THE ITALIAN JOB
Constructing this Umbrian farmhouse was the start of a new life for this couple
After the company Rob Landeweerd worked for as a head hunter was taken over in 2006, he decided to heed the same advice he had given to others so many times. ‘I often told clients that getting fired was a good thing as it meant fresh horizons,’ he says. ‘The time had come, I realised, to try something new myself.’
For Rob, now an interior designer, and his partner, Jeroen, this meant spending more time in Italy. The couple had enjoyed visiting the region of Umbria for 20 years. ‘ We fell for the village of Città della Pieve the first time we saw it,’ says Rob. ‘It’s unspoilt, with beautiful views and within striking distance of Perugia, Assisi and Siena.’
There was one particular 16th-century farmhouse on the village outskirts that both Rob and Jeroen had their eye on, so when it came up for sale just as Rob was looking for new opportunities, they put in an offer. This fell through, but the seller offered them the chance to buy some neighbouring land. ‘ We hadn’t thought of building from scratch,’ says Rob, ‘ but this plot seemed ideal.’
Rob and Jeroen’s vision was to build a farmhouse in keeping with the local vernacular. Many of the stones used to build the property came from the land on which it was built, while local timber was used for the beams. ‘ We were incredibly lucky that there are so many talented craftspeople living close by who use age-old skills,’ says Rob.
As well as the main farm building, the couple also built an extensive loggia running along the side of the house, to act as a sun trap. ‘ We live in an earthquake zone,’ says Rob, ‘so there are certain rules in place about how wide the openings can be, but those restrictions meant we have pretty doorways that now contribute to the authentic look of the property.’
Where decor is concerned Rob and Jeroen have eclectic taste. Family heirlooms, modern pieces and antique finds all sit side by side. ‘ We love a colour pop, especially against the traditional stone,’ says Rob of the array of hues that feature throughout, from burnt orange and deep red fabrics to shots of turquoise, courtesy of Rubelli, Pierre Frey and Zoffany.
‘Once we’d built this house, it wasn’t long before we left Holland and moved to live in Italy full time,’ says Rob. ‘The build had given us a wealth of experience and prompted us to launch our own business here, Special Umbria, sourcing and restoring properties for sale and to rent. There are so many beautiful but abandoned stone houses hidden among the vines, medieval hilltop villages and the Apennine peaks, that it seemed almost inevitable we’d end up working in restoration.’
With an office for their business close by and a garden full of olive and cypress trees, Rob and Jeroen’s lifestyle is a far cry from the corporate one they left behind. ‘It’s still hectic here, but work and leisure dovetail beautifully, especially as we are now part of the local community,’ says Rob.
‘On the day we signed the final deeds for our home, we held a lunch at the farmhouse for all the skilled artisans who had worked with us. It was a fantastic start to an exciting new chapter in our lives.’
SITTING ROOM Traditional craftsmanship is teamed effortlessly with classic design. utrecht armchair, £2,699, Cassina. Vitra Visiona stools, £313.65 each, utility. the antique coffee table is upholstered in a vintage fabric by rubelli