An interior designer has transformed a centuries-old villa on the shores of Lake Como.
Who lives here: Pietro Castagna, a Milan-based interior designer, spends weekends here with his dogs Enzo and Nina.
Style of home: Built in the 1600s as a convent, the villa is located in the town of Bellagio on the shore of Lake Como. It’s been through several renovations over its lifetime, most recently when Pietro simplified the structure to create four apartments.
Timeline: Pietro purchased the property 10 years ago and spent two-and-a half years renovating it. The renovation would have been quicker, but local rules prohibit renovating during the summer holiday season.
Pietro Castagna was no stranger to Lake Como. He had discovered a little cove at the end of the Via Pescallo in the town of Bellagio 20 years ago, while hunting with his brother for old boats to restore. As co-owner of his family’s Milan-based furniture and interior design business, Pietro had also worked on a number of glamorous villas on the lake over the years. When the chance came up to buy a former convent on the shore, he took it, even though the only thing holding the building together was the enveloping ivy.
Built in the 1600s as a convent, the dwelling was extended in the 1800s and, more recently, was occupied by local fisherman and their families. Leaving the outer walls intact, Pietro embarked on a renovation encompassing both the structure – the walls, ceilings, floors and roof all needed attention – and a complete decorative overhaul. The revamp took two-and-a-half years, partly due to local regulations prohibiting building over the summer, and resulted in a series of apartments – Pietro’s favourite on the ground floor, and three on upper levels. He rents out the ground floor and two upper apartments to holiday-makers, while a friend lives in the fourth.
His aim was to create a calming atmosphere. Pietro started by simplifying the internal structure to create large spaces where light and air can flow. For the ground-floor apartment, he chose a concrete floor and a soft plaster finish for the walls, reminiscent of Moroccan tadelakt, with the original stone masonry visible in several spots as a reminder of the property’s history.
The simple materials are complemented by neutral-toned furniture including white sofas, aged timber tables and dark charcoal accents that provide an industrial edge. Natural materials are a perfect match for this setting; wood, leather and stone create a textural interplay. “I prefer delicate, moderate colours,” says Pietro. “A house shouldn’t suit its owner for just a few years – it should last for life.” The furniture is a mix of new and vintage pieces, some created by Pietro’s family furniture business, Castagna, which was founded in 1939. The company now covers the whole design process, from concept to styling.
The bedrooms are in different styles. Pietro says that he doesn’t sleep much, so he built himself a cave-like bedroom encased in the original metre-thick walls. Another bedroom is more conventional; accessible via a staircase, it faces east with a French window allowing a view of the lake and dawn sunlight. The courtyard space includes several sunny spots for relaxing and the shore of the lake is literally steps away.
According to Pietro, these apartments were a difficult commission: he was, he says, a particularly demanding client and had to consider what he wanted for his own personal space. He is a passionate cook and often cooks for friends, so a generous table and entertaining space was essential. The perfect meal, for Pietro, is made of just a few good ingredients. He’s applied this same ‘just enough’ philosophy to this villa to create a home that’s a feast for the eyes and soothing for the soul.