Piles of old, painted suitcases form a reception installation at 25hours Hotel Piazza San Paolino in Florence, Italy, an interiors project by Paola Navone’s Otto Studio that was inspired by Dante Alighieri’s 14th-century poem, The Divine Comedy.
Piles of old, painted suitcases form a reception installation at 25hours Hotel Piazza San Paolino in Florence, Italy, an interiors project by Paola Navone’s Otto Studio that was inspired by Dante Alighieri’s 14th-century poem, The Divine Comedy.

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.”

The entry doors to the Companion bar are restored originals.
The entry doors to the Companion bar are restored originals.
Backdropped by custom vinyl wallcovering, a vintage Lapo Binazzi table lamp sits on the check-in counter.
Backdropped by custom vinyl wallcovering, a vintage Lapo Binazzi table lamp sits on the check-in counter.
A stairwell’s wall color and pendant fixtures suggest a descent into hell.
A stairwell’s wall color and pendant fixtures suggest a descent into hell.

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.

Below the San Paolino restaurant’s glass cupola, chairs made from recycled plastic and metal line a custom marble-top table.
Below the San Paolino restaurant’s glass cupola, chairs made from recycled plastic and metal line a custom marble-top table.

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.”

A mobile ceiling fixture evoking the planets joins resin flooring, a custom rug, and an armchair of Navone’s design in a light and bright Paradiso guest room.
A mobile ceiling fixture evoking the planets joins resin flooring, a custom rug, and an armchair of Navone’s design in a light and bright Paradiso guest room.
Ceramic tile clads the circular bucket shower in the sauna.
Ceramic tile clads the circular bucket shower in the sauna.

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.

Large terra-cotta pots and towering plants, both real and in sound-absorbing recycled textiles and polymers, populate San Paolino.
Large terra-cotta pots and towering plants, both real and in sound-absorbing recycled textiles and polymers, populate San Paolino.

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.

A hanging garden of plastic hoses enlivens the sauna lounge.
A hanging garden of plastic hoses enlivens the sauna lounge.

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.

Overlooked by an installation of artificial salami, I Golosi, the hotel’s take-away food hall, is modeled on a classic Italian alimentari.
Overlooked by an installation of artificial salami, I Golosi, the hotel’s take-away food hall, is modeled on a classic Italian alimentari.

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.

The moodier Inferno guest rooms feature custom sconces and pendants bearing playing-card motifs.
The moodier Inferno guest rooms feature custom sconces and pendants bearing playing-card motifs.
A custom neon sign points the way to the basement gym.
A custom neon sign points the way to the basement gym.

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.”

Walls in Sfere Celesti, the lobby bar, are covered with distressed mirror while Navone designed the sofas and enameled lava-stone tables.
Walls in Sfere Celesti, the lobby bar, are covered with distressed mirror while Navone designed the sofas and enameled lava-stone tables.
She also designed the faucets and sconces in the sauna restroom, with custom marble sinks.
She also designed the faucets and sconces in the sauna restroom, with custom marble sinks.
Composite-stone tile flooring, custom vinyl wallcovering, and a hoop-skirt frame used as a pendant fixture join a billiard table and a display of Italian celebrity portraits in the Sala delle Celesti Armonie, or music room.
Composite-stone tile flooring, custom vinyl wallcovering, and a hoop-skirt frame used as a pendant fixture join a billiard table and a display of Italian celebrity portraits in the Sala delle Celesti Armonie, or music room.
Ingo Maurer’s feather-winged Lucellino sconce helps set the heavenly tone in a Paradiso room.
Ingo Maurer’s feather-winged Lucellino sconce helps set the heavenly tone in a Paradiso room.
The Companion bar has basalt tile flooring, leather-upholstered banquettes, and iron-and-brass tables, all custom.
The Companion bar has basalt tile flooring, leather-upholstered banquettes, and iron-and-brass tables, all custom.
project team
otto studio: cristina pettenuzzo; camilla escobar; domenico diego
genius loci archi­tettura: architect
studio makia: landscape consultant
fulvio baldeschi: lighting consultant
milan ingegneria: structural engineer
stimp: mep
riabitz and partners: woodwork
ediltecno restauri: general contractor
project sources
pragotecna: floor tile (companion bar)
creative cables: pendant fixtures (stairway)
santamargherita: custom marble tables (restaurant)
maximum: side chairs
gobbetto: resin floor (paradiso room)
Add tag via side panel:
schoenstaub; seletti: custom rugs
rubelli: chair fabric
gervasoni: chair (paradiso room), stools (food hall)
flaminia lighting: floor lamp (paradiso room), sconces (restroom)
vox populi: pendant fixture (paradiso room, music room)
flos: pendant fixtures (sauna lounge)
sammode studio: pendant fixtures (food hall)
aufschnitt; maison cisson; sissi valassina; steiner & wolinska: artificial salami
Add tag via side panel: floor tile (inferno room)
karman: custom pendant fixtures (inferno room), sconces (inferno room, companion bar)
bacter: sofas (lobby bar, music room)
vicentina marmi: custom sinks (restroom)
mamoli: sink fittings
amura: armchairs (music room)
siru: floor lamps
rogai billardi: billiard table, green pendant fixtures
ingo mauer: sconce (paradiso room)
throughout
slide: globe pendant fixtures
la pietra compattata: composite-stone floor tile
vescom: custom wallcovering

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