At Forte dei Marmi, a villa from the 1960s takes on a contemporary attitude, lightening up its volumes

A villa from the 1960s, typical of Forte dei Marmi. A rational, solid structure, leaving no room for flights of fancy. It is surrounded by the big maritime pines that are a trademark of Versilia, friendly presences that bring shade and a fresh scent in the air. The building reflects the fashions of its day, already an accomplishment, though Italian postwar architecture, in spite of its beauty, did not have a constant image, a precise sign. The most recognizable parts are the geometric volumes, the large openings between inside and outside, the careful proportions of the heights. And a focus on surfaces, rarely banal. Massimo Iosa Ghini is the architect called upon to renovate the entire house: the villa has an area of about 450 sqm with an outer portico of 90, as well as a covered terrace of 60.

He has concentrated on finding a new meaning for the garden surrounding the property. And on rationalizing the internal volumes, opening the spaces towards large, luminous vistas, avoiding the obstacles of the original layout. “In those days,” Iosa Ghini explains, “people wanted to keep different domestic functions separate. The dining zone was distinct from the living area, so I decided to reorganize the ground floor plan, making the spaces more livable and rational.” The structure remains intact, for the most part, but the building needed to adapt to contemporary functions. The interventions, apart from those most visible on the ground floor, have to do above all with the physical plant systems, and the sustainability of furnishings and services. “The casements have been changed to lighten up the whole while bringing greater energy efficiency,” the architect from Bologna explains.

“We have added solar panels so that much of the house and the outdoor pool are powered by thermal and photovoltaic solar energy. This type of approach is always pertinent, never banal.” The inspiration for the living area, with large openings to the outside connecting house and garden, brings the rarified spaces of Casa Malaparte in Capri to mind. “It was mostly a matter of cleaning things up, bringing a sense of lightness, in keeping with the desires of the owners. I thought about a project by Adalberto Libera, another house designed for the Tyrrhenean seaside, and I found input for the passage volumes of the fireplace, enabling me to exploit a load-bearing pillar to underscore the visual relationship between various spaces.” In this very discreet project, it is not easy to find the avant-garde flair usually associated with Iosa Ghini. Even the signs of his passage in the interior design are subtle.

“At the start of my career it was more important to have a recognizable style, relying on my own pieces for the furnishings, applying codes that would be statements of my authorship. Today I am more curious about the work of others, and I like to choose pieces that are not necessarily my own creations. When the job is almost finished, I may add at most a pair of my designs. The only things that are mine in this décor are the Cannettata lamp designed for De Majo Illuminazione and the Leva lamps by Leucos. I think it is an extraordinary project, in beech, with very thin parts.” The villa has a kitchen on the ground floor, along with another dining zone for everyday use, inserted in a niche with floral wallpaper, a Tulip table by Eero Saarinen and the Eames Plastic Chairs produced by Vitra. The staircase leading to the second floor, originally blocked in, has been lightened by means of a glass balustrade. The same strategy has been applied to the outer balconies, underscoring the geometric beauty of the façade by removing a feature that was heavy, closed.

“The design of the garden, almost a hortus conclusus, is just as important as that of the interiors. We have added a pool and connected dressing rooms, and we have reinforced the perimeter with plantings, keeping the existing vegetation intact.” It is a vacation home, and as Iosa Ghini explains the service elements, taken for granted in an architectural project, are joined by expressive factors that spring from dialogue between the desires of the owners and those of the designer. The open, assertive relationship between inside and outside is accentuated by the garden, in which nothing has been left to chance.

On the ground floor, beyond the living area, three guestrooms with bathrooms, plus a small independent lodging for household staff, complete the nighttime zone. The upper level is more private, for the family, with the children’s rooms and the master bedroom, which also opens onto a covered outdoor terrace with fitness gear. In the children’s bedrooms, the interior design wavers between functional simplicity and ironic decoration, as in the case of the naïf wallpaper and the JJ Big lamp by Leucos. Finally, in the basement, a space has been set aside for wine. “This was a request of the owners, true wine connoisseurs, a space that creates a narrative of bottles and vintages, to welcome guests for tastings.”

Project Iosa Ghini Associati - Team project Massimo Iosa Ghini, Giulio Gobbi - Photos Pietro Savorelli