Italian Holiday Home

PHOTOS Francesco Bolis/Photo Departments WORDS Sara Panagiotopoulou for

Italian architects and designers Roberto Palomba and Ludovica Serafini are known to South Africans for their collaborations with the likes of Kartell by Laufen, available here at Italtile. The couple’s holiday home in Puglia, Italy, is the epitome of a rustic Italian country house.

PalombaSerafini’s, Roberto and Ludovica’s holiday home near Lecce, Puglia, in south-eastern Italy, is in a romantic location on a peninsula between the Ionian and Adriatic seas.

They had not been searching for such a property, but when a friend showed them the building, which had stood abandoned for 30 years, they immediately saw its potential.

“We loved the space at first sight, and in a few minutes the project was born,” Roberto says, scrolling enthusiastically through images of the house on his phone. Constructed in the 1600s as an oil mill, the 400 m² building possessed all the characteristics that would seem to make it unappealing to the less forward- thinking, including fire-blackened tuff ceilings, sloping walls and a lack of windows.

But the Palombas didn’t see it that way. “It was really exciting upon first entering this house with its walls reaching over 6 m in height and its wide indoor spaces created by thick columns,” Roberto says. They found most of the construction materials needed for the renovation in the immediate area.

Thanks to the innate skills of local artisans, the whole project was completed in five months. “We renovated with minimal work,” Roberto says, adding that he and Ludovica tapped into their backgrounds in architecture – they met in Rome while studying the craft more than 20 years ago. “We didn’t add any new walls so as not to break up the existing spaces. We used local stone for the floors and whitewash for the walls.”

Italian holiday home
Ludovica and Roberto designed the Pianoalto modular sofas and Loto and Ninfea side tables for Zanotta. The rugs are from Karpeta and the Zen screen was designed by the duo for Exteta.

Their biggest challenge was figuring out a way to bring more natural light into the fortresslike structure, as “it was illuminated only by oil lamps”. The problem was solved by carving out a series of skylights and opening up the back of the building to allow the sun in. “We used natural materials like white lime and stone as the only decorations, which expresses our idea of conceptual simplicity and honesty,” Roberto says. “No matter what we design, our designs are always ‘free’ in the sense that we are curious and consistently challenge ourselves. If somebody wants to understand us, they have to live in our architecture.”

He notes that this personal project is one through which their greater interior design vision is perfectly exemplified. The result is a house that provides the busy duo with a place for much-needed “personal decompression… physical and mental,” Roberto says. “We knew exactly the result we wanted to achieve and it all happened in a very fluid way. It’s actually been a great honour to design something for ourselves.”

Looking for more local and international escapes? Take a look at this restored Italian villa which you could stay in rent-free for a year via Airbnb’s 1 euro house programme.