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.
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.”
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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.