Tropic of Sicily
Illuminato Fabio Fazio
Centro Ceramiche di Cianci Paolo & Figli
A villa immersed in the Sicilian countryside close to both the sea and the splendid historical centre of Siracusa stands out for its unusual cocktail of styles combining the warmth of the Mediterranean with the vibrant colours of the Tropics. In this project, a long-abandoned country house has been transformed into the second home of a Sicilian family who now live in Milan but return whenever they can to enjoy the warmth and sunshine of «our beautiful island», as the owner of the house — who was also the designer of the project — puts it.
But Sicily was not the only source of inspiration, as the style of the residence also reflects the family’s love of travelling to tropical countries.
«Along with the Mediterranean atmosphere I also wanted to recreate the magic of the distant lands we had discovered during our holidays and which we always bring with us when we return home: the lush green forests, the orange hues of the sunsets, the exquisite materials and botanical treasures…» Aided by a simple, linear, almost austere architectural structure, the house harmoniously blends the warm, reassuring Sicilian spirit with the tropical exuberance of the colours and materials that permeate both the interiors and the splendid garden.
The three hundred square metre villa extends over a single level, with on one side the spacious living room with its large windows overlooking the garden, and on the other side the four bedrooms with their respective bathrooms. The distinction between inside and outside is blurred. The flat cantilevered roof forms a veranda that can be used all year round thanks to the mild climate, while the full-height sliding windows create a sense of continuity between interior and exterior. As a result, the garden and living space merge together in a continuous interplay of light, colours, scents and sounds («it’s wonderful to hear the wind rustling in the palm fronds and strelitzias», says the owner).
The tropical-style garden plays an important role in the project. «The house does not face onto the sea but instead is surrounded by countryside,» explains the owner. «So I wanted to create a kind of botanical landscape, an eye-catching backdrop to enjoy from the windows of the house. The garden is populated by exotic species such as strelitzias, Cocus washingtonia, Bismarckia nobilis, Madagascar triangle palm and Cubana rose in an alternation of green lawns and flowerbeds with Corten steel edging.
This combination of local and exotic is also reflected in the choice of construction materials. Lava stone from the slopes of Mount Etna is used to line the edge of the swimming pool. The cut slabs, shot-blasted to create a non-slip surface, are used inside and outside the water, resulting in softer, more natural coloured reflections.
By contrast, the okoume timber used in the form of thin vertical slats on the projecting gables of the façades — a kind of wooden crown resting on the main volume of the house — is reminiscent of more exotic building traditions. Native to tropical African forests, «it is widely used in the construction of Indonesian boats due to its excellent water repellency and salt resistance», the owner explains.
However, the project also adopts contemporary and hi-tech materials, including extensive use of porcelain stoneware. In particular, porcelain tiles are used for the interior and exterior floors, for the living room and bathroom walls and for the external façades, where they create a visually striking contrast with the wooden slats of the gable.
As part of this ceramic-based design philosophy, the owner also made extensive use of porcelain surfaces in the garden. This can be seen for example in the pool shower, which was created from large-format porcelain slabs with a mottled effect reminiscent of the trunks of Strelitzia augusta (the Boutique Onice Fantastico collection from Ceramica del Conca in the extra-large 120×260 cm size). But ceramic surfaces are also used for the volumes of the tables and sideboards in the open-air dining area (Boutique Noisette) and on all the walls of the outdoor porticos and the chiringuito bar at the centre of the large garden (Boutique Silver, 60×120 cm and Boutique Zebrino, respectively). Last but not least, elegant Boutique Calacatta Oro ceramic surfaces, also from Ceramica del Conca, will soon be used to create sofas, seating and an outdoor dining table.
When the house was completed, the family christened it Villa Serenity, because «every time we return, we are greeted by both the warmth of Sicily and the memory of distant lands», explains the owner. In a word, «serenity».