First there were nuns. Then came the fisherman, a photographer, an astronomer…and now, this imposing old house overlooking the serene waters of Lake Como is home to designer Pietro Castagna.
Pietro has always been hopelessly in love with the little lakeside town of Bellagio, so it’s helpful that his family furniture business it located only an hour away from Milan, making it easy for him to steal away and spend his weekends at this tranquil, enchanted spot on Lake Como.
It could be Pescallo’s history as a convent that makes it such a peaceful spot, but it must also be due in no small part to the clean white space Pietro has created, and the pared-back monochrome furnishings. His ambition was to take away, rather than to add, and the simple, uncomplicated style throughout the house reflects those goals. Pietro wanted the spaces to be calm and uncluttered so that the house’s glorious lakeside setting and glossy cloak of ivy would provide the magic.
When Pietro first discovered the house in 2008, it was in a deplorable condition. There was no central heating, no electricity and no plumbing. But it did have a glorious, richly coloured, 100-year-old Canadian ivy draped gracefully over its exterior – to some extent, holding it together. Undeterred, Pietro set about consolidating the building, stabilizing it and making a few necessary structural changes before dividing it up into four units.
Restoring the house was a massive project, as it extends to a vast 600 square meters/6450 square feet. The oldest part of the structure dates from 1500, and it was enlarged at some point in the 1700s, then again in the 19th century.
The tower attached to it was once used to keep watch on the movements of local fishermen so that they could be appropriately taxed. Now, that same tower is home to five of the ten bedrooms in the house.
Pietro shares two of the four units in the house with a friend, and lets the other units in the house with a friend, and lets the other units to tourists; separate entrances guarantee privacy. There are four kitchens in all, and the largest, quasi-industrial one on the ground floor il Pietro’s.
It’s where he does the cooking he loves for large groups of friend and family. The remaining kitchens are small but functional, each one stoked with all the appropriate equipment from the family business.
Pietro’s own personal part of Pescallo is entered at ground level through the garden, beyond the wine cellars and storerooms. Bookshelves line a spacious, high-ceilinged living room dotted with plump white sofas. Colours here, as elsewhere in the house, predominantly white, with soft charcoal and subtle beige accents. Light pours through the windows from the lake. Floors at this level are of beaten cement, a material that once covered factory-style metal lamps hung in a row illuminate a long table that’s constructed of wide planks laid horizontally, rather than lengthways. Here and there, the odd exposed stone wall contrasts with the smooth plastered walls and, together with dark wood on the upstairs floors, provides texture.
Almost all the furnishings in the house are from Pietro’s business, including the sofas, tables and chairs. As for decoration, there’s an eclectic combination of objects and pictures that he’s gathered in his travels or picked up from markets: collections of shells, butterflies under glass, paintbrushes, smooth stones, old books, classical busts, painting and photographs. There are vintage pieces, black-and-white contrast, rustic wooden accents, ornate mantelpieces and quirky individual pieces.
Pietro has cleverly doubled the space in each of the rental units by creating mezzanine floors for the bedrooms.
Those bedrooms are may be compact, but the expansive views of the lake from their balconies extend the space and offer a sense of infinite possibility.

Jill Foulston

based on book : la vita è bella   © Ryland Peters & Small 2014

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