The house on the hill: Chiara Calvi Dorizza builds a Mediterranean style home in Sicily

The Milan-based interior designer transforms a 200-year-old, broken-down house into the Sicilian countryside holiday home of her dreams.

by Nadezna SiganporiaPublished on : Jan 05, 2022

“The view! We never tire of it,” exclaims Milan-based interior designer, Chiara Calvi Dorizza. “The immense blue sea in front, the little town of Cefalù down the hillside appearing like a gouache of an old Sicilian fishermen’s village with its cathedral, romantic bay and sailing boats passing by.” It’s the quintessential idyllic surrounding for a holiday home as one can imagine. Finding it was serendipitous – a chance drive by on a family road trip. “We fell in love with the landscape and the view. Both the garden and the house were in bad condition but the place was so special to our eyes that we didn’t get scared about the long renovation ahead,” Calvi Dorizza explains.

Milan-based interior designer Chiara Calvi Dorizza | Cefalù home | Chiara Calvi Dorizza | STIRworld
Milan-based interior designer Chiara Calvi Dorizza Image: Mirta Kokalj; Courtesy of Chiara Calvi Dorizza

And it was a long journey indeed! It took four years of hard work to transform the 200-odd-year-old, dilapidated country home. Charmed by its rural simplicity and surrounded by nature, Calvi Dorizza set to work to redesign the entire structure. She added a big kitchen and a terrace overlooking the sea as a lounge and eating area, and scouted for months the antique and vintage shops all over Sicily to find just the right pieces and furniture to fill the home. “I wanted to keep it simple and stick to the Sicilian country homes tradition, but with that eclectic touch I so love,” she says.

The countryside home surrounded by their Mediterranean garden | Cefalù home | Chiara Calvi Dorizza | STIRworld
The countryside home surrounded by their Mediterranean garden Image: Courtesy of Chiara Calvi Dorizza

The mammoth metamorphosis

When they started off, the house was completely neglected and poorly decorated with just the basics. Some parts of the house were being used for farmers’ storage or animal sheds. The front was facing the sea and the back was facing the hillside with a narrow dark passage through its entire length. Most of the garden was wild and abandoned.

The sea view from the pool | Cefalù home | Chiara Calvi Dorizza | STIRworld
The sea view from the pool Image: Courtesy of Chiara Calvi Dorizza

“I totally redesigned the plan of the house; on the ground floor I moved the kitchen from the back to the front so that we can have a sea view from its windows. I added a courtesy bathroom and a tv room. Upstairs, I created two bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms and a big room with four beds for our daughters and friends,” she continues. Calvi Dorizza opened a courtyard in the back of the house to let it breathe – from half-a-meter of a narrow passage to a bright space with beautiful plants, creating a kind of secret garden.

The terrace table | Cefalù home | Chiara Calvi Dorizza | STIRworld
The terrace table Image: Courtesy of Chiara Calvi Dorizza

In the kitchen, she opened two doors and two windows out onto the courtyard. This brought in much needed natural sunlight and air to counter the humidity and darkness. Another big addition was a sprawling outdoor terrace overlooking the garden and the sea, with a lovely Aeolian style pergola and patio, an eating area and two lounge areas where one can relax. The piece de resistance is the pool with a grey wooden deck – the best place for the sea view.

  • Calvi filled the home and surrounding with eclectic finds from her travels like these Moroccan chairs | Cefalù home | Chiara Calvi Dorizza | STIRworld
    Calvi filled the home and surrounding with eclectic finds from her travels like these Moroccan chairs Image: Courtesy of Chiara Calvi Dorizza
  • The sprawling ocean and Sicilian countryside views were a big draw for interior designer Chiara Calvi Dorizza in choosing the site for her family holiday home | Cefalù home | Chiara Calvi Dorizza | STIRworld
    The sprawling ocean and Sicilian countryside views were a big draw for interior designer Chiara Calvi Dorizza in choosing the site for her family holiday home Image: Courtesy of Chiara Calvi Dorizza

From Castaway to Countryside Chic

“I was inspired by the rural Sicilian tradition and worked with the best local artisans to respect it in shapes, details, colours and atmosphere,” she explains. The colour palette sees neutral colours take precedence, like sand, white, ivory and grey-green, inspired by their beloved prickly pears. She used raw cement on the floor, ‘tonachina’ on the walls to give a whitewashed effect, rusty metals, wooden shutters, stone, iron and old wood to bring in that charming countryside rusticity.

  • The main door is a salvaged wooden door with rusty locks | Cefalù home | Chiara Calvi Dorizza | STIRworld
    The main door is a salvaged wooden door with rusty locks Image: Courtesy of Chiara Calvi Dorizza
  • The living room | Cefalù home | Chiara Calvi Dorizza | STIRworld
    The living room Image: Courtesy of Chiara Calvi Dorizza

“I was inspired by the long tours in Sicilian villages where I took note of all the details that give so much charm to their country houses,” she says. “We wanted to have a flair of rural coastal style so I chose old salvaged doors and handles, a big antique terracotta jar for the living room, vintage flea markets finds, the original old beams and bricks brought back to life, linen bed sheets, a collection of aluminium moulds and colanders, eclectic objects we bought in Morocco, Spain, France and Italy on many interior decoration trips where we always had in mind our Sicilian project.”

