A hilltop villa in Italy with a solid foundation

This article is part of our latest Special design section on spaces inspired by nature. CAMAIORE, Italy — When Marco Pasanella was a c...


This article is part of our latest Special design sectionon spaces inspired by nature.


CAMAIORE, Italy — When Marco Pasanella was a child, he began spending his summers in Tuscany, where his father, Giovanni Pasanella, an architect and former professor of architecture and urban planning at Yale and Columbia, had moved in the 1970s. Eventually, Giovanni bought an 18th-century hilltop villa overlooking Camaiore, a town near Lucca, settling there and returning to his first love: painting.

Mr. Pasanella has fond memories of delicious, casual meals concocted by Lisetta Bianco Mueller, his father’s companion of 38 years, for a coterie of guests that often mixed artists and intellectuals with neighbors or a visiting elderly aunt. .

“It was just full of life,” said Mr Pasanella, 59, who lives with his wife, Rebecca Robertson, 47, and their son, Luca, above their wine cellar in the Seaport neighborhood at the southern tip of Manhattan. So many visitors converged on the villa that Lisetta bought food in bulk, and local vendors “thought she had a hotel,” he said.

After Giovanni’s death, Mr. Pasanella inherited Villa Cannizzaro, as it was called, and with it floating memories of remnants of past lives. Deciding what to keep and what to sweep away while taking ownership of the villa was sometimes difficult and at times a delicate balance between preserving the family’s legacies and traditions and adapting the villa to their style. 21st century life.

“We took our time with how we approached home,” he said on a recent Sunday. “I didn’t want it to be too much like a museum.”

The villa is the centerpiece of a 62-acre property that is the epitome of classic Tuscan scenery: perfectly manicured lawns, olive orchards (enough to produce oil for family and friends), various trees fruit trees and a sloping area behind the villa which has recently been cleared so that the Pasanellas can walk in a “pineta”, a pine-shaded promenade. “A passeggiata in pineta is just fun,” Mr. Pasanella said, using the Italian word for promenade.

To one side of the villa is a bamboo grove which needs to be constantly monitored so as not to encroach too closely on some of the exterior buildings on the estate. Giovanni “encouraged” bamboo, and it became one of his favorite painting subjects, Pasanella said.

Credit…Fabio Ercolini

Nowadays, he exploits the grove for a bamboo tea room that he designed a few years ago as a refuge for Luca. There is a low window on a wall that overlooks the town of Camaiore and an open roof. “One of the things Luca really loves is just looking up,” he said.

Luca is now days away from 17, and this summer he and Mr. Pasanella plan to visit a local company who designs with bamboo and offers classes on its qualities so they can learn how to better preserve the teahouse.

Luca’s only complaint: poor WiFi reception on the hill.

Mr. Pasanella is a designer of everything from homewares to hotels, and Ms. Robertson is an interior designer and stylist, to Martha Stewart. But at the villa, he said, they had wanted to avoid “entering with a design with a capital D”.

They had a good working base. The two main floors of the villa unfold in a series of spacious rooms with views over the gardens or the surrounding hills. Some of Giovanni’s pieces – bronze lamps topped with onyx shades or sleek fossilized marble coffee tables originally designed for the Seagram office building in New York – are showpieces that have retained their many original pieces of furniture.

“Most of the time, we did a lot of assembly,” putting away excess furniture in the attic. “It felt more like a curation than a remake,” Pasanella said.

Giovanni’s paintings are a leitmotif of the villa. A large abstract work he painted when he was 19 hangs in an upstairs living room, hanging solidly from huge frames on the remaining three walls where the couple have installed mirrors that open up the space to light and to infinity.

The studio of Mr. Pasanella’s father, cradled by the birds, has become the master bedroom. But Giovanni’s spirit hovers: a long shelf on one wall is lined with jars of pigments, tin cans full of brushes and old cans of turpentine.

The artist’s office on the ground floor remained virtually intact. A library features family photographs, including of Mr. Pasanella’s late mother, a sociologist; the ashes of a beloved family dog; and several bird nests and parts of beehives found on the property.

They remodeled furniture in the bedroom Giovanni and Lisetta had shared for more than three decades, but Mr Pasanella said he didn’t feel ‘comfortable taking ownership’ of it, so it’s being used for the guests.

Lisetta’s touch is seen in the details, like the Stile Liberty chandelier in the main dining room (Stile Liberty is the Italian equivalent of Art Nouveau). She also brought a leopard statue to a room in Montelupo Fiorentino, a town famous since the Renaissance for its ceramics.

Before the pandemic, Mr. Pasanella and Ms. Robertson moved here for a year when Luca was in college, to see what life in Italy would be like. “Not a fantasy version, but an actual version,” Mr. Pasanella said. It was a great experience but they moved back to New York for the schools. They returned to Villa Cannizzaro five times during the pandemic, as often as they could.

“I didn’t feel so isolated here,” Pasanella said. It was worse looking down the empty streets of New York.

Despite their determination not to make the villa look like a museum, the couple were sensitive to its history in its reconquest.

In the kitchen, they simply moved the original gray Carrara marble sink under a window, replaced the tiles around the fireplace and mantel with cipolin, a marble quarried in this area, and added more light, “a kind of Americanism that makes this room a little cozier,” Pasanella said. What was once a “utilitarian” kitchen has become something “a little less ad hoc but keeping in mind of the House “.

Food is stored in an original pantry, carved into the massive walls. “The cook thought we were bananas; they said, “How come you don’t want to have a million cabinets? “You don’t have to reinvent everything.”

Replacing a glazed metal tub in the downstairs bathroom – large enough to house a pool table – with a 1,500-pound marble tub from a nearby town involved a crane and props the floor below with steel beams. “It was a huge job to make it look like we hadn’t done anything.”

The bathroom cabinet — which could hold a small boutique hotel’s bedding — is a lesson in decluttering. “It’s thanks to my wife who spent 13 years working for Martha Stewart,” Pasanella said with a laugh.

Once Luca leaves for college, Mr. Pasanella expects him and his wife to spend more time here, although they will keep one foot in New York because they love it and they have their own coffee shop. wine. “We’ll find whatever that balance is,” he said.

As it is, Villa Cannizzaro is still under construction.

He creates a space inside the bamboo grove, a place of quiet reflection, lulled by the slow tempo of the rustling of bamboo reeds. “I want to develop it, make it better,” he said. “Not everything has to be done at once.”

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