House tour: a northern Italian home converted from an 18th-century granary
Amidst the world’s stormy chaos of fast fashion and mass production, the Veneto region of northern Italy is a sort of microclimate of highly skilled artisans taking their time and using their hands. At its centre is an 18th-century former granary in the village of Pieve di Soligo, a home and showroom for Paolo Tormena, chief executive of high-end Italian furniture brand Henge.
Over the course of a year, he and his partner (in life and work) Isabella Genovese employed numerous artisans within a 30-kilometre radius of the village to help them bring to life their bespoke accommodation within an extraordinary old warehouse. “It is a prolific area of craftsmanship,” explains Tormena, “and we have a long relationship with many of them, from carpenters to steel- and marble-workers.” They had all worked with Tormena on his very particular products for Henge, a company he founded in 2007 that extols a sense of raw glamour through the mighty dimensions and exceptional finishes of its pieces.
Materials are next level: petrified woods, robust, naturally dyed leathers and unusual varieties of marble found in local quarries. “The brand has been able to forge a niche of refinement, with a huge attention to the past,” says Tormena. “We study how to amplify tactile sensations of natural textures and patinas, designing pieces that intend to age beautifully.”
The restoration and decoration of this large open-plan loft space — christened ‘H-Loft’ — became an all-encompassing tribute to this philosophy and the ultimate collaboration between Tormena and architect Massimo Castagna, who is also his right-hand man as artistic director at Henge. “There was no need to express our wishes to Massimo,” says Tormena. “He knows us well. It’s not simply a relationship; we are all one, we design together every day.”
When they found it, the stucco-lined garret was crowned with a highly intricate arrangement of four hewn timber trusses (an architectural feat with no pillars for support), and dotted with small windows for ventilation. The new layout maintains both; in fact, the wall partitions now rise only part way so that the dramatic trusses of the pitched roof are “undisturbed”, in all their rudimentary glory.
Functional for centuries in producing grain, the old warehouse lacks obvious connotations with the concept of Italian glamour and luxury. But herein lies the “uniqueness” referred to ad infinitum by Tormena and Castagna, one that is all the more relevant in a madly consumerist culture. Luxury here is told in the presence of the human touch; each hand-carved beam and joist that looms above the space took hours of crafting back in the 1600s.
Skip to the present day and another collection of skilled workers took an entire week to lay the floor. Each piece of the 200-square- metre diamond-shaped parquet floor was custom laser-cut and individually laid by hand. The rich palette of bronze and brushed brass is taken to another level again with a traditional process that uses liver of sulphur to blacken silver-plated brass — dubbed ‘H-silver’ and used on the bedroom door and the sliding panels that hide and reveal the kitchen. The kitchen island is a five-metre block of Cappuccino marble designed by Castagna and the dining table five metres of fossilised oak.
A local caster who used to make church bells was engaged to create side tables in cast brass and bronze. Atop these are sculptures in marble and metal by Italian artists Sara Ricciardi, Fausto Salvi, Ugo Cacciatori, Asiatides Cloif and Verreum Vetroidi.
Looming above it all are a collection of Henge’s futuristic Light Ring Horizontal Polygonal lights in hand-burnished H Silver — of the future and yet, in their state of patina, also of the past. “In adding the features of a modern house, the preservation of its strong personality and beauty was a priority,” says architect Castagna. “The heart of the project was to seek a poetry in shapes and materials that could join contemporary with antiquity.”
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