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Meghan McEwen | Photo: Bob Coscarelli | April 9, 2013
The amassing of able architects and talented interior designers and decorators in Chicago is impressive. And so is their work outside county lines. We got the scoop on Patrizio Fradiani’s Old World-meets-modern villa in central Italy.
When Ravenswood-based interior designer Patrizio Fradiani and his partner took a day trip to Civita di Bagnoregio from their Tuscan farmhouse-as-European-retreat, Fradiani felt a pull the moment he walked across the long, slender pedestrian bridge. “It felt very quiet, like I was entering a different world,” says Fradiani. “It’s lost in time.” All ivy-covered stone arches, cobblestones and Etruscan ruins, the storybook hilltop town, which is accessed only by footbridge, has remained an Old World island protected from the modern world.
While they weren’t there looking for a house, Fradiani can’t resist serendipity. They were standing outside of the house talking, when the owner popped her head out and asked if they wanted to come in. The place was a disaster, but they fell in love with the gilt beams, fireplace and ancient cavelike interior. “We made an offer and we bought it the next day,” he says.
The grueling process of renovation included a top-to-bottom gut job, including digging up the overgrown backyard, which locals had been using as an unofficial dump. In the end—after three weeks with a full staff, just to unearth it—the backyard was worth every drop of sweat. Walk through Etruscan labyrinths that tunnel through tufa rock and emerge in one of the most breathtaking terraces in Italy. The only pool in town is secretly tucked into one of the caves, with a hidden lounge area, wine cellar and a secret art installation squirreled away in their depths—which the couple didn’t even know about when they bought the place because they were completely covered up. “We were jumping for joy when we discovered them,” says Fradiani. A testament to just how ancient the site is, they also uncovered broken fragments of medieval pots and stone parts most likely from 16th-century window sills.
Yet the biggest challenge was getting materials to town. “There’s one little tractor that goes across a slender bridge. Whatever visions you have—a large gazebo or oversized tabletop—you have to think about how it’s going to get here,” says Fradiani, who developed a certain peace with waiting. “Every day we had to have a two-hour break just to wait for things to arrive. The project was all about logistics.” But to the designer, the long, arduous process became the biggest reward. “I love the oddness of it,” says Fradiani.
These days, the oddness gives way to pure magic. Every inch of this five-story stone palazzetto, built into the cliff side, reads like an aesthetic dream—a contemporary rendering of good taste and architectural mastery steeped in history. Modernist-leaning furniture is well-picked and well-placed (a white tulip-style table surrounded by mix-and-match white Magis and Panton chairs). And in true Fradiani style, the space really sings when it comes to the characterful details. Interesting objects like twisted horn candleholders, antique trunks and a marionette ensemble sit alongside artwork and installations he designed himself. In a series of small, arch-shaped cubbies in the circular stairway, he displays four sculptures he pieced together with dismembered porcelain doll parts and found objects. There’s the installation of 47 tiny bowls painted gold on the inside and a bright green triptych made from dried mosses, rocks and dirt arranged inside three wooden boxes.
The windows are flung open for views of clay rooftops, climbing ivy and a beautiful, crooked mess of cobblestones in one direction and the vast, golden Tiber River valley in the other. “There’s something about the projects I do out of town—they’re first about the place,” says Fradiani. “Then it becomes about the people: the people who work on it and take care of it, and ultimately, the people who are going to stay there. It’s a new level of design that I’m experiencing with my work, and it’s really fun and rewarding.”