Digging Deep: A Sicilian Home Sprung From Caves Sees The Light

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The Sicilian home was dubbed “Casa Francavilla.”

The Sicilian home was dubbed “Casa Francavilla.”

The desire to reclaim by restoration or renovation can be a compulsion, one that combines curiosity, acquisitiveness, and sometimes, a public-spirited altruism. Most of all, it represents a deep need to directly fashion an environment, not by merely assembling furniture and creating comfortable rooms, but to imagine yourself at ease in a place that had a life, long before you came along; a place that must woo you before you can truly call it home.

The rules of attraction in real estate are not the same for everyone. One person might see a building ripe for the wrecking ball, while another is spellbound by its potential. When Valentina Giampiccolo and Giuseppe Minaldi of Sicily’s Gum Architecture Studio came across a centuries-old house in the historic center of Modica, where buildings stand cheek-by-jowl, they were seduced.

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Badly damaged by an earthquake in 1693, many of the town’s finer homes were rebuilt in a uniquely local Baroque style. The property Valentina and Giuseppe fell in love with is not one of them. At under 600 square feet and fairly dark, it was akin to the caves which pocketed the hilly landscape over which the town had grown. But like all good creatives with true vision, the couple saw more than met the eye. “Being architects, we were fascinated by it at first sight and knew immediately that our focus would be conservation, exalting the existing characteristics of the place while working to increase the natural light,” shares Valentina.

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Comprising remnants of a cave, a stable, a 17th-century dwelling and even what was once a narrow byway, Casa Francavilla is a captivatingly layered composition, one that echoes the evolution of the city and the vicissitudes of human habitation. To carry the home into the next phase of its existence, the architects – both native Sicilians – executed some strategic interventions, removing and re-arranging walls to open the space up while creating a new passage to separate the bedroom from the living area. Adjustments were made to some of the flooring so that it would flow at a uniform level and throughout; attention was paid to respecting the existing materials. The original stone staircase was restored and new window frames were made based on the originals. Exposed masonry walls were finished with a lime-based plaster. Stone floors were cleaned and polished, their imperfections and signs of wear left intact.

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With timbered ceilings and walls painted white, natural light travels freely through the house, providing a bright contrast to the darker recesses defined by ancient grottos. Wonderfully disparate in its various components (in one room alone, one can appreciate the lively textural play of plaster vaults, stone walls and tile floors), the home is almost storybook-like in the way it unfolds, progressing from earthy, enveloping spaces to light-filled chambers to, ultimately, an intimate terrace offering a panoramic view of the town.

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A streamlined selection of simple modern and contemporary furnishings provides all the necessary comforts – a sofa to stretch out on, a desk for a little work, the all-important table and chairs for breaking bread. Valentina, who, like Giuseppe, has a powerful affection for their native island says, “Casa Francavilla was love at first sight. It felt like she chose us, with her shy and reserved beauty. When you enter, you feel as if you are embarking on a spiritual journey.”

Photography by Filippo Bamberghi.

For more like this Sicilian home, be sure to check out this neophyte home built to blend with the surrounding Polish landscape.

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