Contemporary Design in a Historical Palazzo by b-arch. Casa Orlandi is a late-18th century home built by a well to do middle-class family of Tuscan textile entrepreneurs. The house, that was meant to fill the class difference between the wealthy rising middle class and the ancient aristocracy, was richly decorated by one of the main Tuscan fresco painters of the day: Luigi Catani, who worked for the grand duke of Tuscany both at Palazzo Pitti in Florence and in various Medici villas in the environs of Florence.
The restoration of the house and its frescoes was long and difficult due to the terrible condition of the large space – 230 square meters unoccupied for twenty years! All the frescos had been covered by a thick coat of white paint. The approach to this restoration is two sided: on the one hand a minimalist restoration, not at all inclined to remaking; wherever the decoration was partially missing it was accepted just as time has handed it down to us; the ancient floors have been saved and preserved, even if some bits are missing or with faults, the ancient casings are all original, kept in their fragile lightness. On the other, there was the strong desire to introduce elements of contemporaneity – though ones that are not stereotypical pieces by Italian designer, but rather a mix very simple elements, almost always objects found around European markets, with elements by famous international designers.
Another choice in the restoration was to keep the large open ‘public’ spaces intact, so this large home has only three rooms for guests, and also deals with the traditional layout and changing elevations of an older home. The contemporary context lives as if within an antique ‘stage’ without a permanent impact on the structure: everything can be removed, placed again, rethought without distorting the ancient abode that holds evidence of being lived in through the ages.
Almost secret passageways lead to the small bathrooms, the reduced dimensions lending charm, yet decorated with a few concessions to modernity with materials like Corian, steel and black slate.
Casa Orlandi is a passing-through place for sensitive travellers who love the authenticity of antiquity and the pleasures of modernity. But is also is witness to the strong belief that Italian historical architecture, also in its more private and “fragile” version, the abode (nowadays strongly threatened in its integrity by the liberty of conceited builders and with insufficient legal defences), has the possibility of being properly represented through respect for the old and the right injecture of the contemporary.