Otto Studio Takes a Page From Dante’s Poetry for the 25hours Hotel Piazza San Paolino in Florence, Italy
International travel these days is undoubtedly heaven and hell. In the former camp is visiting Italy, particularly Florence. But Interior Design Hall of Fame member Paola Navone embraced both the paradisal and the infernal when she drew on Dante Alighieri’s epic poem, La Divina Commedia, as inspiration for the interiors at 25hours Hotel Piazza San Paolino in the 14th-century poet’s native city. “Every project is its own scenario connected to the place where we build,” she begins. “Every story is built from scratch, every element needed.” The results—a sui generis mix of materials and products, some sourced from far-off locales—all stem from the depths of Navone’s fertile imagination.
The hotel is the first Italian property for 25hours, a hospitality brand based in Hamburg, Germany. Navone met founder Christoph Hoffmann several years ago in Switzerland. “We liked each other, became friends, and stayed in contact,” she discloses. Ecco, the commission for her firm, Otto Studio. It was Hoffmann, she adds, who came up with the poetic concept: “Totally crazy. Here was this German guy who comes to Italy to do The Divine Comedy. I took the challenge and interpreted the idea in a light, charming way so Italians wouldn’t feel aggressive toward it.”
Located near the Santa Maria Novella church and the city’s train station, the 115,700-square-foot hotel, which encircles an open courtyard, comprises two main parts: a renovated three-story building partly dating to medieval times that was long ago a pawn shop run by priests, and a new three-story annex replacing a dilapidated warehouse in the adjacent garden. All architectural interventions, made in collaboration with local firm Genius Loci Architettura, came under the watchful eye of the belle arti department of Italy’s Ministry of Culture. (“We came upon tombs during excavation,” Navone reports.) The hotel’s 171 guest rooms are distributed across both structures, which are connected by an interior corridor and the courtyard.
Knowing Florentines and tourists alike, Navone cleverly planned three entrances—one on the piazza and two on the side street—none opening exclusively to reception. One serves the Companion bar, since what, after all, is the first place guests inquire about upon check-in? Outfitted with custom iron-and-brass tables, crimson tufted-leather upholstery, and dark indigo walls, this moody boîte alludes to the first part of Dante’s poem, Inferno, where drinking was deemed a sin. Not for Navone, who dubs it a “church for alcohol.”
The entrance on the piazza leads to I Golosi—an alimentari, or food hall, that pays homage to Italy’s ubiquitous small grocery markets—its name, which references the sin of gluttony, spelled out large in a wall mosaic. Navone turns that on its heels, too. “I’m giving people the chance not to feel guilty,” she reasons. “Maybe inferno is not as bad as people think.” Especially when it’s filled with the delicious pasta, bread, and wine that are available to eat here or take away. Supplementing the real thing are faux salami and prosciutti—art objects rendered in crochet, fabric, papier-mâché, and painted plaster—that hang among aluminum pots and pans overhead.
Reception provides an even bigger wow factor. Custom vinyl wallcovering behind the desk flaunts a super-enlarged version of the marbled paper that Florentine stationery and bookbinding are famous for. The check-in counter hosts another witty art installation: Sourced throughout Europe by vintage collectibles dealer Davide Mariani, old suitcases have been painted silver-green and arranged in teetering piles to greet arriving guests It suggests the ultimate travel nightmare: a lost-luggage office in hell.
Seemingly alfresco, the adjoining San Paolino restaurant sits beneath an immense steel-and-glass cupola. Vintage chairs and new ones made of recycled plastic and metal surround custom marble tables, which are in turn surrounded by a profusion of plants, some real, some not. The ersatz greenery, which has sound-absorbing leaves of recycled textiles and polymers, was commissioned from Linda Nieuwstad, a Dutch artist. While the restaurant is a study in daylight, the adjacent lobby bar evokes a dusky blue evening. Polyethylene globes, aglow like azure planets thanks to LEDs, give the lounge its name, Sfere Celesti.
Other amenities in the historic building include the Sala delle Celesti Armonie, aka, the music room. With walls covered in another marbleized super-graphic, backdrop to a portrait gallery of Italian divos and divas, it’s for reading or a game of billiards. Guests loath to miss a a workout can descend to the basement gym or use the ground-floor sauna and loungelike “relax room.” Unable to fill the latter space with real plants, Navone created her own fantastic garden with an effusion of green plastic watering hoses.
There are two types of guest room—Inferno and Paradiso—places Dante separates by an immense divide. No so here. Named after good and bad characters in the poem, they are interspersed freely on all floors. “The idea is you can be naughty in the red rooms,” Navone says with a laugh, noting the charred furniture and custom chandeliers with playing card motifs. (Gambling, another sin.) Paradiso rooms are sweetness and light: Floors are creamy resin; azure accents in rugs and fabrics allude to the heavens; and Alexander Calder-esque mobiles overhead suggest the solar system or, in Dante’s sublime final phrase, “the Love that moves the sun and the other stars.”
- aufschnitt; maison cisson; sissi valassina; steiner & wolinska
- creative cables
- Edie Cohen
- ediltecno restauri
- flaminia lighting
- fulvio baldeschi
- genius loci architettura
- ingo mauer
- la pietra compattata
- Laura Fantacuzzi and Maxime Galati-Fourcade/Living Inside
- milan ingegneria
- otto studio
- riabitz and partners
- rogai billardi
- sammode studio
- schoenstaub; seletti
- studio makia
- vicentina marmi
- vox populi
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