by mix­ing Vi­sion­naire fur­ni­ture with some older pieces such as the Scarpa ta­ble and Bu­gatti chairs from the 1930s.


In the past, the prop­erty was sur­rounded by around 100 hectares of land. Lo­cated next to the main house was the share­crop­per house be­long­ing to the peas­ant fam­ily that looked af­ter the prop­erty, the or­chard and vine­yard. The area was par­tic­u­larly lush thanks to a spring that was ex­tremely pure and high in min­er­als, run­ning just 15 me­tres be­low the sur­face. The pu­rity of the water even led to the con­struc­tion of a well, which many lo­cal in­hab­i­tants—and even peo­ple from Bologna—would come to drink from. Count­ess Soli­meni’s no­ble fam­ily, who lived in the area, had a small church built in hon­our of the Vir­gin Mary. The church is now part of our prop­erty and some­times my wife and I hold mass there on spe­cial oc­ca­sions. My wife and I have been won by this, and we have been try­ing to faith­fully rein­ter­pret the past.

Luigi Cavalli is the founder of Ital­ian lux­ury fur­ni­ture brand Vi­sion­naire.­sion­

BEAU­TI­FUL SPA­CES Clock­wise from right: The din­ing room; Luigi Cavalli; the fa­cade of the villa; the mas­ter bed­room with a fresco in the ceil­ing

SOFA SO GOOD From the sofa and cen­tre ta­ble to the car­pet and light ev­ery­thing is from Vi­sion­naire in this liv­ing space (left); an out­door sit out (be­low left)

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