by Anmol AhujaJul 15, 2021
Architect Stefania Stera of Paris-based Stera Architectures was asked to build a “barefoot palace” in Costa Smeralda, a 56-km stretch of scraggly coves, sparkling blue waters and sandy beaches in Sardinia, Italy. The area is famous for hosting a slew of iconic villas and resorts built in the 1960s, by an array of acclaimed architects, such as Luigi Vietti and Cini Boeri. A House in Sardinia was born from a desire to emulate and fit into this rugged, coastal landscape and pay homage to the site’s unique architecture - it fit Stera perfectly, as she is a Sardinian and grew up watching its distinct architecture unfold. The residential architecture is in line with the initial project of Porto Cervo, begun in the 60s by Prince Shah Karim Al Hussaini, Aga Khan IV with the Costa Smeralda consortium.
"When I was little, I saw the birth of the Aga Khan’s complex; on the beach, I used to build hotels with arcades and wooden pontoons instead of sandcastles. I saw the birth of Cini Boeri’s black house from the beach of Monte d’Arena… I have known the outlines of these Sardinian rocks by heart and their fantastic forms have nurtured my imagination. A House in Sardinia fits into these natural volumes. The client embraced these themes and gave me complete freedom to design a non-bourgeois layout of spaces,” explains Stera.
The three-level, seven-bedroom villa design almost seems like an out of place piece of Brutalist architecture, singing to the rhythm of its unique surroundings and heritage. Nestled on a ragged, rocky outcrop, A House in Sardinia emerges as a unique amalgamation of interlocked masses, terraces, patios, pathways and coloured surfaces that revolve around a shaded courtyard that screens strong prevailing winds of the coastal area.
Stera, having worked with the clients once before for a project in Paris, shares that they wanted a holiday house that drew heavily from the functional and flamboyant architecture of Costa Smeralda, “but with a more contemporary vision. My inspirations were works like Casa Malaparte in Libera and those of Cini Boeri in La Maddalena, the construction of which I saw from the beach as a child; it also draws from the work of architects Jacques and Savin Couelle who built for the Aga Khan. And finally, my favourite architect, Katsuo Schinohara,” she shares.
The residential design inscribes itself fully into the Sardinian setting, the site and the habitat mutually nurturing one another. “The founding gesture of the project, the one that determines its location, is the plotting of two axes: one projected towards the sea, the other soaring towards the rocky cliffs. Their crossing allows for the articulation of different places important in the site and the layout on two levels,” explains the design team.
The dwelling has an unconventional layout - its ground floor was hollowed out of the site to create a closer relationship with the sea and make better use of the garden – the green terrace formed here becomes “the flying carpet” that overlooks the turquoise sea. The courtyard on the ground floor is surrounded by various articulated, geometric volumes and receives sunlight, which is reflected on the façades that surround it, forming a bright core with the sea to the south.
The house also includes accommodation for the caretaker, two service bedrooms, and 200 sqm of services (kitchen, laundry rooms, storage, grocery store, wine cellar, sewing area, and so on) as well as outdoor spaces that cater to an open kitchen, an open-air bedroom with a bathroom fitted with a square shower and various unique terraces.
The courtyard also functions as the entrance patio and the central circulation space with an alfresco dining space. A door leads to a rather discreet hall that serves two rooms on the ground floor and, upstairs, the communal areas comprising the living room, dining room, office, and master suite in an open plan. The dining room has a vaulted aesthetic while a set of enclosed and open areas make up the master bedroom, unfolding a rich sequence of spaces that frame views of the natural setting via small courtyards, patios, terraces, dressing rooms and bathrooms.
“The small courtyard gives access to the “canyon”, seen as the backbone serving fascinating different nooks and corners of the site. A slope runs down from the living room to the east and connects it with the lower level, completing a loop through an architectural promenade on the site,” says Stera.
The materials are chosen to harmonise with the site - granite is employed to ensure direct relationship with the natural setting and marks the entrance sequence while layered marble “unfolds like a rug in the living room, in continuity with the exterior". Ceramic plays around in many pockets of the house as well, combining to emerge as a colourful, yet cool setting, endowing a character of a modern alcove.
The theatrical and expansive interior design has been done in a multifaceted way. Straight lines and grey surfaces combine with organic rooms that lead through coloured arched passages. Large windows make friends with narrow ones, each giving choreographed views of the site. Green and blue hues decorate the grey granite and stone elements, as well as the anthracite exterior that mirrors the rocky terrain, the hues referencing the sea and the surrounding greens.
Artsy and clinical, the floors of the functional spaces are laid in Venetian terrazzo style while the bedrooms are fitted with pietra serena to highlight the interior of the rooms and bring out the colours of nature. The two bathrooms in each suite are laid alternately with two types of marble. In the bathrooms, marble is used for the floors as well as the vertical surfaces. The walls inside are done with raw white plaster, to capture the light and wooden doors feature parts lacquered in colour to create a contrast with the ceramic patterns used.
Conceived as living elements, rich and free, the custom-made furniture and accents are lined with fabrics with surfaces in wicker patterns, all inspired from local Sardinian materials. “Free-standing elements such as chests or suspended shelving complete the amenities, and evoke the atmosphere of a nomadic way of life, like living in a tent,” shares Stera Architectures.
Stera shares that she wanted the building to essentially resemble a refined rock - there are therefore two main surface treatments - the dark colour of the facades to unify everything and the coloured tiling to contrast, like the greens and the sea contrast with the rocks. The private parts of the residence are given a bright persona via ceramics and coloured azulejos in contrast to the dark facades. “I imagine it all like paintings, a bit from dreams,” shares Stera.