Cover Flexform Ansel sofas were selected for the terrace

Nestled in the Italian countryside is an understated weekend home designed by Studio Koster that is the perfect foil for the elegant furnishings within

In a world where houses with elaborate architecture often steal the spotlight, this home in the hills of Piacenza in Italy is alluring in its simplicity. A streamlined version of the agrarian barn, it nestles fittingly in a bucolic setting of rolling green fields and wild plants.

This region, southeast of Milan, is renowned for medieval castles, Michelin-starred culinary destinations and vineyards. It is the perfect weekend retreat for Milan-based communications specialist Valentina Donini to spend time at with her partner and dogs, as well as visiting friends.

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She engaged Studio Koster to design this grounded abode. “The local architecture is dominated by two-storey farmhouses, arched brick haylofts and stables. These industrial-style stables are characterised by long, low shapes that (inform) this house’s main concept,” says the studio’s founder Geert Koster, who conceived a simple, elongated building as the solution to an idyllic getaway.

“The idea was to create a non-invasive structure that integrates with the beauty of the flowing hills and its natural agricultural scenery, but without the (old-fashioned) rusticity,” says Koster. The brick masonry shell of this 3,552sqft house is clad entirely in thermo-dried, natural larch timber. Floor-to-ceiling windows feature external panels in the typical barnhouse style.

When closed, they sit flush with the walls so the home appears as a monolithic block “protected from the external elements”. Over time, the timber will weather to a silvery grey tone that glimmers in the sunlight. While the house draws from historic forms, it is high-tech, sustainable and modern in capability. The building’s orientation optimises solar exposure, the materials have superior insulating properties, and the geothermal heating and air-conditioning systems are ecological grade.

The house is designed to maximise the beautiful views of the hills.
Geert Koster, founder of Studio Koster

The Dutch architect capped the roof with Ondapress panels, an innovative and sustainable product made from natural materials and developed by Eternit. The window fixtures frame high-performance structured glass within varnished Fir laminate. Their ample size ensures the interiors enjoy good cross ventilation and illumination, which reflects off the high ceilings and streams in from clerestory windows.

The interior layout traces the architecture’s linearity. The living area, kitchen and private zone comprising four bedrooms are laid out in a straight row. “The house is designed to maximise the beautiful views of the hills,” says Koster. Locating all the spaces on the first floor means each room offers uninterrupted access to the landscape.

“The living room’s large windows overlook the valley, and a box window frames nature like a picture,” explains Koster. “Next to it, the house’s central zone with a fireplace, kitchen and dining area opens onto a partially covered terrace.” The interiors offer a calm setting, with the entrance featuring natural, hand-painted lava stone sourced from Mount Etna, tying the house intimately to the earth.

Quartz-cement flooring in large slabs ensures continuity through the spaces. It extends to the outdoor terrace, where creepers climb up the pavilion structures. From here, the garden by landscape designer Antonio Perazzi is well appreciated by the owner, whose love of nature and interest in biodynamic farming results in meals made with seasonal vegetables such as tomatoes, eggplants, zucchinis, potatoes and salad leaves grown in the garden.

The unpretentious setting perfectly showcases Italian furniture brand Flexform’s 2020 collections, which emphasise craft and comfort. The living room is anchored by architect Antonio Citterio’s Asolo sofa, whose soft edges and large cushions filled with blown polyester fibre and goose down invite lounging.

It is paired with Christopher Pillet’s Any Day coffee table—a thin marble slab floating on lithe metal legs—a Bangkok ottoman and Gatsby armchairs upholstered in an earthy-hued fabric to complement the colours of nature outside the window.

The dining table and First Steps dining chairs stand in the kitchen among reclaimed oak cabinetry. Their sleek metal structures do not overwhelm the timber surfaces, and the chairs’ backrests, made from paper rush cord, match the rustic ambience. A similar setting in the garden has the Pico dining table in weather-friendly cast aluminium and silver Beola stone top surrounded by Echoes outdoor dining chairs woven from polypropylene cord.

The terrace is conceived as an “open-air room” for the occupants and guests to enjoy the countryside lifestyle. Here, the Ansel sofa’s crate-like frame suits the pastoral informality, while Pico and Fly side tables facilitate the placing of drinks and food. The owner’s favourite spot is on a Tessa armchair, whose seat and backrest are made from woven paper rush cord using an ancient art that celebrates the Italian rural craft tradition. She spends endless hours reading here, against the backdrop of the day’s changing light.

“British philosopher Francis Bacon once said: ‘Houses are built to live in, not to look on’. We definitely abide to this thought, of furniture and interior design always placing people and their needs first,” says Koster.

This story was first published in the June-July 2021 issue of Tatler Homes Singapore, available on Magzter.