02 Oct 2017

A stunning Tuscan farmhouse has been radically transformed to meet 21st-century needs

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The project for the refurbishment of a charming circa 16th-century farmhouse situated on the crest of a marvellous hill in the heart of Siena’s Chianti region in Tuscany, Italy, overlooking vineyards and woodland was the focus of architect practice, Lenzi + Baglini Architetti.

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The hinge pin for the architectural and interior design project was to blend together contemporary requirements with existing vernacular constructions, with the aim of creating a domestic environment in keeping with local traditions.

The design was developed according to two fundamental guidelines:

To make the interior spaces modern and functional, using natural light obtained thanks to large cut-outs and apertures in the existing masonry To enhance the value of typical traditional rural architecture with a contemporary twist.

Distributed over two floors, which follow the sloping movement of the crest, the farmhouse spans a double volume linked together by a modern floating staircase which joins together the living environment situated on the first floor with the bedroom area on the ground floor.

On the first floor, the entrance hall opens out onto a large living room covered by a Tuscan dual-pitched roof over a vaulted ceiling stained with white chalk, like all the ceilings throughout the house, and dominated by a massive truss used as a top frame for the traditional stone fireplace.

From here, two portals beside the chimney lead to the kitchen and a passageway to the second living area, which stands out for its all-glass wall with more apertures, conceived to enhance the concept of “clearing out and light in weight” that distinguishes the entire interior, leaving the surrounding landscape to play the starring role.

The charming square-shaped tower, the ‘heart’ of the house’s private space, links the master bedroom situated on the ground floor to the living room and private studio housed in the attic, while an elegant spiral staircase with two reinforced concrete ramps produced by Rizzi (www.rizziscale.it – staircase diameter 160cm) with an all-white structure accompanied by a handrail and brushed oak-wood steps stained in sable grey. With a contained diameter yet a strong scenic effect, the dynamism of the staircase encounters the powerful solidity of the perimeter walls which have been left with their face exposed and stained with chalk.

On the ground floor of the house are the bedrooms and the reading area opposite a covered veranda overlooking the garden and the wellness area. The contemporary interiors are furnished with designer pieces made to the designer’s specifications.

The grand tour

Here, i-build talks to Lenzi + Baglini Architetti about the build process and the designer’s expectations.

What did you enjoy most about this project?

We were immediately fond of the building and the environment in which it is located, the Chianti of Siena zone – with its glimpses of the unique landscape. We also liked the homeowner’s requirement to renovate the indoor space with a contemporary mood, without damaging the history of the site with false traditions.

How would you describe the original building?

The building was an ancient rural house belonging to the nearby estate of Pietrafitta; there isn’t a precise construction date, however, the tower – the oldest part of the building – seems to be of the 13th century. The constructive style is typical of the Chianti of the Siena zone, made of side-by-side bodies that make an articulated volume and never equal on the four sides.

How did you combine the original building’s style with the extension?

These types of buildings, though linked to tradition, have always had a logic of modernity, this means they have the ability to adapt themselves to the needs of those who have lived there and are able to be easily transformed according to the needs of their time. This criterion inspired us right away to seek a compromise between the ‘shell’ tradition and the contemporary logic of light and space that our client aspired.

What was the vision and inspiration behind the new build?

We had immediately set the criterion of our work on the most important aspects of the establishment – the nature of the landscape and the strength of the ‘wrap’ wall – from this blend came the guiding light of our project that shaped the interior space with large neutral surfaces and cuts of light opening up to the nature from the landscape.

How long did it take to gain planning permission?

For the realisation of the entire project many permits were required, which sometimes required a few months for final approval.

Were there any challenging aspects to the project and build?

At the time of the purchase by the homeowners the building was in a good state of conservation but, to make all the changes planned by the project, we had to undertake many structural consolidations and modifications to the internal and external masonry of the build.

What were the homeowner's expectations from yourselves?

Our client gave us the task of furnishing the space as a turnkey service, therefore, we followed the project from start to finish.

How did you approach material and product specification?

For the renovation we used a large amount of traditional materials, which were already part of the existing building, alongside finishes manufactured from various materials but compatible with the wrapper and the logic of the project.

Are there any particular materials that you would recommend to others looking to renovate?

We believe that when you have stone walls or roofing structures – as in this case, having a very strong aesthetic component – all the other materials must be used in the most minimal and ‘clean’ way possible, so we absolutely recommend all materials that respond to this principle.

How long did the project take and was it the timeframe that both you and the homeowners originally predicted?

The expected time for interior renovation was estimated at a year and a half, however, the work – for reasons relating to changes and permissions by the local administration – led to a two-year timeframe.

How does the building respond to its surrounding landscape?

Externally, the building mirrors the landscape thanks to its large cuts of light; the surrounding nature and building live in a symbiotic relationship – in our opinion very successfully.

What does the local community think of the refurbishment?

We do hope the community judges the project as worthwhile; we are convinced that all the changes made to the exterior have even more ennobled this wonderful place.

Would you do it all over again?

For us, this project was a great adventure and we would do it again – if there was another chance. We have to thank to the owners who have believed in us and, that from the very beginning, have responded in perfect harmony with our ideas as we did with theirs. A good project is realised only with a good customer.

What advice would you offer to anyone looking to renovate?

When buying a home such as this, the buyer does not purchase it because they need a ‘roof’, rather it’s because they want to achieve a dream, and these dreams usually do not respond to a precise or discounted logic. If we have to offer any advice, then we would recommend to work with an architect that knows how to listen to their clients and is able to interpret everything that can make a client happy and materialise their desires.

Lenzi + Baglini Architetti has designed and refurbished residential and commercial interiors since 2009. The practice’s architectural research carried out over the years has focused mainly on the complete cohabitation of both the language of traditions and the modern style of great Italian and international masters of the 20th century.

Each project is covered in painstaking detail, from taking measurements and graphic rendering, to the design of furnishings and the choice of supplies.

It has partnered up with skilled craftsmen and design stores for years, as well as art galleries and local artists whom it picks out specifically to confirm the philosophy of the practice: to create settings with a ‘tailor-made’ value.

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