Alessandro Mendini mixes a post-Palladian cocktail of furniture and art at the Byblos Art Hotel near Verona, Italy
Lanie Goodman -- Interior Design, 4/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
Glimpsed from the road, the Villa Amistà looks like any of the Renaissance palazzi dotting the northern Italian countryside. However, this pale ocher mansion is enjoying a second renaissance—as a five-star hotel showcasing the spectacular furniture, paintings, photography, and sculpture assembled by Dino Facchini, creator of the fashion label Byblos. "Our idea was to make it a small curated museum of contemporary art and design," Facchini says. "We have about 300 pieces, and everything is listed on the walls of each room."
Set on a hill above the vineyards of Valpolicella, the Byblos Art Hotel–Villa Amistà previously spent 500 years as a baronial home. When Facchini bought it, it had been uninhabited for more than half a century. "I fell in love immediately," he says. "I kept passing by, and I couldn't imagine how anyone could abandon such a beautiful property!" Originally, Facchini brought in architect Alessandro Mendini to design just a single suite in one of the villa's two towers. "The rendering was so beautiful that I asked him to do another. Then I went home and thought, Why not the entire hotel?" Facchini recalls. In the end, Atelier Mendini masterminded every detail of the 41,000-square-foot interior's baroque-and-roll decoration.
"We played with a mix of new and old, a patchwork of contemporary and Venetian style," Mendini explains. The effect kicks in slowly. Seen from the landscaped gardens, where a 17th-century marble fountain splashes amid 100-year-old olive trees, the villa's meticulously restored quattrocento facade hardly prepares you for the scene inside. The only hints are Jean-Michel Othoniel's colorful glass sculptures, which stand on the double staircase leading to the entry, and two larger-than-life bronze maidens, flanking the front doors.
In the enormous double-height lobby, it's hard to know where to look first. A colossal Murano glass chandelier or an Ettore Sottsass torchère. A Ball chair by Eero Aarnio or a nautilus-shape sofa by Roberto Semprini and Mario Cananzi, both pieces upholstered in tomato red. Venetian-style frescoes or Vanessa Beecroft's photos of beautiful nude girls with flowing hair. Facing each other on opposite walls, the curved brass disks of Anish Kapoor's Double Mirror reflect inverted, Through the Looking-Glass versions of the scene.
It's equally difficult to choose among the 60 guest rooms and suites. "Whether it's for a hotel or a private home, I like design that has a very strong psychological impact," Mendini says. In one suite, his trademark Proust armchair—a Louis XV–style piece covered in multicolored dots—inspired a dizzying pointillist mural. The Optical suite is a playroom for adults, with arresting colors, strategically placed mirrors, and one piece that's part table, part lamp.
Surprisingly, it all works in a way that's unique yet somehow harmonious. The beds are decked out in patterned cotton spreads, the ornate mirror frames are canary yellow, and the bar-TV cabinets are electric blue. But soft halogen light tempers the effect, and bathrooms are restful white marble. In nearly all the rooms, Swiss artist Beatriz Millar's photographic collages of glossy lips mouth poetic messages.
Everywhere, art provides an exciting counterpoint to Mendini's design. Cindy Sherman's clowns line the Internet room, and a bright Sol LeWitt sculpture sits in the Venetian-style check-in area. ("Fantastico!" Gaetano Pesce enthused in the guest book.) Sandro Chia paintings hang in the restaurant, where diners eat with Gio Ponti silverware. In Peter's Bar, named after Peter Halley's fluorescent geometric paintings, Mendini-designed bottles pour a heady Amarone red or fruity whites from the Valpolicella vineyards.
"When guests leave, they should feel a little richer for what they've seen," Facchini says. And if guests want to take some of that richness home with them, they can. Chairs, bureaus, candelabras, and more can be purchased from the catalog of Facchini's new Byblos Home collection.