In the old customs house
A few centuries ago, the municipality of Sorano – also known as the Matera of Tuscany due to the specific character of its historic centre – was located on the border between the Papal States and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. It was a border area, a place where travellers had to pay duties and pass through customs. Today, the 17th century structure has been restored to its old charm and charisma by Erika Mugnai and her partner Alessandro Pierri. This has been an ambition of Erika’s since her childhood, when she used to spend long periods in the countryside with her grandparents, and which took concrete form a few years ago following three years of research into the location. The old customs house seemed to be the ideal spot as it was already a B&B, but of quite a different type. Erika and Alessandro had a clear idea of how to proceed: they wanted to make the building eco-sustainable in every way, as ethical and sustainable as their own ideals.
“The first thing we did was to consider energy saving,” they say. “We installed 7 kW of photovoltaic panels to satisfy the power requirements of the entire project, with the result that we have a surplus that we sell to the utility company, Enel, every month. The next step was a fireplace stove, thermal solar power and a condensation boiler, which taken together have made the hot water supply and heating completely self-sufficient. We collect all our rainwater and use it to irrigate the vegetable garden. We use a phyto-purification system to recycle all our waste water. And we have insulated all rooms exposed on more than one side with cork, which keeps them warm in the winter and cool during the summer. We are now completing an underground holistic space with a natural ventilation system which exploits two probable Etruscan tombs, natural light, and raw earth walls to maintain a good level of humidity and breathability all year round. We are also creative recyclers! We clear illegally dumped waste out of the woods and construct furnishing accessories and sculptures with what we find.”
There are seven rooms in all, each different from the others, restored using green building techniques and furnished in a tasteful way, including creatively recycled accessories. The floors in two of the rooms – the Rustica suite and the Orto room – are tiled with Blendart porcelain from Ceramica Sant’Agostino. This is part of the Supernatural project, and it perfectly reproduces the look of antique wood, while benefiting from the technical characteristics of porcelain tile (strength and ease of maintenance). “All our clients think it’s natural wood,” says Erika. In the bathrooms, the choice fell on Beige Impero mosaic from the Marmocrea collection, also from Ceramica Sant’Agostino. Again, the choice was driven by a taste for the natural – the mosaic emulates the character and veining of marble, and breathes life into an elegant and yet very comfortable space. The rooms are decorated with works of art lent to them by the artists, and exhibited in rotation. These two rooms also conserve the memory of the old cellar where, until the floods in 2013, a small amount of organic wine was produced for the family. “This is why we wanted to keep the memory of our old cellar by modifying the objects and making them into furnishing accessories,” says Erika. For example, the pitch fork now acts as a curtain rail, the vats have been turned into bedside tables, a table and a bathroom object holder, the glass demijohns have been converted into original lamps and the press into a candelabrum. Outside there’s a lake with aquatic plants to keep the ecosystem in balance and a green swimming pool for guests to use during the summer. The structure has been named best farm B&B in Italy by the WWF for sustainability and conservation of biodiversity.