On the sleepy streets of Modica in southern Sicily sun-bleached stone houses nestle into the hillside, while the passing hours are marked by the bells of the city’s baroque cathedrals. The homes here have all been created as sanctuaries from the intense Sicilian sun, and this one is no exception. Built in the 19th century, its entrance is via a shady courtyard that leads to an open-air staircase, planted with fragrant jasmine.
The apartment has a classic Italian layout and when the owner, a young teacher, first moved in, its style was similarly traditional; a mish-mash of inherited pieces with a formal and slightly oppressive air. ‘It was tired. She felt embarrassed to invite friends here,’ says Valentina Giampiccolo, one half of architecture and design firm Studio Gum, who, along with co-founder Giuseppe Minaldi, was hired to bring back a sense of fun.
Properties of this era were often richly decorated, creating a sense of wonder in visitors as they discovered room after room. But whatever ornamentation this apartment once had, all that remained were the wonderful patterns of the cementina, or ‘little concrete’, floor tiles. ‘We wanted to take these incredible floors and balance them with modern elements to create a new sense of exploration,’ says Giuseppe.
‘We chose wallpapers that amplify the views from the windows,’ he explains. In the main living room, rolling Fornasetti clouds echo the skies above the town. In the centre of the house, where light is in short supply but the air is the coolest, a verdant trompe-l’œil of lush palms and exotic animals provides a wonderful space to retreat to on the hottest days. ‘This room has become something unexpected: an indoor garden,’ says Giuseppe. Linked to the rest of the house via a sequence of playful secret doors – invisible except on close inspection – it helps to deliver what Valentina fondly describes as, ‘a sense of narrative’.
Throughout, the furniture has a 1960s-style modernist air, mixing black metals with richly-toned wooden pieces, jaunty brass floor lamps and splayed-leg armchairs. ‘The decoration could be seen as quite extreme, but somehow it never seems noisy,’ remarks Giuseppe. ‘There’s a balance here; this house has found its equilibrium.’ studiogum.it
For the full house tour see ELLE Decoration May 2020
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