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A Hilltop Villa in Italy With a Strong Foundation


This text is an element of our latest Design special section, about spaces inspired by nature.

CAMAIORE, Italy — When Marco Pasanella was a boy, he began to spend summers in Tuscany, where his father, Giovanni Pasanella, an architect and former professor of architecture and concrete design at Yale and Columbia, had moved within the Nineteen Seventies. Eventually, Giovanni bought an 18th-century hilltop villa overlooking Camaiore, a town near Lucca, settling there and returning to his past love: painting.

Mr. Pasanella has fond memories of scrumptious, laid-back meals concocted by Lisetta Bianco Mueller, his father’s companion of 38 years, for a coterie of guests that always mixed artists and intellectuals with neighbors or someone’s visiting elderly aunt.

“It was just vigorous,” said Mr. Pasanella, 59, who lives together with his wife, Rebecca Robertson, 47, and their son, Luca, above their wine shop within the Seaport neighborhood, on the southern tip of Manhattan. So many visitors converged on the villa that Lisetta bought food wholesale, and native suppliers “thought she had a hotel,” he said.

After Giovanni died, Mr. Pasanella inherited Villa Cannizzaro, because it was called, and with it memories floating from the remnants of past lives. Deciding what to maintain and what to clean-sweep while making the villa their very own was sometimes difficult and at times a fragile balancing act between preserving family heirlooms and traditions and making the villa fit with their Twenty first-century lifestyle.

“We’ve taken our time with how we’ve approached the home,” he said on a recent Sunday. “I didn’t want it to be too like a museum.”

The villa is the centerpiece of a 62-acre property that’s the epitome of a classical Tuscan landscape: perfectly manicured lawns, orchards of olive trees (enough to supply oil for the family and friends), sundry fruit trees and a sloping area behind the villa that was recently cleared in order that the Pasanellas could stroll through a “pineta,” a shady pine-tree promenade. “A passeggiata in pineta is just pleasure,” Mr. Pasanella alliterated, using the Italian word for walk.

On one side of the villa is a bamboo grove that have to be always kept in check lest it encroach too closely on a few of the outer buildings on the estate. Giovanni “encouraged” the bamboo, and it became certainly one of his preferred painting subjects, Mr. Pasanella said.

Credit…Fabio Ercolini

Nowadays, he has been mining the grove for a bamboo teahouse that he designed a couple of years ago as a hideaway for Luca. There’s a low window on one wall that appears out onto the town of Camaiore, and an open roof. “Certainly one of the things Luca really likes is just looking up,” he said.

Luca is now days shy of 17, and this summer he and Mr. Pasanella plan to go to a local company that designs with bamboo and offers courses on its qualities in order that they might learn how one can higher preserve the teahouse.

Luca’s only criticism: bad Wi-Fi reception on the hill.

Mr. Pasanella is a designer of every little thing from housewares to hotels, and Ms. Robertson is an interior designer and stylist, by the use of a protracted stint working for Martha Stewart. But on the villa, he said, that they had desired to avoid “coming in with design with a capital D.”

That they had an excellent foundation to work with. The villa’s two primary stories unfold in a series of airy rooms with vistas onto the gardens or surrounding hills. A few of Giovanni’s pieces — bronze lamps topped with onyx shades, or sleek coffee tables manufactured from fossilized marble originally designed for the Seagram office constructing in Recent York — anchor rooms which have retained lots of the original furnishings.

“Mostly we did plenty of editing,” stashing excess furniture within the attic. “It was more like curating somewhat than a remake,” Mr. Pasanella said.

Giovanni’s paintings are a leitmotif of the villa. A big abstract work he painted at 19 hangs in an upstairs salon, a solid counterpart to enormous frames on the three remaining partitions where the couple have installed mirrors that open up the space to light and infinity.

Mr. Pasanella’s father’s studio, serenaded by birds, has develop into the primary bedroom. But Giovanni’s spirit hovers: An extended shelf on one wall is lined with jars of pigments, tin cans filled with paint brushes and old turpentine cans.

The artist’s study on the bottom floor has remained mostly untouched. A bookcase features family photographs, including of Mr. Pasanella’s late mother, a sociologist; a beloved family dog’s ashes; and several other birds’ nests and parts of beehives found on the property.

They reshuffled the furniture within the bedroom that Giovanni and Lisetta shared for greater than three a long time, but Mr. Pasanella said he had not felt “comfortable appropriating it,” so it’s used for guests.

Lisetta’s touch is glimpsed in details throughout, just like the primary dining room’s Stile Liberty chandelier (Stile Liberty is the Italian equivalent of Art Nouveau). She also brought in a bedroom’s leopard statue from Montelupo Fiorentino, a town famed because the Renaissance for its ceramics.

Before the pandemic, Mr. Pasanella and Ms. Robertson moved here for a yr when Luca was in middle school, to see what living in Italy could be like. “Not a fantasy version, but an actual version,” Mr. Pasanella said. It was an incredible experience but they resettled in Recent York for the faculties. They returned to Villa Cannizzaro five times through the pandemic, as often as they might.

“I didn’t feel so isolated here,” Mr. Pasanella said. It was worse looking around Recent York’s empty streets.

Despite their determination to avoid making the villa appear to be a museum, the couple have been sensitive to its history of their reclamation.

Within the kitchen, they simply moved the unique sink of gray Carrara marble under a window, replaced tiles around the fireside and mantle with cipolin, a marble quarried on this area, and added more light, “a type of Americanism that makes this room somewhat bit more comfortable,” Mr. Pasanella said. What was once a “utilitarian” kitchen became something “somewhat less ad hoc but keeping the spirit of the home.”

Food is stored in an original pantry, carved out of the huge partitions. “The kitchen person thought we were bananas; they said, ‘How come you don’t need to have 1,000,000 cabinets?’” (they definitely have the space for them), Mr. Pasanella said, adding that the kitchen was great as is. “You don’t must reinvent every little thing.”

The substitution of a glazed metal bathtub in the lavatory on the bottom floor — sufficiently big to deal with a pool table — with a 1,500-pound marble tub from a close-by town involved a crane and shoring the ground underneath with steel beams. “It was an enormous job to make it seem to be we hadn’t done anything.”

The lavatory armoire — which could hold the bedding of a smallish boutique hotel — is a lesson in decluttering. “That’s on account of my wife who spent 13 years working for Martha Stewart,” Mr. Pasanella said with amusing.

Once Luca goes off to school, Mr. Pasanella expects that he and his wife will spend more time here, though they may keep a foot in Recent York, because they find it irresistible, and so they have their wine shop. “We are going to find whatever that balance is,” he said.

Because it is, Villa Cannizzaro continues to be a piece in progress.

He’s making a space contained in the bamboo grove, a quiet place for reflection, lulled by the slow tempo of rustling bamboo reeds. “I need to develop it, make it higher,” he said. “Not every little thing needs to be done unexpectedly.”

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