PERFECTING THE PAST
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.
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.
BEING ART SMART
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.
UNDERSTANDING THE HISTORY
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. www.visionnaire-home.com
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)