  • A magnificent antique terracotta jar stands out as the queen of the house | Cefalù home | Chiara Calvi Dorizza | STIRworld
    A magnificent antique terracotta jar stands out as the queen of the house Image: Courtesy of Chiara Calvi Dorizza
  • The television room displays a vintage Sicilian console and a big straw plate hanging on a wooden wall made out of an antique garden door | Cefalù home | Chiara Calvi Dorizza | STIRworld
    The television room displays a vintage Sicilian console and a big straw plate hanging on a wooden wall made out of an antique garden door Image: Courtesy of Chiara Calvi Dorizza

The main door, a salvaged wooden door with rusty locks, opens to the ground floor living room where two vintage sofas with violet and grey upholstery sit in front of a fireplace. On the mantle are antique candle holders from a friend’s villa in Tuscany, on the walls handmade cement lamps and a Moroccan artisanal rug on the floor from Marrakech. “A magnificent antique terracotta jar stands out as the queen of the house. It was the first object we found and somehow gave the imprint to the entire decor,” she explains. The television room displays a vintage Sicilian console and a big straw plate hanging on a wooden wall made out of an antique garden door.

  • The sun-kissed kitchen | Cefalù home | Chiara Calvi Dorizza | STIRworld
    The sun-kissed kitchen Image: Courtesy of Chiara Calvi Dorizza
  • A vintage cabinet for crockery | Cefalù home | Chiara Calvi Dorizza | STIRworld
    A vintage cabinet for crockery Image: Courtesy of Chiara Calvi Dorizza
  • Calvi’s collection of cake moulds in the kitchen | Cefalù home | Chiara Calvi Dorizza | STIRworld
    Calvi’s collection of cake moulds in the kitchen Image: Courtesy of Chiara Calvi Dorizza

Heading into the kitchen – the former animal shed – one sees a bespoke stone countertop with open shelving, the Italian designer’s collection of cake moulds on the wall, a big wrought iron kitchen hood, a custom steel sink and a vintage cabinet for crockery. “I wanted it to be a happy, bright place, where we cook surrounded by the scent of rosemary and herbs, full of sun and overlooking the sea and the garden,” she beams.  Just outside there is the patio and pergola with a big table for summer lunches.

  • Bedroom on the first floor | Cefalù home | Chiara Calvi Dorizza | STIRworld
    Bedroom on the first floor Image: Courtesy of Chiara Calvi Dorizza
  • Old chandeliers hang in the middle of the bedrooms to add a touch of Sicilian glamour to the rustic simplicity | Cefalù home | Chiara Calvi Dorizza | STIRworld
    Old chandeliers hang in the middle of the bedrooms to add a touch of Sicilian glamour to the rustic simplicity Image: Courtesy of Chiara Calvi Dorizza
  • Calvi blended a Mediterranean-Sicilian coastal style with rustic countryside charm throughout the home | Cefalù home | Chiara Calvi Dorizza | STIRworld
    Calvi blended a Mediterranean-Sicilian coastal style with rustic countryside charm throughout the home Image: Courtesy of Chiara Calvi Dorizza

On the first floor are the private bedrooms and ensuite bathrooms. Cement was used for the showers, bathtub and sink tops which pair perfectly with the brass sinks that were made in Marrakech by a local artisan. Old chandeliers hang in the middle of the rooms to add a touch of Sicilian glamour to the rustic simplicity. Little wrought iron chairs, handmade in France and bought in the Salon Côté Sud, are used as toilet paper holders. “All over the house I put the objects that give it a vibrant personality: sacred art pieces, ex-voto, picnic baskets, candle holders, old ceramics, old bottles and glasses, little mirrors, decorated lampshades, books and Sicilian hand painted plates,” she says.

Concrete, brass and antiques are celebrated in the upstairs bathroom | Cefalù home | Chiara Calvi Dorizza | STIRworld
Concrete, brass and antiques are celebrated in the upstairs bathroom Image: Courtesy of Chiara Calvi Dorizza

The lure of lush green

The interiors weren’t the only space that underwent a major transformation. When you open the gate you have a feeling of a lush garden with many kinds of Mediterranean plants, succulents, prickly pears, palm trees, orange trees, cypress and scented flowers. Stone steps take you to the house, where – as a typical Sicilian tradition – a big palm tree welcomes you to the terrace and patio.

The property is filled with greenery, something Calvi dreamed of from the beginning | Cefalù home | Chiara Calvi Dorizza | STIRworld
The property is filled with greenery, something Calvi dreamed of from the beginning Image: Courtesy Chiara Calvi Dorizza

“Around the pool and all over the property, our variety of plants create what was our dream from the beginning – a kind of botanical garden. The satisfactory side of planting a Mediterranean garden in Sicily is that everything grows at the speed of light; the happiness of plants quickly became our happiness,” she concludes.

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