Fresh and regenerated, this house in Ortigia, the island that is the oldest part of Siracusa, home of the grandeur of Magna Graecia, is different from all others: a personal stage that reproduces the mood and DNA of a place with deep historical roots. The eclecticism with which the furnishings have been selected, from different periods, styles and sources, of the 1800s and 1900s, juxtaposed with contemporary design Made in Italy, extends to metal sculptures found in markets, as well as works of art, inside a space that has been totally reinvented for customized comfort. Inhabited by an intimate, balanced local style, and by the light that caresses new perspectives in the almost unreal silence of time that seems almost to stand still, the house reflects the multiple interests of an inhabitant, Sebastiano Italia, who looks at things with the culture and aesthetic sensibility of an expert designer, though he is not an architect.
“It is not my job. After studying economics in Lombardy, I returned to Sicily, to my hometown of Siracusa, to work in my family’s company, in the metalworking sector. But I have always had a passion for architectural design,” Sebastiano says. “So in 2006, with my partner Andrea Di Franco, we decided to launch a construction firm for the renovation of buildings on the island of Ortigia. At the start of the 2000s, at the time of the island’s rebirth and urban renewal, with an influx of tourism and people in search of vacation homes, it was a spontaneous choice to invest in the sector of hospitality and events. Though I have to acknowledge that our most important project, almost completed at this point, is not here. It is the renovation of a large masseria in stone, from the late 1800s, between Noto and Modica, immersed in uncontaminated countryside: La Chiusa Country House, a truly magical, regenerating place.”
The apartment right in the center of Ortigia has also been magically revitalized, amidst the alleys of the Spirduta district: the upper level of an impressive construction from the start of the last century, a complex, fragmented interior, organized on two levels with exposure on all four sides, where the main level has an area of about 280 square meters and the upper floor, with two more rooms and a terrace. Access is provided by two separate staircases, because the spaces are located in two different wings. The overall floorspace measures over 330 square meters. “What are the environmental and architectural characteristics behind my choice? I was fascinated, from the very first visit, by the size of the spaces, the height of the ceilings, which indicated great potential. I was enchanted by the light and the silence that flood the rooms, an exceptional privilege. Like that of having a terrace and a view of the sea that surrounds the island. Though it was a daunting enterprise, I was ready to accept the challenge,” the owner recalls. The house was truly in bad condition.
“It was necessary to completely replace the roofs and to remake the façades. The interiors, used by the previous owner as a professional studio and home, required substantial modification: the stone framing the casements had been partially demolished to make room for the blinds, and some of the windows had been walled up. Floors, physical plant systems, frames, finishes: everything had to be completely salvaged or redesigned.” The renovation work lasted more than a year, to save what could be saved of the original site, carried out by the company Tworooms of Sebastiano and Andrea with the help of skilled local artisans, with the exception of the domotics system, installed by Dimora Home Automation of Milan. “I wanted a sound system in the entire house, with speakers hidden in the walls behind the plaster. I love music, it is always playing in my hours of relaxation. I can read and enjoy a good glass of red wine on the daybed designed for Flou by Rodolfo Dordoni, in the small room on the second level leading to the terrace of the solarium,” Sebastiano says. When he began to think about the layout, it became clear that in spite of its large size, the house actually had few big rooms.
After eliminating the existing partitions to take all the spaces back to their original configuration, restoring the collapsed plaster vaults, and constructing a new structural system to support the roof, it was time to go beyond these measures. “Imagining the layout, I wanted all the spaces of the living area to be visually connected, by means of openings made in the masonry, so as not to lose the depth of the spaces, permitting the gaze to flow continuously from one end of the apartment to the other, gathering unexpected views and games of light that amplify the connection with the outdoors,” Sebastiano explains. “This is why the casements have no curtains or blinds, and there are few doors. The stones have been put back where they were, using blocks of limestone, and the finishes have been replaced with biocalce in neutral but warm tones. Thanks to the original plan, the house reveals itself little by little. The stairs leading to the second level are well camouflaged, not evident at first glance. Every room offers a very pleasant sensation of privacy and tranquility.”
The main pleasure is for the eyes. The floor, in glazed earthenware made with traditional methods by a craftsman from the province of Catania, based on a design by the studio of Gordon Guillaumier, enhances the living areas like a carpet, and the effect goes nicely with the patina of the building and the stone over the white wooden casements. “Where the installation of heating systems in the floor did not permit the insertion of the ceramic surfaces, due to their thickness, the choice went to resin in a neutral color, for an overall effect of harmony,” Italia specifies. Early 20th-century cementina tiles, salvaged from the original flooring during the renovation, have been skillfully repositioned in the bathrooms and in the space leading to the solarium. A mud-tone oxidized oak crafted by the cabinetmaker from Catania Angelo Cavallaro is a shared feature of the furnishings, again designed by studio Guillaumier: the large bookcase in the living room, the kitchen, the headboard-desk in the bedroom, the long paneling from the master bedroom to the bathroom. In its own way, every presence takes part in the staging of a small, heterogeneous collection that contributes to the enjoyment of the place.
“The large stone fireplace from the 1700s was found by chance and reassembled in the living room, making a wing that separates it from the wall, so as to create the proper depths and permit the passage of the chimney. The sculpted stones of the frame are all original, except for the lower portion, reconstructed by skilled hands with a replica of great quality,” the owner explains. “There are oil paintings from the 1700s, including a large one of St. Sebastian of which I am particularly fond, purchased from an antiquarian in Catania. They coexist with the dreamy, almost hypnotic paintings by the Catania-based artist Sergio Fiorentino,” he continues. “The kitchen is my favorite room, with the large marble island and a terrace for breakfast, or dinners with friends. Cooking relaxes and amuses me, though I am not a great chef, because I am incapable of following a precise recipe, I prefer to improvise, using the magnificent ingredients offered by our territory, like my grandmother did. So the results have their ups and downs, unfortunately.” In the design of this house, however, once the ingredients were chosen, the skillful way of ‘cooking’ them has made all the difference.
Project Sebastiano Italia - Photos Matteo Cirenei