In ‘cantina’: the island

In these spartan spaces – a sequence of four rooms facing the street, marked by the rhythm of the vaults, thick walls and high ceilings in local limestone – Corrado Nicolaci, Prince of Villadorata, left the Belludia wines of his estate to ripen.

That was once upon a time, when he lived in the city on the upper floors, in the artistic splendor of Palazzo Nicolaci, a noble Baroque building designed by Rosario Gagliardi with his student Vincenzo Sinatra, from 1720 to 1765.

Times have changed, and in a private wing of this venerable estate Cristina Summa has created the renowned boutique hotel Seven Rooms, while for the cellars she called on Gordon Guillaumier, a designer based in Milan but born on the island of Malta, with a house in Noto as well.

The genesis of Manna is written: as the name implies, from biblical skies or the Madonie area where grapes are still grown and harvested, this is an agreeable restaurant, full of grace, elegance and culture.

“Three years have passed since the opening,” Guillaumier says. “The fluid approach has led to the composition of a soft, harmonious narrative. The place is flexible, dynamic, open to new episodes, like the recent outdoor dining area.

What the eyes see on the walls and in the surroundings corresponds to that cultural melting pot of north and south that is also found in the dishes prepared by the chef Gioacchino Brambilla from Bergamo, in charge of the restaurant together with Roberta Assolari and Manuela Alberti, created with seasonal local ingredients. And there’s more. At Manna,” he continues, “you can also find Lombard regional specialties alongside Sicilian recipes.”

Where the design is concerned, Guillaumier has tried to keep the intervention as light as possible, complying with the volumes and materials of the spaces, as well as the demands of the heritage authorities (no simple task).

Each of the four rooms has been personalized through the layout of the furnishings, tables and chairs, as well as the lights, all featuring iconic design objects. These elements determine the atmosphere in the various zones, also through colors and facing materials that play with contrast with the pale, natural tones of the enclosure.

“I liked the idea of combining the artisan aspect with the study of the decor,” Gordon emphasizes, “through choices connected with the territory. So I have used majolica tiles, earthenware glazed by hand in Caltagirone, monochrome for the bar counter, the wall behind it, the facings in the restrooms.

The tables have tops in glazed volcanic stone. The chairs are all different, with the shared trait of the black color that goes nicely with the blue of the collections of plates on the walls, found in flea markets, while the custom bookcases in iron by Antonino Sciortino, art works by Sergio Fiorentino and two large silkscreens on sheet metal for the doors of the restrooms, alias Adam and Eve, by Lucas Cranach, add a touch of humor to the project.”

There are pieces of retro taste, to bring a range of nuances to the interiors while avoiding the clichés of local crafts and decoration. “The luminous Saiga Soda sign in the entrance is a vintage object I found in Milan,” he concludes, “which might not fit in with the rest, but brings an amusing accent to the space.”

(Text by Antonella Boisi – Ph. Alberto Ferrero)