An old barrel-vaulted shop along one of the oldest streets in Bolzano. Studio noa* breathes new life into this space, transforming it into a cosy bistro between historical heritage and contemporary elegance

For a designer, recovering the past means embracing the heritage of traditional knowledge and know-how on which the collective sense of a city has been built, interpreting and respecting the genius loci of which every place is the custodian. Renovating implies a relationship with the spatio-temporal stratification one encounters at the time of intervention; it means establishing a relationship with tomorrow; it requires the ability to know how to design in the contemporary world, guessing what is worth demolishing, recovering, reusing, inventing, and how to eliminate, rebuild, replace, integrate, add or subtract.

Medieval stone arches

Today, Bolzano's ancient mercantile tradition echoes in Via Portici, the main city axis and since the 13th century the scene of exchange between Italian and German merchants. It was here that goods were stored that would circulate from the north to the south of Europe. The northern parallel to Via Portici, today Via Dr. Streiter, has also retained its original appearance: first mentioned in a document in 1498, the street runs along what was the northern moat of the first city settlement, and is still crossed in three places by stone arches of medieval origin.

An ancient past

About halfway down the street stands Haus am Gang, one of the lowest houses on the street with its only two storeys, a break point in the compact front thanks to the open gallery. "The dwelling has a historical past that tells of different uses over the centuries," explains architect Stefan Rier, founder of noa* - network of architecture, head of the interior design project. "It passed through the hands of the Teutonic Order, the goldsmith Hanns in the 15th century, the town secretary Ennthofer in the 16th century, and numerous families over the following centuries. With our intervention, we wanted the past of mercantile Bolzano to emerge clearly from these walls'.

A new use

The project involved the ground floor where shoemakers, carpenters, carters, timber and fruit merchants worked in the 19th century, and where, in more recent times, the first restaurant on the street was opened. Although it retained its original architecture, it had deteriorated over time. The Mayr family, the current owners of the building, commissioned noa* to restore the historic part and design a new use: the Bogen bistro.

Opening the doors to history

The relationship with history was decisive in defining the project concept: both because the house is under monumental protection and because the designers wanted to emphasise the original architecture of the arches, which the bistro itself pays homage to with the name "Bogen", German for "arch". On the façade, the intervention took the form of a careful redecoration of the plaster in the colour smoke white and the enlargement of the entrance arch where a tripartite black metal window frame was installed, which follows the lowered arch course and allows good natural lighting.

The rhythm of the four arches

"During our research into what was then called Via dei Carrettai, we found a painting by the painter Richard Wolff, a fascinating still of life at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries. In the foreground you can see the entrance gate to Bogen, exactly where it stands today,' Stefan Rier says. For the interior, the basic idea was to emphasise the four arches that punctuate the 19-metre depth of the room. To do this, the studio intervened on both the horizontal and vertical planes. In the first case, by resolving the pre-existing internal difference in level at the entrance with an oak platform and choosing a grey-beige grained screed for the flooring that would not create a strong chromatic detachment from the walls. On the walls, on the other hand, work was done on the lighting, preferring spotlights to enhance the curves of the arches rather than spot lighting of the tables.

Bohemian atmospheres

In the first meetings between client and interior designer, the customers' desire for a romantic, bohemian ambience emerged, to which the craftsmanship and artistry of hostess Roswitha Mayr would also contribute, adding a personal touch to the ambience. The designers took the many cues and focused the design around a floral motif, creating in the central space the pivotal element of the interior: a seven-metre long bar under a ceiling of flower baskets. "The flowery vault immediately established itself as the centrepiece of the interior design. The upturned baskets filled with dried flowers are an evocative image summarising the transience and at the same time the beauty of flowing life," explains Silvia Marzani, interior designer noa*.

A six-legged counter

The counter is a unicum and, on the right side, free of the stools, it becomes a work surface housing drawers and technical compartments. The six legs are different one from the other, indicating a makeshift table that the family salvaged for themselves. A mirror covers the central structure on three sides, lightening its presence in the space. The tabletop is a slab of Nacarado stone, chosen for its veining and warm colour. The large floral composition that seems to fall from the ceiling is Roswitha's personal creation: among the flowers, the hanging rattan lamps recall the basket motif.

Dialogue between past and present

The inclusive space of the large counter is contrasted by the intimacy and exclusivity of the small tables arranged along the left side of the bistro, sheltered by the arches and overlooking the alley. The privacy is accentuated in the first pair of arches by walls upholstered with a floral-print fabric and seats set in niches in the wall. Even for the chairs, noa* decided to alternate modern wood and fabric pieces with repainted vintage chairs. There are two service areas: the kitchen, which has been completely renovated and is located at the end of the restaurant, and the bathrooms, which are gathered in a space that becomes a furnishing element: a prism made of perforated metal sheet on which the floral motif that also decorates the arches has been printed. "In this project we wanted to take care of every detail, succeeding in achieving a coherent design, with a strong contemporary character even in an environment that is centuries old," concludes Silvia Marzani.

Foto di Alex Filz