Take a tour of Villa Gaeta, an exquisite 18th-century building in the heart of Tuscany and home of designer Bruno Boretti.
Villa Gaeta has a history that extends to over four hundred years, a story created by the people who built and lived in Villa Gaeta during the 18th century. In fact, the villa has primarily been owned by women for most its many years, being passed down from one female relative to another. Only the central rooms of the ground floor, where the kitchen and cellars of the Peri family of Montevarchi stood, are of the original building, as attested by the stone crest placed on the door of the current cellars.
The frescoes are the true teller of Villa Gaeta’s history: in the century after the first construction, the building was enlarged through its passing to the family of a judge, the Agnolesi. It was in this period that the Oratory of Santa Maria della Purità in Louis XVI style was added, while, in the mid-19th century, the villa was raised and the interiors were redecorated following the trend of the period, the Victorian eclecticism.
In those years, the property was owned by the lawyer Giuseppe Gaeta, a man who gave the villa an important component, which still survives: its wonderful park. Thanks to Gaeta, who was at the time a botany enthusiast, the green space that surrounds the villa became a fertile ground for about 160 species of conifers, most of which were imported from North America, such as the sequoias and Douglas Fir, planted for the first time in Italy, right in the garden of the villa.
This garden, cured with passion by Gaeta, is today called the Pinetum di Moncioni. It is a park of about three hectares on the ridge that divides the province of Arezzo from that of Siena. The arboretum is a protected natural area of local interest.
Thanks to its current owner, the interior designer Bruno Boretti, the park has also become a place for contemporary art and experimentation. In fact, Pinetum is also the name given to the Bienniale created by Boretti and dedicated to art and design. Each year, young artists are selected to stay in the residences of the villa, whereupon they make permanent works that enrich Pinetum di Moncini as a living museum under the stars.
We spoke with Bruno Boretti, who is not only the owner of Villa Gaeta, but also the renowned designer who personally took care of the villa’s restoration, renovation and interior design.
Barnebys: Bruno, can you tell us about the first time you saw or experienced Villa Gaeta?
Bruno: You could actually say that it was the house that chose me and not the other way around. Before I moved into Villa Gaeta I lived on a farm which I spent a lot of time renovating. But when I saw Villa Gaeta in a newspaper ad, I immediately realised that there was something special about the house, something that separated it from the many other houses I looked at. When I got there I was thrown back in time. The villa reminded me of my childhood and I could feel both the fragrances and the feelings I felt as a child, for example when I was visiting one of my childhood friends Maria Luisa. At that moment I understood that this was the place for me. For a while I actually thought about renaming the villa, as a tribute to Luisa.
But then you still kept ‘Villa Gaeta’ as its name?
Yes I did. I am actually the first stranger, the first outsider, who is not related to the house's original family, to live here. The last owners before me were the Monaci family, with Marianna Gaeta as the head of the family. Marianna was a close relative of Giuseppe Gaeta, who built the garden. After she married a Monaci, the property was called Villa Monaci for close to one hundred years. When I bought the property I had plans to call it after Luisa, but instead decided to take back the name Gaeta.
How would you define the style that runs through the villa?
My home reflects my own history as well as my career. From my first encounter with antiques as a child and on to my time at college, I often looked for unique objects and rare designs. I like many different styles and eras! Objects from the 1930s, ‘50s and ‘70s: why should one have to choose among beautiful things?
All different eras have contributed to the aesthetics I appreciate today. In a way, I can feel that the villa's interior differs from all the other furnishings I have made. Usually, I create modern interiors that are very much rooted in the present. Usually, I am much more of a minimalist. My first interior design job to be published in a magazine was in 1982, and was a 1970s interior design titled ‘Less is More’.
Can you tell us about your unique glass collection?
I have always loved glass and glass art. In the 1970s and ‘80s, I had a collection of Murano glasses consisting of about thirty parts, but after a while the passion turned into coercion and I felt almost suffocated by my own collection. Then I instead started to use some of the glass in my work as a colourful feature in my interiors. If I see something I like, I usually want to keep it for myself. When the tension eventually disappears, I usually sell it on to someone who will appreciate it more than me, and I’ll invest the money in a new passion. It was by selling my collection of Murano glass that I was able to buy my first hectare with a vineyard here in Chanti.
