Dancing As Slow As They Can

The main farmhouse (the villa) to the south.

The gym/workshop with the original stone wall to the left.

Architects Massimo Alvisi and his wife and business partner, Junko Kirimoto. Photo by Donato Labella

An estate’s footprint is as beautiful and graceful as a “Swan Lake” pirouette, and its environmental impact as light on the land as a ballerina’s pointed toe on the burnished stage.

Retired Paris Opera Ballet danseuse étoile (star dancer) Sylvie Guillem and her husband, photographer Gilles Tapie, had a green wish list for their vacation home on this parcel of property bordering Lazio and Umbria. They were committed to the adaptive reuse of the rolling landscape and the weathered farmstead buildings that have stood there for nearly 70 years.

The couple enlisted architects Massimo Alvisi and his wife and business partner, Junko Kirimoto; their studio is based in Rome. They set out to refurbish the houses, which date to the first half of the 20th century and spruce up the landscape while honoring its fruitful past. The farmstead, now Villa Guillem, is surrounded by two acres of olive groves and orchards.

The main farmhouse interior.

Mirror by Le Grenier

The dining area. Left corner, Conran Cone Chair by Terence Conran (1953). Lamp above chair by Le Grenier, French metal military table by Le Grenier and restored antique suspension lamp in wood with LED lights. Abat-jour “Akari Light Sculpture” by Isamu Noguchi (1950s).

GATCPAC floor lamp by Santa & Cole; designer: Josep Torres Clavé (1931), “Akari Light Sculpture” by Isamu Noguchi (1950s).

“The houses have been given a new lease on life after decades of neglect,” notes Alvisi. The sensitive renovation made use of natural materials and existing architectural spaces, with great respect for principles of energy conservation.

“The main farmhouse, located farthest to the south, now constitutes the residence proper; the other is devoted to art workshops for the clients and has a small apartment for the caretaker on the upper floor,” Alvisi comments.

“The biggest challenge was preserving the beauty of the historical buildings – while completing the landscape with a garden and additional trees – and trying to give the entire project a new identity,” he adds. The modern interior has a minimalist Japanese touch, with screens and panels.

“The landscape all around was a very important component,” Alvisi says. “The view is so extraordinary that we kept all the windows, even the ones in the double-height living room.”

Solar panels were installed on the grounds where they are fairly well concealed but still have good exposure to the sunshine.

“The residential complex can produce enough electricity to power the heat pumps for the radiant heating in winter and air conditioning in the summer for both farmhouses,” explains Alvisi. On the light side, the elegant chandelier in the dining room is a restored antique wood suspension lamp with LED lights.

The homeowners have been devoted to environmental causes for years. Guillem is an ambassador for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, an international nonprofit, marine wildlife conservation organization.

“Akari Light Sculpture” by Isamu Noguchi (1950s); Appliqué Molecular wall lamp by House Doctor; Japanese curtain in doorway.

Alvisi Kirimoto Architecture also counts sustainability among its main objectives.

“One couple made this project for another couple, based on our shared respect for the ecosystem,” says Alvisi.

The team used natural and locally sourced materials such as terra cotta, tufa stone and recycled existing wood beams. They incorporated water collection; phytopathology (understanding plant diseases to grow healthier plants); solar power; and ventilation shafts.

“These are just some of the tools implemented to minimize environmental impact by making the home a small, passive conservation jewel,” adds the architect. “We also expanded sustainability by using independent local contractors and adding to the olive groves and orchards.”

The villa floor is paved with terra cotta tiles laid on mortar without glue. The paint throughout is in neutral tones that, in combination with the exposed wood beams and tiled ceiling, recall the colors of the ground and rocks on the farm land. The stairs and the guest bedroom doors were made from iron frameworks and wood salvaged from the sturdy old farmhouse roof beams.

Photography Courtesy of Luigi Filetici.

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