“We visited many apartments without finding anything to suit us. We wanted a panoramic terrace. Our previous home had a wonderful one, overlooking the whole city. I remember we arrived one day from Madrid, where we lived (my husband was the Italian ambassador to Spain at the time), to see this house suggested by the agency. As soon as my husband went out on the terrace and saw the Roman Forum and the Colosseum, he said ‘I’ll take it.’ Five minutes later we were signing the papers. This amazed me, because he is usually a very thoughtful person… it would take him longer to buy a pair of shoes.”
Maria Cristina Finucci narrates the dazzling encounter with this house in the archaeological zone of Rome, on a street parallel to Via dei Fori Imperiali, near the Colosseum, which after an intense refurbishing has become the family’s home-studio. Founder in 2013 of the Garbage Patch State, a nation-state that is a protest against the invasion of the oceans by plastic, a project of great ethical and media impact supported by many works that represent cries for help, the Italian architect and artist has transformed the building into a residential landscape conceived as a work of art: a three-dimensional painting, one-of-a-kind, free of clichés and with a total look.
“I would come here every week from Madrid to supervise the work,” she continues. “Actually, the building had become a small hotel, divided into many little rooms organized on five levels. The task was to bring together and reconfigure two separate volumes with a medieval footprint, between which there is still a level shift of a few steps. The lower one has vaulted floor slabs with exposed brick, while the other has wooden beams. We demolished all the partitions, freshened up the three facades protected by heritage listing, with their windows, practically leaving only the perimeter walls, the floor slabs and the stairs. I love the semi-helical staircases. The original steps in Carrara marble have been left as they were, along with the iron railing. The ceiling of the stairwell, on the other hand, after we removed the first layer of paint, bore traces of many coats of tempera in various colors, which I have conserved.
Then the artist Aldo Del Bono created a site-specific work that rises up on the walls, along the ramps, culminating at the fourth level with a framed tempera in cyan and red. Next to the stairwell, for comfort, we have made a space for a small elevator. Installing it was far from simple. I covered the walls with one of my works from the Polly series. I had already used this type of facing for the kitchen of an apartment I refurbished in London, where I asked the clients to give me the one hundred words of their life, and I inserted them in the design. This idea convinced me, and I wanted to reprise it for the elevator in my home. The words I have inserted are the names of our children and grandchildren, as well as those of the cities where we have lived. In the meantime, the family has grown, and I have had to add two more names.”
Listening to the genius loci has suggested other choices, light touches, a few, meaningful fixed points, so that everything would seem to have always been there. Handmade terracotta with irregular formats, crafted in a workshop in Umbria and treated with pearl gray stucco to make it more contemporary in its hue, provides a uniform floor surface. Textured white plaster clads the walls, in seamless harmony with the custom wardrobes with sliding doors inside a frame of raw iron. A peperino with pearly inclusions – a stone with fragments of trachyte with a dappled ash gray color – has been chosen for the facings in the bathrooms, combined with ordinary square white tiles.
A neutral backdrop, then, perfect to bring out the beauty of the oak beams and the antique walnut doors, the finest architectural parts, and above all eloquent presences that bring individuality to the episodes of domestic life, in a complex sum of signs and layers. The layout on the ground floor features a large entrance area, while the first floor hosts the rooms and studio of the husband, Pietro Sebastiani, now the Italian ambassador to the Holy See; the second floor is for the designer’s studio and the room of one son, and the third level is for the master bedroom and another bedroom, both with bathrooms. On the fourth, the living area is combined with a dining room and kitchen. The beloved terrace is on the fifth. The most interesting feature is the remarkably systematic unity of all these different spatial and functional situations, a terse tone that responds to a very precise project: an essence of forms, as in the work of Brancusi.
“The whole composition follows personal criteria, taking on meaning in the mutual relations of the parts – furniture, works of art, architecture,” Finucci adds. “I like to mix things like a palette, though the reflections that lead to a work are philosophical and profound, less connected to my aesthetic taste. I have sought the pleasure of balances between horizontal and vertical dimensions, volumes, colors, proportions, weights, full and empty zones, neutral elements and surprises. And of fine craftsmanship, because nothing is destroyed, but everything is transformed.” Hence the bookcase in iron with slate shelves and colored inserts, the table in raw iron, the console with marble legs, just to mention a few of the many custom pieces created by Maria Cristina Finucci, which exist beside the objects of her work, scattered everywhere – printing proofs, a still from the video-work Trueman from 2011, the poster of the installation for the Garbage Patch State pavilion in Venice during the Art Biennale 2013, the micro-version of the Paradigmi series over the sideboard (a similar work, but with a length of 430 centimeters, is part of the permanent collection of the Chamber of Deputies), and much more. There are also bedside units in black and white bone purchased in India during a trip, and the family secrétaire in the master bedroom. The fourth floor contains the living area. Here the figure of the fireplace becomes the ordering element of the spatial construction. With its truncated pyramid form it acts as a parapet for the iron staircase leading to the terrace, while at the same time forming a corner towards the marble staircase.
“The sofa is the Magister model by Flexform,” Finucci says. “We have taken it with us for many years, in many homes. We bought it when we lived in Brussels in 2000. The table-stools were designed by me in 2005, and they are very handy when lots of seats are needed, though together they form a table, which is useful for informal lunches or dinners
There are small acts of salvage, like the iGuzzini spotlights from my old studio, which was much larger than the present one, gallery lighting on tracks upgraded with LED lamps, for the lighting of the spaces, together with Spun lamps by Flos.” The kitchen is divided from the dining zone by means of a partition in iron and glass. “I designed the wooden furnishings, inspired by those of Charlotte Perriand, while the iron hood with glass doors reminds me of those in old English kitchens,” Finucci concludes. In the room prior to the kitchen, under a romantic window, an old stone sink has been built into the wall: as if to say that even the way of cooking changes in this house different from all others, which in tune with the emotional and cultural dimension of its maker represents her soul.
Project Maria Cristina Finucci - Photos Alberto Ferrero