Renovating this apartment revealed the layers of history hidden within its walls
Reconnecting with the city of Palermo, Dario Longo began a restoration project that has uncovered the layers of history hidden within his home’s walls
Hallway The apartment still has its original tiled floors, while the intricate fresco was discovered underneath coats of paint Exterior This stunning palazzo dates back to the 17th century
Living room The floral design on the wall may resemble wallpaper, but is actually another fresco. The velvet sofa is a vintage piece from the 1950s
and my family still live there, but after I left for university, I rarely went back,’ says Dario Longo. Now a lawyer in Milan, his reconnection with his home city has been a gradual process. ‘About 10 years ago, I spent a weekend there with a group of friends,’ he remembers. ‘At first, I was surprised how much they liked it and that they kept wanting to go back. I think it’s because it’s still so authentic, like stepping back in time.’ The weekends became an annual tradition, and soon Dario began looking for a permanent base. But even though Palermo’s full of beautiful mansions, his search wasn’t easy; much of the city’s old wealth has fallen away, so those grand buildings have either sunk into disrepair or been cheaply refurbished.
Eventually, Dario discovered this apartment, housed on two floors of a 17th-century palazzo. Much of its charm was hidden under layers of modern plaster and garish orange paint, but there was one beautiful frescoed ceiling still on show. ‘It was the reason I fell in love with the place,’ he says. The original layout was also completely unchanged, with its huge, wonderfully proportioned rooms.
This feeling of authenticity was vital to Dario. ‘I wanted to feel what it might have been like to live here two or three centuries ago.’ He added little except a couple of new bathrooms; the rest of the renovation process consisted of stripping away all that old, encrusted plaster and paint. He enlisted the help of local architect Mario Vigneri and restorer Davide Sansone, the curator of a ceramics museum nearby, to uncover what lay beneath. ‘To our surprise, we found many more frescoes,’ he says. In the dining room, though, Dario has decided to leave parts of the modern plaster intact, repainting it a deep blue. ‘Because it’s so thick, it stands out – it’s a reminder of how the walls used to look and the work that’s been done.’
As for furniture, Dario sought out pieces with a sense of history, mixing antiques with 1950s designs and just the occasional contemporary buy. He also indulged his love of asian art. ‘In old Palermo, it was fashionable to have one room dedicated to chinoiserie, and I wanted to recreate something similar,’ he explains.
The serene atmosphere of this place has worked on Dario in ways that are more than just visual. ‘I’m the kind of person who always has to be out and about doing something, but when I’m here I’m much more relaxed, and so are my friends,’ he says. ‘The place is so big that you can be on your own even among lots of people; we just chill out, drink wine, read a book or spend time on the terrace. That’s something I’ve never been used to before.’ architettomariovigneri.it
‘ I WAS BORN IN PALERMO
Dining room Eero Saarinen’s ‘Tulip’ table for Knoll is paired with brass chairs from Rockett St George. The ‘Tube’ chandelier is by Michael Anastassiades. Little Greene’s ‘ Woad’ paint shade covers the unrestored sections of wall and ceiling. A collection of antique soup tureens on small shelves serve as a decorative contrast Portrait Homeowner Dario Longo sits on a velvet 18th-century sofa from Sicily beside inlaid Chinese tables. The lamps are 1950s pieces by Italian designer Luigi Caccia Dominioni