A 19th-century villa on the shores of Italy’s Lake Maggiore has been returned to its graceful, enchanting best, following an intensive, year-long restoration project
It is the stuff of a children’s story: a small boy, on his yearly holiday with his grandparents, passes a house with a magical-looking turret by the shores of a lake and believes it to be a house owned by fairies. He dreams of returning one day when he is grown up, on a mission to discover the secrets of this fantasy home and live there himself, presumably co-owning with the northern Italian versions of Titania, Oberon and Puck.
Fast forward thirty years and the boy has become an accountant, is married to a maths teacher and has bought the house of his childhood dreams. He and his wife and their two children want to live in the villa in the summer and the winter holiday season in order to escape the hustle and bustle of Milan, where they spend the rest of their time, and take full advantage of this idyllic spot in the little town of Porto Valtravaglia on Lake Maggiore.
Erasmo Figini, an architect and a fabric designer for textile giant Rubelli, took charge of the project and was tasked with making the space feel elegantly lived-in, as if the property had been passed down through the family for generations. This required a certain kind of approach, explains Erasmo. “The theme of the house is one reflected by the family,” he explains. “The owners wanted to give a touch of warmth and familiarity inside their home. In fact, for example, we used some of their grandparents’ furniture – recovered and restructured where necessary – arranged throughout the rooms as if it had always been there. My clients love to hear people say, ‘What a beautiful home your grandparents have left you!’”
Built in the late 19th century, with lofty ceilings, the villa is a classic example of stile Liberty (Italy’s version of Art Nouveau) and is spread over three storeys. Originally, the ground floor comprised a kitchen, living room and dining room, along with multiple entrances, while the top floor was used for sleeping. Nestled between the two was the first floor, with an all-encompassing living area. However, Erasmo’s vision meant remodelling the house so it could be split vertically in half for the owners’ two children once they had grown up. A second living and dining room had to go in, leading from a new kitchen, and the logical solution to Erasmo was to convert the first floor into these zones. Aware that creating new rooms from scratch could disturb the feeling of fluidity in the house, he turned his thoughts to uniting the house with a uniform background of colour on the walls, floors and original features.
Outside, a patch of old paint was found on one wall just under the eaves, and while many would disregard this and go with their own preferences, Erasmo took it as a sign: “This very intense ochre was a colour that lent itself to being used again,” he says. And use it he did – the exterior was washed with the hue to give it a historical feel and restore the building to its former appearance.
A parchment-like tone was chosen for the interior walls, which were finished with beeswax to give a soft, velvety feel. Underfoot, the muted colour palette is continued in cloudier toned tiles with diamond patterning. The flooring in each room gives a nod to the parchment shade in different ways – the entrance hall boasts large cream slabs with a feature star shape set in contrasting grey, while the dining area has overlapping rows of lilac stone, with the beloved parchment colour used in the curtains. All that the kitchen’s wooden floorboards needed was a little bit of love with a quick clean and polish to make them sing.
This is just a taster, you can browse the full article with more stunning photography on pages 184-192, issue 89.
What A seven-bedroom villa set over three floors built in the late 19th century
Where Porto Valtravaglia, northern Italy Timescale Restoration took a year
Words Gabriella Bennett
Photography Francesca Anichini