This project presented a fascinating dilemma for its architect/owner, Sabrina Bignami of b-arch studio. How do you take a neglected 18th century palace guesthouse, restore it, layer in elements of contemporary design and still remain true to the historical integrity of the house?
Located in Prato, Italy, a famous textile city close to Florence, Casa Orlandi had been unoccupied for twenty years when Bignami purchased it. It was neglected, but filled with beautiful frescos by Luigi Catani, one of the premier Tuscan fresco painters of the day.
From the beginning, the architect’s restoration intention was to use a light hand, and not to remake anything that did not already exist. To that end, the frescos, many of which had been covered over with a heavy layer of white paint, were lovingly restored by a friend, an expert in the field. The floors were saved and preserved, but not patched or replaced. Partially missing details were left as they are, and accepted as the result of time. The casings, in all of their fragile lightness, were kept in their original state.
Yet, restoration was only one of the goals of this project. The architect wanted to acknowledge Italy’s historical legacy, but also its great contributions to the world of contemporary design. She did so, by introducing modern elements into the space, and by working to create a successful dialogue between the two, something she feels that Italians often struggle with, ideologically. She mixed "marchè aux puces" pieces from around the world with recognizably modern objects, but always in an intentionally impermanent manner. As a result, none of the contemporary pieces touch the walls, and all can be moved or replaced, at whim or over time, as the house evolves. In this respectful way, she has both honored the house and enlivened it.
Exquisite, don't you think?