Steve and Karen were brilliant at thinking ahead to the things we would never have thought of until too late, so the design of the two properties fitted precisely with our projected use for both buildings and the internal space reflected the needs of our family and our guests.

NR – Surrey

What was the client brief?

Both busy solicitors based in London, our clients were looking for an historic property in Italy which they’d initially use as a retreat for weekends and holidays with family, but intended to retire to in the future. A peaceful, scenic location was priority, although it needed high-quality internet and mobile connections, a town with good facilities nearby and easy access to an international airport. Plus, the clients also had their heart set on a property with a fresco.

What is the history of the property?

Working to the client brief we found a 13th century private chapel in what was once a small farming community (Borgo) of about 22 people. Years of thoughtless restoration had left the building with a concrete drying tower and ugly, replacement floors. But after some preliminary excavation we uncovered the original chapel structure, complete with graceful gothic arches. And research into Vatican records revealed it was first consecrated in 1253.

Design elements

The property had some magnificent original features like the wonderful stone Gothic arch which we restored and enhanced with a handcrafted modern kitchen. A double-height open-plan living area still pays homage to the church’s original architecture, opening out onto a portico dining terrace overlooking the pool. We also hand-built a floating staircase in iron which was allowed to rust gently before being waxed. And of course we didn’t forget the fresco, that was painted by one of our specialist team and was an adaptation of a Giotto angel from ‘The Lamentation’.  This was also complemented by a new stained glass window inspired by Michelangelo’s work.

What challenges did we need to overcome?

One of our main issues was changing the right of way through the property and also bringing in a two kilometre pipe to source water from a reservoir below the Borgo. Fortunately a little of that expense was mitigated by our discovering the chapel had been incorrectly defined in local records, was actually a church and didn’t incur a ‘change of use’ tax – which proved a sunstantial saving for the clients.

 

What were the project timescales?

The main house was completed in 14 months (two months for planning and 12 for construction, including installing a pool). The landscaping and exterior design and construction took another three months. Restoration work on the church was delayed slightly by legalities to verify no change of use, but work was completed on this second phase in eight months.