May 1, 2020

Massimo Adario Takes an “Atemporale” Approach to Renovating a Storied Florence Apartment

Remember the movie version of E.M. Forster’s “A Room with a View” with its honeyed images of Florence, Italy? That’s the swoonily romantic lens through which one can’t help viewing the gloriously eclectic Florentine apartment that architect Massimo Adario recently renovated for his partner—an art, design, and fashion lover, who also happens to be an architect. From its position in the ancient Oltrarno quarter, mere steps from the Arno, the 2,400-square-foot, fifth-floor flat looks across the river to some of the city’s most beloved landmarks, the Galleria degli Uffizi and the basilicas of San Miniato al Monte and Santa Croce, among them. Forster’s Lucy Honeychurch couldn’t have asked for a finer view.

Artist Francesco Ardini created the ceramic rosettes and beetles used as cabinet handles on the master bedroom’s built-in closet, which is sheathed in walnut-edged linoleum paneling. Photography by Laura Fantacuzzi and Maxime Galati-Fourcade.

Before discussing the interior makeover, Adario, principal of his namesake firm, recounts the building’s colorful history. Dating to medieval times, it was destroyed by the Germans during World War II and rebuilt in 1951. Though retaining some of the qualities of the original, the reconstructed version was not slavishly faithful to it. “The facade is an irregular fusion between contemporary elements and the character of the location,” the architect explains. Similarly, Adario’s design fuses various influences across the decades from the 1920s to the ’60s, and even the ’80s. With a curatorial eye, he juxtaposes “things that you think would not go together, but they do.” The approach, the Rome-born-and-based architect notes, is not at all Florentine; rather, it’s atemporale—outside of time.

Antique Moroccan rugs, vintage woven straw chairs by Jan Bocan for Thonet, Ton A.C. Alberts’s Zodiac floor lamp, and a custom settee furnish the living area, which overlooks the Arno. Photography by Laura Fantacuzzi and Maxime Galati-Fourcade. 

Inside, Adario made only limited structural changes and did not alter the apartment’s L-shape layout. His biggest intervention was to transform it from “a double-corridor borghese situation separating living and service zones” to one with a single hallway linking the rooms. These comprise a small entry foyer; three bedrooms with baths; and, spanning the crook of the L, an imposing enfilade incorporating living, dining, study, and kitchen areas connected by a series of wide marble portals.

One of three new Verde Alpi–marble portals separates the kitchen area from the hallway with its custom built-in window banquette. Photography by Laura Fantacuzzi and Maxime Galati-Fourcade.

Though the spaces flow easily into one another, each has a distinctive look, bold with color and brimming with detail. As for original materials, only the marble terrazzo floor tiles in the hallway already existed. Everything else is new. In terms of palette, two materials prevail: walnut and linoleum. Linoleum, one might wonder, in such an elegant environment? “From the 1920s through the ’50s it was used in buildings as a modern material,” Adario explains, citing its application in such 20th-century masterpieces as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Villa Tugendhat in Brno, the Czech Republic, and Piero Portaluppi’s Villa Necchi Campiglio in Milan, the silent co-star of “I Am Love,” another swoony movie. Later, the architect notes, the material became more utilitarian, losing its figurative sheen: “I wanted to bring it back, but make it look modern.”

Walnut-dowel paneling backs an Otto Schulz cabinet, dating to the 1920s, in the hallway. Photography by Laura Fantacuzzi and Maxime Galati-Fourcade.

Ergo linoleum’s pervasive use in the apartment: as two-tone wall-to-wall “rugs” in some rooms; as a brilliant expanse of orange lining a window bay in the otherwise serious hallway; and as rich-toned wall and ceiling coverings in the study and bedrooms. “I’m not afraid of using color,” Adario admits, though he limited his choices to stock hues. When used on walls, ceilings, or built-in bedroom closets, the material is applied as panels framed by thin strips of walnut, “making it more precious.” In fact, the architect refers to such treatment as boiserie.

Marcel Breuer Cesca chairs surround Pietro Chiesa’s glass table in the dining area, which is separated from the kitchen area by another of the new marble portals. Photography by Laura Fantacuzzi and Maxime Galati-Fourcade.

