For many people, choosing a holiday home involves several vital criteria - accessibility being high on the list. Yet for Patrizio Fradiani, an Italian-born architect now living in the US, that mattered little.
"I've lived in Chicago for 10 years, and wanted to find a meaningful place in Italy as a vacation escape," he says. Patrizio and his partner had been holidaying in Tuscany for years, so concentrated their search on the surrounding area. "We were looking for a property with great potential at a low price," says Patrizio. "We looked at hundreds - but when we found Podere Palazzo, it felt unique." Located at the junction of Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio, it is less than two hours' drive from Rome.
The 18th-century stone farmhouse sits on four acres of land and has uninterrupted views of the rolling countryside. The house was a ruin when they first saw it, having been abandoned since the 1950s. "The roof was barely there and the first floor didn't exist," says Patrizio. "But we could see that the location was truly magical."
For Patrizio, whose Chicago-based architectural practice, Studio F, is known for creating ultra-modern urban apartments and city houses, this project, with its simple, rural bare bones, was a challenge. He was keen to use local artisans and indigenous materials to maintain the spirit of the house and to introduce modern elements, too.
The floors throughout are terracotta, hand made with local clay; window frames and doors were made in the area and the locally sourced chestnut beams, while new, were cut by hand to resemble the originals. Walls are off-white, using an organic water and lime-based paint and the colour of the shutters was very carefully chosen. "The grey-green paint was the best of 20 samples. I wanted to reproduce an old colour traditionally used in the southern part of Tuscany."
Visitors to the 371-square-metre house find a flowing, sociable layout, which is intimate yet generously proportioned. "I've organised the space around focal points and created as many vistas as possible through every window," says Patrizio. Entering through the front door, you pass through a capacious sitting room, then, via an interconnecting dining room and quieter sitting area, through the hall to the kitchen, and then out through double doors to a covered porch. Upstairs, there are four bedrooms and three bathrooms, accessed by a particularly eye-catching modern staircase. The custom-made iron banister has been coated with a single layer of acrylic paint, designed to age with subtle gradations in colour and patina.
Faced with furnishing an entire house - and doing so long-distance - Patrizio chose to follow the watchwords of "beauty and budget". A lover of classic American and Italian furniture, he chose iconic designs that won't date, all bought in Italy.
Practicality and maintenance are other issues - especially because Podere Palazzo is available to rent as a holiday home (www.poderepalazzo.com). So Patrizio gave the sofas, chairs and headboards removable loose covers, and chose unlined white linen for all the curtains. His favourite piece of furniture is the giant dining room table, which he had made from the scaffolding boards left over after the renovation. "The contractor thought I was nuts, but we got the boards cut to the correct size, then my brother-in-law and I assembled, cleaned and sanded them."
Precisely because the house is meant to be shared with friends, the design is clean and simple, but with an air of quiet luxury, too. Life in the kitchen revolves around an oversized island unit, with stools to pull up and, from here, double doors lead onto the generously sized porch, with an exterior wood-burning fireplace and a table surrounded by classic Verner Panton dining chairs. Upstairs, a Philippe Starck bathtub sits in one bathroom beneath a romantic chandelier, bought from a flea market. In another, there is a huge shower, with a deluge shower head and pebbles underfoot.
He admits that the furnishing was the "fun part", but that it was a complex job. "I'll sit up all night worrying what colour to have on a sofa," he says. "Most people go to one store. I'll ask what is available in the world."
* Red Cover