My friend Friederike (of Clean Team fame) claims that bringing a decrepit ruin back to life is an act of poetry. She should know; she’s done it twice. In Milan, there’s evidence that poetic renovation is not a recent phenomenon. Tucked away in the high-end fashion district, on Via San Spirito, is a museum that was once the home of two very poetic brothers, Fausto and Giuseppe Bagatti-Valsecchi.
Although they lived in 19th century Milan, their vision was to create a palazzo that perfectly reflected the Renaissance period in Italy, particularly Lombardy artifacts from the late 1500s and early 1600s. Their house became, in effect, a living museum of the period they most admired. Every domestic object, work of art, piece of furniture, wall of paneling, fireplace mantel or stone frieze in their extensive collection was incorporated into their daily life.
If a piece they found was damaged or didn’t quite fit the space they intended for it, they had it repaired or made complete by craftsmen expert in the methods of the object’s original period. Thus, for example, the wooden coffered ceiling taken from a Renaissance period palazzo and modified, with no trace of the change, to fit the ceiling of the Camera Rossa. Or the period stone bath retrofitted discreetly for running water, a plumbing modernization of their own era.
Today, thanks to a foundation set up by their descendants, you can visit the Bagatti Valsecchi home and see it just as it was when they lived there. It’s my absolute favorite museum in Milan. The incredible attention to detail resulting from their passion for the architecture and artifacts of the period, and the grace with which it’s all been put together, is an act of love. And poetry.
For more about the Museo Bagatti Valsecchi, visit here:
For anyone who might be thinking about restoring a villa in the Italian countryside, this is my one best piece of advice: be a locarenovator! Source your contractor, geometra and materials from the community in which you’re building.
We’ve made a lot of mistakes with our villa – mostly with regards to understanding how much stuff actually had to be done to make it livable, and how much money it would take. More about that tale of woe another time! The one thing we have done right is to hire people who live within a 20 minute drive, and to buy our materials from about the same radius. Why is this so important?
For one thing, everyone who’s got something to do with the outcome knows each other. They all run into each other (and sometimes us) at the bar, the bakery, or Saturday night’s festa. They went to school together. They know each others’ babies. Their interconnection is vital for getting things done.
And, more than that, I believe fervently that the project, however sporadic our activity, should benefit the community in which we seek to be welcome. It seems only right.
One last piece of advice: learn the language. You can’t participate if you don’t. You end up being a mere stranger demanding service, and it will never be as good. Italians are the most forgiving people on earth towards those who butcher their beautiful language, so there’s really no excuse. Go forth fearlessly and learn to be local.
Since my mastery of video editing is really, really limited, I’ve decided to give you a house tour using stills for now. The house is ‘semi-interrata‘ which means the bottom floor is open to the outdoors on one side, but the earth is built up around the other three. So the original entrance leads to what will be the cantina (basement), which is not really counted as part of the livable house.
That’s it! I hope this helps you visualize the whole house a little better. Look at the photos along with the floor plans from the previous blog and hopefully you’ll be able to see how it all fits together.