by Anmol AhujaJun 04, 2022
“It’s almost a very selfish space,” says Roberto Palomba of the holiday home located in the small town of Sogliano Cavour near Lecce, Italy. Located in the middle of the village, the former oil mill of the 1600s was expertly transformed into a light-filled relaxing haven. Cocooned within creamy white walls, the multi-level home centres around an open courtyard. “It works like a Moroccan riad, in a way. The wonderful chaos of the medina outside is completely forgotten once you enter the walls of the riad. This, in a way, is the sense of the home,” the architect continues.
What used to be dark, large volumes is now an airy space bursting with natural materials. Soft, diffused natural light filters in from the central courtyard and dances around the creamy white lime of the walls, transforming the windowless interiors into relaxing spaces. Earthy tones pair perfectly with clean lines and subtle geometry of the furnishings – all designs of the studio.
Seeing beauty in the broken
Milan-based, internationally renowned designers and architects Ludovica Serafini and Roberto Palomba, fell in love with the space when they first saw it in a broken-down condition. “I think the flair of the proportions was the most interesting part of this building. The proportions gave it a special personality,” explains Palomba. It was the complexity of the different rooms that gave it character - high, vaulted ceilings that reached up to six metres, wide indoors spaces and parts that still had the original Lecce stone.
They restored the structure by maintaining and renovating as many historical elements as possible like the stone walls and ‘double-star’ vaulted ceilings, yet beautifully blending them with contemporary furnishings and clean, geometrical design. “We tried to renovate while respecting the mood of the countryside and the site as much as possible. We studied local architectural techniques and materials and we turned it into a contemporary style by using the same elements. It was our way to undertake restoration in terms of quality of the building and refreshment in terms of the different use,” explains Palomba.
History speaks volumes
Keeping the local culture as their muse and design inspiration, the architects sought not only to restore the structure but to give it a new lease of life. “There is evidence of different periods of architecture in this building and we wanted to give different attention to each period,” says Palomba. Restoring the older materials as much as possible, the architects used a slightly heavier hand of renovation with the newer sections.
One of the key heritage aspects that the architects retained are the vaulted ceilings. “This part of Italy is very famous for a particular style of vaulted ceiling which features traditional construction that forms a star,” Palomba tells us. The construction involves two different stones working together – the lower wall made from a more resistant stone that copes well with compression while the vaulted ceiling is constructed using a lighter stone. “These vaults are still made the traditional way; the masters are able to rebuild them exactly as it was done before. They even use the same hand tools and instruments to cut the stone,” he adds.
From mill to mansion
So, how do you turn an old structure built specifically as an oil mill with a stable into a fully-functioning home? “We had to first change the perception of this space. Our experience in renovating production spaces was an important guideline to emphasise some of the elements. We weren’t just converting the building but giving it a dignity through restoration. It was important to understand that each space has its own unique characteristics,” says the architect.
One of the biggest challenges was the lack of light because the oil mill didn’t have any windows. To bring in natural light, they opened out a room with a damaged vault and turned it into a central courtyard connected to a large kitchen on one side. They also strategically added skylights to make the space feel more open. On the other side is the master bedroom and the staircase that takes you up to the guest bedrooms. A large volume with the double-star vaulted ceiling was turned into the common living area while the smaller rooms were crafted into private spaces like the bedroom and bathrooms.
“We furnished the home with our studio designs – the most simple, minimal, geometric elements. We didn’t want to have something very decorative; we tried to retain the mood of the place integrated with functionality but also keep a sense of authenticity,” says Palomba. Together with partner Ludovico Serafini, the duo also chose a few pieces that belonged to their families for generations as well as elements commissioned from local craftspeople.
Intimate yet inclusive
The holiday home is not only a space where the couple can decompress from their hectic lives in Milan, but also designed as a holiday retreat for friends and family. Comfortably fitting 12 people, the home features intimate spaces where everyone can spend some alone time. However, spending time together also inspired the design. They created a big family kitchen with two stainless steel islands and this is where the family congregate for meal preparation and everyone shares the space and spends time together.
The house also features four terraces of varying sizes where people can relax together. “What we try to do is to design a space around the life of the people. The flow of their life is very important; we try to visualise how the person would live in the space from the time they wake up till they go to sleep. Then we match the design to intimately and emotionally connect with the people living there,” he concludes.