These Designers Are At The Forefront Of 19th-Century Italian Apartment Revival

Every room is an envelope, but through a mysterious alchemy of scale, proportion, light and color, some seem more encompassing than others. It’s not that these spaces close in on their inhabitants or demand attention, but they hold one in an especially comfortable way. While some interiors achieve that effect through architecture alone, most truly blossom under the nurturing gaze of a sharp and sensitive eye.

Faenza, a riverside city southeast of Bologna in Emilia-Romagna renowned for the production of majolica, is home to Paolo Massari and Pietro di Pisa. A former theater director and former fashion stylist, respectively, the couple now combine their talents as interior designers, channeling the Vitruvian triad (commodity, firmness and delight) to create spaces that engage every sense. Their own home in the historic city center is a testament to their spatial and visual acuity.

Built in the 19th century, the spacious apartment had suffered its share of indignities over the years. Various interventions had undone the home’s original volumes, disrupting the physical flow and interior vistas. Working with architect Gian Luca Zoli, Massari and di Pisa set things right and then some. In the course of removing offending walls and partitions, they unearthed the original renaissance revival murals that adorn the rooms and spent hours bringing back the wall colors of decades past, muted hues that add a wonderfully archaic quality.

Reviving the underlying beauty of the spaces was central to the homeowners’ project, but executing period-appropriate interiors was not part of the plan. Contemporary pieces abound here. And although distinctly of this time, they form a truly companionable counterpoint to the 19th-century echoes all around them. While all these pieces exist in masterfully intentional decorative isolation, the home is not without its little notes of subtle exuberance.

“Our home reflects our whole world, our loved ones, our memories, our passions,” reflects di Pisa. “It’s in every object that has seduced us, in the furnishings that have accompanied us, in every choice dictated by the heart. Our home can only be, always and only, ours.”

Photography by Fabrizio Cicconi.

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