Towards the end of the 1950s, the modern architect Giovanni Michelucci and his wife Eloisa Pacini purchased a Tuscan style villa in Fiesole with an impressive view of Florence below. The home had been built in the 1930s for two Belgian sisters who had it done in an unadorned style with large windows and terraces; these features probably appealed to the architect, who could decorate it as he wished. His home-studio has now become the office of the Fondazione Michelucci, a working space with a library and a collection of furniture and art. Occasionally open to the public (and hoping to do so more frequently this coming Summer), I recently had the opportunity to visit it in the company of Alessandro Masetti, curator and head of communications for the Foundation.
Villa il Roseto is located a few hundred meters downhill from Fiesole and a few hundred meters uphill from the entrance to the super 5-star hotel Belmond Villa San Michele. If you’re arriving by car, don’t make my mistake of parking downhill, for it’s quite a walk up! Then you head into an even more steep private road where there are a few houses perched in the hillside that you’d happily kill someone to own. But it’s worth the walk up: this may be one of the best views in town.
The villa, designed in 1933, is rather traditional in its form, but must have been a challenge to build on this narrow strip of terrain and steep hill. The house is laid out on three floors, with the front door accessing the main living area, a basement that opens up on to the garden level, and an apartment upstairs.
Currently the offices of the Foundation form a sort of museum, with two somewhat homey rooms more dedicated to preserving the set-up of the architect, and other spaces lined with bookcases and desks where the Foundation carries out its work. The basement area provides an event space and library that open up on to a beautiful terrace. Alessandro has been cataloguing and learning about the many interesting items left here: Michelucci wasn’t a collector, but he received a lot of decorative items and paintings from friends he worked with on projects or who were part of the same artistic movements.
One wonderful part of this collection is the furniture, made of solid wood joined together without nails. It’s so smooth and solid you want to run your hands over it (and you can – this is stuff that was used and continues to be). Although his designs in the 1970s tended to be somewhat boxy (such as that which was available at what we’d today call a “concept store” called Galleria Vigna Nuova), earlier, his forms were sinuous and organic. I got to sit in a reproduction of the Sedia Scapolare from the 1940s, for example: the back is carved from a single piece of wood and it supports your lumbar and opens up your back in just the right place. The chair was designed with nursing mothers (or caregivers) in mind.
Another interesting element of the collection is the contrast between Pacini’s artworks, which tended to focus on nature (her pastels are beautiful and colourful) and the more linear paintings by Michelucci’s friends, including for example those from the Astrattismo Classico movement – which corresponded more closely with the male architect’s own style. It is likely that he limited his wife’s artistic career despite her apparent talent, a fate that befell many female artists as one learns in the studies by Jane Fortune of the Advancing Womens Artists Foundation.
Oddly enough, when Michelucci moved in, he didn’t make major changes to the interior architecture; probably the most important intervention by him and his wife was to the garden. A vast corpus of drawings, photos, sketches and even early films attest to their love of nature and of this garden in particular, which permitted them to meditate on the view. The garden was seen as an extension of the villa and certainly an important part of their everyday lives; interestingly, Michelucci tended to eat breakfast on a small ledge near one of the large french doors opening on to the garden, rather than at a larger table in the main living space, so that he could peek outside.
Events in the garden and villa, Summer 2017
The Foundation has just launched a crowdfunding campaign on the Italian platform Eppela to raise funds to animate this space during the upcoming Summer. The €20k they hope to raise will go to restoring parts of the garden (with plants and stonework donated by local sponsors) and most of all to making it possible to hold a series of events here.
These will range from guided tours, concerts or plays followed by an aperitivo, to creative workshops (I’m thinking of doing the painting one!). The nice thing is that the cost of these events to people who donate through the campaign is very reasonable – €30 for an evening out, €100 for a weekend workshop, and €500 gets you rental of the villa and space for a day to hold your own private event (that’s a steal! Think: small destination wedding? Seats 30…). Donations are being matched by a local bank, Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio, so with 10k from the public, the bank funding will kick in another 10k and make the summer program possible.
Click here to see the Innesto Creativo campaign and to reserve your spot for this summer – or just to donate because this place is cool!