The "I Burgisi" coffee bar - Palma di Montechiaro (AG)

History and culture in a coffee bar

The interior design of a coffee bar in the province of Agrigento reveals the history and roots of Sicilian culture
Silvia Airoldi
Alfonso Di Vincenzo
Year of completion

Even interior design can tell a story. In this particular case, the “story” is related by the “I Burgisi” coffee bar in Palma di Montechiaro, in the province of Agrigento. The “storyteller” is Alfonso Di Vincenzo. In this project, the architect wanted to interpret the customers’ preferred understanding of “Sicilian-ness”: profound, meaningful and distinct from the commonplace folklore and images often associated with Sicily.
The story starts with the name. “I Burgisi” (the Bourgeois) were the land owners who grew rich and powerful around the middle of the 19th century by confiscating the estates of an impoverished nobility, and climbing the social and cultural ladder to assume positions of power and prestige. In the coffee bar, Di Vincenzo has accurately evoked the ostentation of the homes and decorations of the nouveau riche so accurately depicted in Tomasi Di Lampedusa’s novel “Il Gattopardo” (The Leopard), albeit in a contemporary key.
Vietri ceramics, particularly prestigious products typical of the kingdom of the Two Sicilies and much exploited in the homes of the new bourgeoisie, dominate the bar’s interior. 20×20 cm Siena-style double fired tiles from Ce.Vi. Ceramica Vietrese’s Antichi Decori collection create a striking effect, covering a large open floor space extending over 110 square metres, utility rooms and preparation areas excluded. The traditional motif unwinds in rich brushed-on colours: yellow, orange, blue and copper green. Another iconic element in the bar is the “ticcena”, an item that can be thought of as the Sicilian equivalent of the fireplace. This was a bench placed outside the house that provided a focal point for important family conversations at sunset and other moments of natural spectacle. Inside “I Burgisi”, a traditional “ticcena” once again provides an opportunity for relaxation and socialisation. Separating the entrance from the table area inside, this traditional bench consists of a brick structure painted in ochre yellow and covered in rich, gold-coloured double fired ceramic tiles, again by Ce.Vi. Ceramica Vietrese. The same majolica tiles add touches of colour to oak-framed niches in the walls and to the LED lamp-profiled bar counter that stands facing the entrance.
The breakfast area to one side has a wallpaper background, while the walls of the bar itself are painted in mirror effect gloss white to attenuate the rich colours and enhance the look of the minimalist furniture. The result is an atmosphere in which everything appears suspended in time.
Against this backdrop, the architect’s contemporary solutions and custom-designed furniture (and it is no coincidence that Alfonso Di Vincenzo is one of the founders of the new Alvala Design furniture brand) replace the extravagant décor and ornamentation of the bourgeois homes. Though reminiscent of a bygone culture and lifestyle, they express a contemporary, even futuristic concept. As the architect explains, this is a different understanding of “Sicilian-ness”, one that combines an awareness of the region’s cultural roots with an openness to global dialogue. This is the Sicilian identity that has been assumed by the island’s younger generation.

CE.VI. - I Decorati a mano
double firing
20x20 cm
Pennellati: verde ramina, blu, arancio, giallo
Technical characteristics
Water absorpion (ISO 10545-3): compliant
Chemical resistance (ISO 10545-13): classe A
Resistance to deep abrasion (ISO 10545-6): PEI 4
Stain resistance (ISO 10545-14): compliant
Frost resistance (ISO 10545-12): compliant
Modulus of rupture and breaking strength (ISO 10545-4): R9
Slip resistance (DIN 51130): compliant
Thermal shock resistance (ISO 10545-9): compliant
Crazing resistance (ISO 10545-11): compliant
Linear thermal expansion (ISO 10545-8): compliant
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