Either way, the glass from Empoli* has always fascinated me because it resembles the Tuscan cuisines of the 1950s, when every kitchen had large, glass vases from Empoli full of wheat. Because Empoli is not far from here, I would look for exciting pieces every time I was in the area. I actually bought a new addition to the collection yesterday. Last year I decorated a villa in Forte dei Marmi and used about fifty glasses from my own collection.
*Empoli is a city in Tuscany, where glass has been produced since the 15th century.
The villa is rich in both design and art. Where do you usually prefer to buy your pieces?
The works of art, the paintings, I have always bought on pure impulse and have found mostly in different second-hand markets, like the antique fair in Arezzo. I put great value on the discovery process and like to see something beautiful in things others opted out of, both for the discovery but also for economic reasons. You know, people throw away so many beautiful things without a thought of its history. I recently bought a fantastic table by the Italian designer Carlo Scarpa in a flea market, which I assume was probably left by some heirs of the owner who had no idea what they were getting rid of!
The villa has very distinctive blue walls. How did you choose the colour?
Honestly, the colour was not an easy choice. During the renovation I discovered the original roof, hidden under modern ceilings, but with the walls it was different, so I just started looking for a blue tone that looked like the ceiling was painted in.
During the restoration of the Bardini Museum in Florence, they found a similar blue under the plaster. In fact, the colour is called Blu Bardini, from the famous antique dealer who had copied it from the Russians in Saint Petersburg. Blue has always been a precious and expensive colour because it was made with lapis lazuli. Not for nothing, the mantle of the Madonna in ancient paintings is often blue.
Once you bought Villa Gaeta, how did the restoration work go?
The project began with extensive historical surveys. My first goal was to find out what was hidden under the post-war effort. The walls were completely covered and quite early on we discovered a fresco depicting the four seasons in the living room, but it was in very poor condition and only the autumn and winter depictions could be saved. In addition, several original walls were demolished during the 19th century, so I guess some were already lost two hundred years ago.
Once the frescoes were discovered, it felt like the villa itself guided me through the renovation, for my initial idea was quite different – I had plans to paint everything white, which I’m now incredibly happy that I didn’t do! The villa's interiors are constantly changing. In the future I would like to add my own furniture design to the interior.
What items in the villa could you not live without?
The Enzo Mari vases I have on my desk. Mari was a great source of inspiration for me. His idea that the shape should reflect the area of use without compromising on aesthetics is a concept I have really taken to myself.
The villa is clearly full of contrasts, a carefully calculated mix of antique elements, antiques and industrial design.
The contrasts are beautiful, it’s the mix of overlapping eras that gives the villa its warmth. Living in an 18th-century house without elements outside of the 18th century is like living in the past, and now we are actually approaching 2020.
I like change. To me, it feels dead and pointless when I visit a house I decorated and find that it just looks like I left it several years ago.
Will all the artworks in the villa and in the garden come from the Pinetum project?
Yes, many of them come from the Pinetum Biennale, which is arranged for its seventh year in 2019. We often succeed in engaging important designers and artists. I like to go quietly in these projects but always strive for high quality. For example, the lights designed by Vittorio Venezia for the chapel will be presented at the exhibition the Salone del Mobile in Milan. The busts of the villa were created by Roberto Dragoni, who made them the first edition of the Pinetum biennial. They represent the villa's original owner.
In addition to being a home, Villa Gaeta is a place for events and workshops. The beautiful villa is open to visitors, who can walk between the eclectic rooms and find an equal share history and modern design. The rooms of residence welcome guests, who can stay among the wonderful frescoes surrounded by Alboreto. The villa has three different residences: the library, the empire room, and 900 room with living room.
Via di Ucerano, 50
Location Moncioni 52025
Bruno Boretti Architectures
All the photographs in the article are by Francesca Anichini.