The Italian Country House
To celebrate our theme of the month, horses, we’ll be having a series on country homes from around the world. You can sign up here to be alerted when a new post is published.
From North to South, every region of Italy has a kind of traditional country house. Whether they were purely residential or a working farm, they share many characteristics. The rich history of the Italian peninsula is also reflected in the architectural influences in each area.
A type of house developed in the Renaissance, built on two levels, in mixed stone or bricks, with the roof covered in the emblematic clay shingles. The barrel vault is one of the prominent architectural features, as are the wooden-beamed ceilings. Traditional floors come in tiles, rough wood or stone. In the interiors, the choice goes towards warm colours, reminiscing of terracotta, as well as objects in the material itself. Simplicity is the order of the day: natural textiles with a coarse texture like cotton and linen, a limited number of decorative objects like paintings and carpets, walls as the main source of colour (sponging adds to the rustic effect). Bucking the trend is the kitchen, where many use visible old-fashioned copper pots and pans as decorative element. Wooden furniture is a must regardless.
While sharing a lot of common traits with country houses around the country, this kind of fortified farmhouse from as early as the 1300s has some characteristic that pertains only to it: the influence of the Spanish style under the Moors.
Typical of the Mediterranean architecture is the predominance of white: quicklime exteriors are suited to the weather and sit well in the natural surroundings, enhancing them. Interiors in light bare stone (local to Trani) preserve the historicity of the buildings to this day, and the light colours of the furnishing and furniture make the house perfect for the hot weather of the region. Natural wood and re-using traditional objects as part of the décor is a great way to preserve the traditional look of the masseria while making it functional for modern living. Many original masserie are now luxury hotels, which shouldn’t be a surprise given the peaceful atmosphere of a timeless space they instil, and the beauty of their surroundings.
A complex of multiple structures built around one or two courts, with red bricks and shingles as highlights of painted walls in light warm colours, the Cascina was a working farm bringing together all generations of a family, with several nuclear families living and working together. The majority of surviving structures come from the 18th and 19th century. The simplicity of the lines and the use of so-called materiali poveri, with squared windows with wooden shutters become now part of the rustic charm of these buildings, largely turned into successful holiday farms.
The traditional interior décor was largely devoid of much comfort, but it’s possible to design a room for the present by preserving the character of the original; like all country homes, the architectural accents in wood, brick or stone remain the focus point. Wooden furniture or iron structures (especially for beds) preserve the spirit of the materiali poveri, and warm colours make sure that the homely atmosphere of a country home is preserved.