Archiplan Studio Transforms a Historic Italian Apartment into a Modern Home

Custom millwork in the dining room includes a slatted frame that conceals the air conditioning system. Photography by Helenio Barbetta/Living Inside; Styling: Chiara dal Canto.

Mantua, one of Italy’s most beautiful small cities, abounds in architectural and artistic treasures. Many of them—the elegant Palazzo Te by Giulio Romano, for example, or Andrea Mantagna’s brilliant Camera degli Sposi frescos—were commissioned by the Gonzaga family who ruled the provincial capital for more than three centuries. But along with its public masterpieces, the city offers more intimate aesthetic delights in many of its private residences.

Such was the case with a small apartment for sale in a 16th-century building overlooking the Piazza Broletto in the centro storico. When archivist Sara Cazzoli and her husband saw its vivid Renaissance frescos, ceiling medallions, and original terra-cotta tile floors, they knew they had to buy the place—even though they already owned a historical apartment and were unsure what to do with another one. Then they hit on the idea of renovating it as a short-term rental to allow visitors to experience an inimitable Mantuan interior.

The principal frescos in the dining room, which depict scenes of wild-boar hunting, are attributed to the School of Giulio Romano, the famed Renaissance artist and architect who spent the preponderance of his career in Mantua. Photography by Helenio Barbetta/Living Inside; Styling: Chiara dal Canto.

To transform the 860-square-foot apartment into a functional modern home without destroying its authenticity, Cazzoli turned to
architect Diego Cisi, co-founder with Stefano Gorni Silvestrini of local firm Archiplan Studio. Cisi envisioned three small spaces—entry, kitchen, and bath—and two bigger ones: a dining room with School of Romano frescos and terra-cotta floors; and, three steps up, a large room with a painted ceiling from the late 18th century. The latter volume, created by knocking down a wall, incorporates living and sleeping areas.

Leaving the historical elements completely untouched, Cisi has made all necessary modern interventions light and unassertive. Almost everything is custom, from ash or birch furnishings to light fixtures in the same woods—“natural materials we like for residential design,” Cisi notes. Unfrescoed areas of dining-room wall are painted light green, “a shade that exudes contemporaneity but also belongs to the original palette,” he reports. And copper pipes for both wiring and plumbing run on top of the walls, “to avoid cutting into them,” Cisi explains, thus “becoming an opportunity to transform a technological element into an aesthetic one.”

Keep scrolling to view more images of the project >

The tiny galley kitchen has a custom stainless-steel sink, counter, and backsplash. Photography by Helenio Barbetta/Living Inside; Styling: Chiara dal Canto.
The living area’s custom sofa bed can be used for eating and working as well as sitting and sleeping. Photography by Helenio Barbetta/Living Inside; Styling: Chiara dal Canto.
The dining room is three steps below the living-sleeping room. Photography by Helenio Barbetta/Living Inside; Styling: Chiara dal Canto.
A contemporary portrait by Damiano Groppi hangs in the living area. Photography by Helenio Barbetta/Living Inside; Styling: Chiara dal Canto.
In the bath, as elsewhere, copper pipes are exposed. Photography by Helenio Barbetta/Living Inside; Styling: Chiara dal Canto.
Under the living area’s late 18th-century painted ceiling, a Max Frommeld coffee table joins custom wood furniture. Photography by Helenio Barbetta/Living Inside; Styling: Chiara dal Canto.
Window frames original to the house are repurposed as doors for the sleeping area’s custom wardrobe. Photography by Helenio Barbetta/Living Inside; Styling: Chiara dal Canto.
The custom birch-and-cane partition that separates the sleeping and living areas replaces a demolished wall. Photography by Helenio Barbetta/Living Inside; Styling: Chiara dal Canto.

Product Sources: From Top: Davide Groppi: Floor Lights (Dining Room). Design Mood: Dining Table. Moorman: Coffee Table (Living Area). Falegnameria Buganza: Custom Wardrobe (Sleeping Area). Throughout: Ebanisteria Arredo Montanaro: Woodwork.

> See more from the Fall 2019 issue of Interior Design Homes

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