Published - 3rd November 2022
Last spring, the photographer Judith Balari and the journalist and interior consultant Fiammetta Bonazzi met Marilena Bertottilli, an Italian lady who renovated an old dwelling in the hills between Lake Maggiore and Lake Orta, Northern Italy. This is the story of this romantic family house, restored little by little over twenty years, just as one does when writing a diary. Let Marilena tell us about this endless adventure.
The Vergante country area is world-famous for being the home of the best Italian umbrella artisans and many skilled chefs. The tiny village in which my old barn is located is called Invorio Superiore: I was born here just before the end of World War II, and here I lived with my family until I married. And in these places, I still breathe in the scents of my childhood, savour the rhythm of the seasons and meet my closest friends.
I received the barn as an inheritance at the death of my father Giuseppe twenty years ago, and I decided to restore it with the help of my daughter and the local artisans. When the renovation began, the property consisted of a two-storey rustic barn that overlooked a silent courtyard. There was a small but useful bathroom on the ground floor and a room with a fireplace. Here my father had his wine cellar and liked to gather with friends in the afternoons, all the year long but especially in autumn, when the air was filled with the aromas of homemade apple pies and roasted chestnuts. The nearby bell tower, rising above the rooftops, plays the hours that mark the time of home and life. I always enjoy listening to this music.
I started the restoration in this room, where some structural work had to be done. Firstly, we had to reinforce the ceiling; At a brocante, I found a cast-iron column that belonged to the shelter of the old railway yard of Arona, a town not far from Invorio. For the floor, which had deteriorated over time, we decided to create a white mat resin base, which now is the guiding colour (with some touches of red) for the whole room. I call it “la stanza bianca”. White is a common thread throughout, alternating with the grey of the stone walls: white makes this house resemble the pages of a book to be written day by day, where every object is a piece of the plot.
The barn, where my grandparents once housed cows and rabbits, has two floors: now they are connected by an ancient spiral staircase made of rusty cast iron, also from a local junk shop. I love its colour and the silhouette: it is a strong decorative element, lit from below with a spot, which greets those entering the house in a cosy vestibule just near the kitchen, where a thick parquet floor dating back to the 19th century, has been laid and a huge Genoese marble sink became the centrepiece of the room. On the first floor, a large open space with exposed roof beams houses the living area and the bedroom, connected with a bathroom embellished with a bathtub by Devon & Devon (@devondevon_official). A Godin stove (@godin_cheminees_officiel) warms the living room, furnished with a mustard-coloured velvet sofa by Gio Ponti, old armchairs upholstered with church fabrics and carpets purchased during travels.
As the shell of the barn took shape, I reopened old boxes and took from them objects that belonged to my past. Collections of Laveno ceramics, French absinthe glasses, the vases where I put the first spring flowers, the autumn yellow leaves and branches with winter berries that I collect in the woods, the sheets with mother-of-pearl buttons, a child’s iron bed where my grandson slept as a child - and everything magically found its ideal place in the house. And even today, when I go to the flea markets, it seems that some object calls out to me as if asking to become part of my story. Thin threads in life connect us all as if we all belonged to an immense tapestry, where even mends give off beauty.
Huge Thank you to Marilena, Fiammetta & Judith.
Follow Marilena Bertottilli at @madonnadelcastello_
Fiammetta and Judith are currently working on an Italian cooking and lifestyle book that will be ready in 2023!