Lazzarini Pickering's waterfront villa in Italy is awash in ceramic tiles
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 10/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
Claudio Lazzarini is from Italy, Carl Pickering from Australia. Since establishing Lazzarini Pickering Architetti in Rome in 1982, the two principals have designed residences on four continents and Fendi boutiques worldwide, plus a veritable flotilla of yachts. A firm so steeped in all things luxurious would clearly be in its element in Positano, the Amalfi Coast's once-sleepy fishing village that, for better or worse, has become a symbol of international chic.
The piece of real estate that the architects confronted was anything but. Now an Australian couple's third home, it had been vacant since the 1950's. Before that, it was part of an 18th-century monastery. To say that the place needed updating is an understatement.
Although LPA's work is contemporary, bridging the gap between centuries posed no particular problem. The 2-acre cliff-side property presented serious ones. To overhaul retaining walls below the building, the architects had "people walking up and down with buckets for months," Pickering recalls.
LPA kept the building's exterior walls and roof but rebuilt virtually everything inside to reflect a relaxed attitude—with plenty of open space for the clients' favorite activities: cooking and entertaining. What had originally been a conservatory, complete with a pair of classical arches, is now the 23-foot-high living area. The villa's centerpiece, it flows down five steps to the dining area and kitchen, creating one party-perfect space.
"The steps stretch across, like an amphitheater. And people sit there while their hosts prepare a meal," Pickering explains.
He and Lazzarini used limestone for the steps as well as for flooring throughout the 3,800-square-foot interior. Walls are white-painted troweled plaster. To unify everything further, the architects devised a colorful patterned ribbon that figuratively ties together all three levels while giving a charming nod to place. Comprising no fewer than 3,000 antique ceramic tiles purchased up and down the Amalfi Coast, this steelframed strip wends its way across the v illa, spawning assorted offshoots en route.
In the living area, the ribbon starts 8 inches below the ceiling, runs down a wall, and makes a right angle to pass between the seats of Francesco Binfaré's long, low Ferrari-red modular sofa. The ribbon then extends to become a built-in bench, accompanied by a separate cocktail table. Where the bench ends, a swath of tiled flooring continues, flowing down the steps before reemerging in three dimensions as the long, narrow dining table, flanked by Eero Saarinen's white Tulip chairs. Not stopping there, the band folds up and back on itself to form a canopy punctuated by a row of brushed-steel can lights.
It was easy to buy the huge number of tiles required; they're for sale up and down the coast. The problem was in how to combine them, due to variations in the shade of the characteristic white ground. To determine placement, LPA photographed every individual tile and made computer models. "We spent nearly three days putting them together," Lazzarini says. "It's the closest we've come to sculpture."
Tiled sculptural elements accent the mezzanine, reached by a floating steel stair with tiled treads. The upper level's statement piece is a balcony that cantilevers nearly 7 feet over the living area. The balcony's surfaces are, naturally, another venue for tile display. Harem-worthy striped floor cushions line the, yes, tiled platform inside.
An 8-by-20-foot tiled platform anchors the all-in-one master suite. Half of the platform is occupied by Antonio Citterio's bed, upholstered in lemon yellow. The low headboard and, behind it, a simple steel console mark the dividing line between sleeping and bathing zones: On the platform's other half, LPA set a massive limestone tub. (A sink vanity stands nearby, while an enclosure beyond conceals the WC.)
Six 19th-century suzani tapestries from Uzbekistan—in the master suite, the living area, and both guest bedrooms—take the place of fine art. Their patterns resemble softer versions of the tilework or, in Pickering's view, a Marimekko textile: "Only 80 years earlier."