No, architect Federico Delrosso is not climbing the walls—he's lying on the glass stair landing at an Italian 1840 farmhouse he converted
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 11/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
Growing up in Biella, a northern Italian city renowned for luxury fashion fabrics favored by Loro Piana, Ermenegildo Zegna, and Fila, Federico Delrosso might well have gone into the textile business. Instead, the architect has his surveyor father to thank for a very different career path. Working for him in Biella for five teenage years piqued the younger Delrosso's interest in construction and design. He went on to graduate with an architecture degree from the Politecnico di Milano in 1996 and then returned to his hometown to set up his own practice.
His first major project, an 18th-century apartment in Biella, happened to catch the eye of a local textile executive, a 32-year-old who had just bought a country retreat in nearby Lessona, 50 miles northwest of Milan. The property comprised 21/2 hilltop acres and a two-story farmhouse built in 1840 and later used as a barn for cows and horses. Owned previously by only one family, the structure was more or less in its original state, and town ordinances prohibited virtually all exterior alterations. However, Delrosso did get permission to build a wraparound porch with ipé decking and a zinc-plated iron roof—a foretaste of the minimalist transformation inside.
Besides the structural columns and vaulted ceiling, everything is new—from the ground level's concrete floor on up. Delrosso describes the overall effect as an amalgam of approaches he admires: "Richard Meier's severity paired with Frank Gehry's plastic innovations."
At one end of the long rectangular ground level, the living room introduces the architect's recipe for easy Italian cool. Just take some recognizable contemporary furnishings and add a few custom pieces—ecco, rooms are both timeless and timely. Witness how Francesco Binfarè's oversize square white ottoman picks up the angularity of his gray modular sofas and Delrosso's steel side tables. A shaggy white wool rug's black markings suggests the hairy hide of a mammoth beast.
Delrosso reveals his wit with the living room's oversize white plastic flowerpot, which serves no particular purpose, and an adjacent round hole in the floor. Now home to a painted-wood tortoise sculpture, the hole's conceptual raison d'être is to echo the one in the ceiling, once used for hay. His practicality shows through on the opposite side of the ground level, in the freestanding double-faced partition between the kitchen and dining room. On the kitchen side, gray plastic laminate trims a refrigerator, microwave, and ' oven. The dining room side, in wengé and steel laminate, offers storage for crockery.
A stairway runs through the center of the 4,500-square-foot house. There were simple limestone stairs here before, but Delrosso's version is monumental, with its concrete treads and white-painted iron railings. (It's actually much more Louis Kahn than Meier or Gehry.)
The second floor's landing is transparent glass, and the same panels extend down the center of the hallway. Here, Delrosso goes into his warmer mode. The rest of the hallway's flooring is dark-painted ash, which extends into the master suite and two other bedrooms, for guests and a new baby. At the end of the hall, the laundry room glows behind its translucent polycarbonate enclosure.
For the final flight of stairs, concrete treads switch to glass. They curve up to a new attic loft that's part study and part raw space. The unfinished half opens to an ipé terrace overlooking the Piedmontese countryside—almost unchanged since this house was built.