Timeless Design Graces Italy’s High-Heeled Boot
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. – Unknown
In the southeast corner of Italy, at the bottom of her high-heeled boot, lies the province of Lecce in the region of Puglia. The landscape, covered with huge ancient olive trees dotted among centuries old cream-colored stone buildings, took my breath away. But what surprised me when I arrived at my hotel was the dynamic juxtaposition of its contemporary interior design with the buildings 17th Century architectural roots.
Lecce’s centro storico, or historic downtown, was originally completely walled in. La Fiermontina Hotel lies within these ancient walls and reflects two predominant characteristics – curves and texture. The architects of the period were known for designing complex floor plans with curving walls made of thick stone, topped with barrel-vaulted ceilings.
Curves and Texture
In my guest room at La Fiermontina, curved columns expand to form the star-pinnacled ceiling where two barrel vaults come together. The effect is even more dramatic as the light strikes the uneven texture of the rough stone of the arches and the smooth stone of the walls and floor, reflecting differently from each surface. With such an exquisite backdrop, the contemporary lines and monochromatic palette of the furnishings are the perfect complement. Less is more in this stunning environment of contrast which speaks to timeless elegance at its finest.
Much of Baroque and Renaissance architecture is about the arch. Arched ceilings, doorways, alcoves and niches form spaces so striking they don’t need – or want – elaborately distracting furniture and accessories. The hotel’s Piazzle Room exemplifies this with arched bookcases, doorways and niches contrasting with straight angles in the shelves, rug and fireplace opening. The combination of straight and curved lines, repeated in the middle of the room with chairs, tables, and reading lamps, comprises a perfectly harmonious composition.
Nothing makes me happier than a delicious dose of whimsy. In La Fiermontina’s Enzo Bar, heavenly light glows from the gold-paneled bar under a shiny black counter for a dash of deco. The simple seating in a demure tone-on-tone palette brings a modern contrast. Overhead, orb-shaped sconces and pendant lights follow the roundness of the barrel-vaulted stone ceiling. Italian film posters adorn the walls. It’s a veritable time machine of styles, materials and architecture all in one building – that once was a barn.
Good Design Repeats Itself
Olive trees are revered in Puglia where specimens planted by the Romans 3000 years ago are still thriving. They look like no other olive trees I have ever seen with thick, gnarly, deep brown trunks – the thicker the trunk, the older the tree.
This photo of the stone walkway leading to the hotel’s pool captures more of the striking juxtaposition of solemn traditional materials – both natural and man- made – and the almost ethereal quality of the spartan chaises longues on the lawn. Even the strongly contemporary oversized bronze nude sculpture seems to emulate the shapes and color of the bulging tree trunks.
Good design repeats itself both inside and outside of La Fiermontina as ancient nature and centuries old architecture combine with contemporary furnishings and sculpture to create a stunning and timeless retreat in this age-old sliver of land between the Adriatic and Mediterranean Seas.