A summer house renovation in Italy's Liguria region
Surrounded by ancient olive groves, rolling hills and glistening coastline, Enrica’s summer escape in the Liguria region of Italy is a study in informal elegance – enriched with mellow colours and romantic European antiques. Feature & Photographs Alessandra Ianniello / Living Inside
Enrica Stabile’s summer home in northern Italy couldn’t be in a more beautiful location. Just across the border from France, and not far from the coast, the pretty village of Pantasina is tucked into the Ligurian hillside, surrounded by ancient olive groves. During the blisteringly hot summers, the proximity to the famous Gulf of La Spezia (or Gulf of Poets) is a gift – it’s no surprise that this turquoise bay was once popular with the Romantic poet Lord Byron, as well as Italian scholars Petrarch and Montale. It’s also where the poet Shelley tragically drowned in a shipwreck following a storm in 1822.
Literary connections aside, Enrica was drawn to the area because of the stunning landscape, and she had long wanted to build a dream home of her own nearby. ‘The view is terrific: a sea of olive trees with the coast in the distance,’ she smiles. The project holds a special significance for Enrica as it was the last that she shared with her husband, who died a few years ago. They managed the entire build together, without the help of architects, and aimed to create the house in a way that was sympathetic to the history and traditions of the area.
They painted the outside walls in a peachy pink to match other houses in the area, and sourced local materials from nearby craftsmen to build the roof and window frames. The project was long and arduous – not helped by the local carpenters insisting on frequent breaks during the regional hunting season. But, after just over a year, Enrica and her husband had created the summer home they had always longed for.
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The house itself is of modest proportions and is divided into two apartments with separate entrances. The ground floor apartment has direct access to the sprawling gardens, while the top floor has its own terrace overlooking the sea, and this is Enrica’s preferred spot. ‘My favourite memories in the property are of eating outside on my sunny terrace,’ she says. The two apartments are similar in structure: with a large central room working as a kitchen, dining room and living space. En-suite bedrooms sit at either end. But it’s the upper apartment that Enrica favours as her ideal summer retreat.
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After many years of working as an interior designer and antiques dealer, Enrica has a talent for creating the right atmosphere in a space. ‘It takes courage to kill your darlings, to eliminate those things you like so much but that just don’t fit with the overall environment,’ she says. Her business in Milan is called L’Utile e il Dilettevole – which translates as ‘the useful and pleasurable’.
It’s a sentiment that she has also applied to the decor in her summer home, which is a blend of stylish and useful pieces. She’s proud of the fact that the house is difficult to define. And, although her antiques span many eras, they all have practicality in common – from the painted dresser-cum-bookshelf in the master bedroom, to the reclaimed industrial bobbin used as a dining table on the terrace. Enrica is a self-confessed lover of ‘old stuff’ and chooses to source pieces from both antiques dealers and flea markets. ‘I like Gustavian and French Directoire pieces the most,’ she explains. ‘Lots of the antiques in the house are from the south of France, which I visit often.’
Other furnishings are a mixture of items from Enrica’s previous homes, pieces inherited from family and things she sourced for her interiors business in Milan, but simply couldn’t bear to part with. Most notably, there’s the Gustavian sofa in the living room, which was initially bought for her shop. It’s not especially comfortable, Enrica admits, but it’s beautiful to look at.
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However, perhaps the greatest constant in Enrica’s home is her use of colour: soothing tones of blue, white and grey unify the rooms, creating a look that’s cohesive and stylish. The jumping off point for this was the sofa in the living room. ‘It was an old piece that belonged to my mother. She had covered it in a blue and white striped fabric, which was ideal for my colour scheme,’ she says. ‘I chose the palette very carefully as I wanted cool colours for a Mediterranean house.’
The various shades of blue are echoed most obviously in the open-plan living space, which includes an old family Bohemian chandelier made of cobalt crystal, reclaimed kitchen tiles found at a French flea market, and a set of rustic curtains, lovingly stitched together from blue-edged vintage tea towels. ‘I love these colours,’ explains Enrica. ‘This mid-toned palette is comforting and keeps me in a good mood.’
Sadly, this may be Enrica’s last summer spent at her Ligurian escape, as she feels the house is too big for her to live in alone, and her children aren’t able to visit often enough to warrant the size. She is hoping to sell it soon and is already imagining building a small antiques-filled space for herself at the borders of the property. But she will always think of this house with fondness. While she and her husband had initially planned for a minimalist space in a single colour, their summer home developed into something far more meaningful. It became an exploration of her romantic nature, she says, and she filled it with the antiques that she loves. ‘A house is like a safe haven,’ she smiles. ‘It must feel good as soon as you enter it, like putting on your favourite dress.’
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