Actual woodwork is entirely walnut. It appears as regular millwork, lining portals and doorways, forming built-in furniture, and paneling ceilings and walls, occasionally in the guise of tambourlike vertical dowels. The characterful wood is also used to frame the apartment’s windows, most notably those on the living quarter’s two extended walls, one facing the Arno, the other overlooking Piazza Santa Maria Soprarno.

In the study area, Riccardo Previdi’s mirrored work hangs above a custom walnut-and-linoleum desk with a vintage stool. Photography by Laura Fantacuzzi and Maxime Galati-Fourcade.

Adario had fun with another favorite material: ceramic clay. Collaborating with artist Francesco Ardini, he crafted rosettes and fantastical beetles as door pulls for bedroom closets. More unusual still are the large glossy-tile panels Ardini made for the kitchen. Using a finger-paintlike technique that Adario compares to “kids drawing on dirty cars,” they depict an abstract landscape resembling the nearby Ponte Vecchio. As pragmatic as they are charming, the tiled panels open to reveal an oven, cooktop, fridge, dishwasher, and all the other paraphernalia of a well-equipped kitchen. When they’re closed, only the sleek stainless-steel and marble island with its twin sinks and sculptural faucets remains in view. Could there be a cooler place to prepare a late-night bowl of pici all’aglione while sipping Chianti Classico?

Behind the steel-and-marble island, kitchen appliances are concealed by the panels of Francesco Ardini’s ceramic-tile landscape. Photography by Laura Fantacuzzi and Maxime Galati-Fourcade.

Enviable eye-candy furnishings abound. Many pieces are incontrovertible classics. To wit, Jan Bocan’s woven straw seating for Thonet, an Ingmar Relling leather armchair, and Marcel Breuer’s Cesca chairs, which surround Pietro Chiesa’s glass dining table, circa 1934, for FontanaArte. Not far from the hallway’s vintage turquoise resin stool stands an Otto Schulz cabinet dating to the 1920s; another one graces the master bedroom where it keeps company with a quirky Philip Arctander chair, bound to be comfy thanks to its creamy sheepskin upholstery. Meanwhile, a quartet of antique rugs that Adario purchased on a Christmas trip to Morocco brings additional subtle colors to living, dining, and study areas.

In the second bedroom, linoleum clads the walls and built-in closet, which also has ceramic door handles. Photography by Laura Fantacuzzi and Maxime Galati-Fourcade.

Added to the mix are elements of the architect’s own design: the floating, double-sided sofa at the juncture of the living and study spaces, the hallway’s window banquette, and the beds with side tables. All by way of saying that everything is either vintage or custom created—you would be hard-pressed to find a production-line piece in view. The apartment is more than ready for its close-up.

The study end of the living area looks out on the narrow Piazza Santa Maria Soprarno, a block east of the Ponte Vecchio. Photography by Laura Fantacuzzi and Maxime Galati-Fourcade.
The hallway’s terrazzo marble tile flooring is original to the 1950s building, while the walnut millwork, custom banquette, and marble portals are all new. Photography by Laura Fantacuzzi and Maxime Galati-Fourcade.
The master bedroom’s custom bed has a built-in walnut-and-linoleum desk as a headboard. Photography by Laura Fantacuzzi and Maxime Galati-Fourcade.
A decorative wood container stands in the vestibule between the two guest bedrooms. Photography by Laura Fantacuzzi and Maxime Galati-Fourcade.
A vintage mirror, second Schulz cabinet, and Philip Arctander chair upholstered in sheepskin furnish a corner of the master bedroom. Photography by Laura Fantacuzzi and Maxime Galati-Fourcade.
The master bathroom’s custom vanity is linoleum clad, and its sinks are black marble. Photography by Laura Fantacuzzi and Maxime Galati-Fourcade.
The steel frame of the second bedroom’s custom headboard is painted to match the linoleum-paneled walls. Photography by Laura Fantacuzzi and Maxime Galati-Fourcade. 

Project Team: Carla Arrabito: Massimo Adario Architetto.

Product Sources: Through Raimondo Garau Gallery: stool (study). Riccardo Previdi through Francesca Minini Gallery: mirror. Ceramica Gatti: tile panels (kitchen). Nic Design: sink (master bathroom). Cerasarda: tiles. Through Demosmobilia: mirror (master bedroom). Throughout: Ceramica Gatti through Federica Schiavo Gallery: ceramic cabinet handles. Through Jacksons: vintage furniture. Forbo: linoleum.

> See more from the Winter 2019 issue of Interior Design Homes

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