Experience the Magic of Tuscany in These Restored Historic Villas
Nestled in the most traditional of landscapes—the pastoral central Italian region of Tuscany—sit two reconstructed villas that embody a luxurious modern style all their own. Meticulously rebuilt and impeccably curated, La Galleria and Monticelli are part of a collection that will eventually include another nearby villa, San Bartolomeo. “Our vision is that of a new way of living the timeless beauty of Tuscany,” says Massimo Lauro, owner and designer of the villas, along with his wife of 35 years, Angela. “The striking contemporary art, iconic design and the latest technology lead to a different style of understated elegance that blends with local culture and lifestyle and fulfills the fantasy of la dolce vita.”
Restoring the historic properties according to a comfortable, contemporary aesthetic is a shared passion for the couple. A scion of a prominent family of former ship owners in Naples, Lauro grew up in a home filled with works by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and other pop art masters, which his parents collected during the 1960s. Along with his wife, Lauro began collecting art in earnest during the 90s. “Massimo has a very good eye,” she says. “He can spot a great artist years before he becomes famous.”
In 2009, the Lauro family began spending less time in Naples and more at a family property in the ancient comune of Città della Pieve, near Perugia, the capital of Umbria, which is known as “the green heart of Italy.” Nearby, they renovated a winery formerly run by Lauro’s father into an art space called Il Giardino dei Lauri to house their sizable collection, which includes significant works such as New York-based artist Banks Violet’s Untitled (Horse), a galloping white horse projected onto a wall of vapor.
Inspired by the beauty of the area, especially nearby Val d’Orcia, a scenic valley and UNESCO World Heritage site that is “one of the few wild and unspoiled areas of Italy,” Lauro says, the couple bought two old country homes and began a new shared passion: restoring historic residences. “In the 18th century, the properties hosted both stables and farmers’ homes,” says Lauro. “The homes were not habitable, so we started off by tearing them down. As we rebuilt both houses, we ensured that they would fit beautifully into the gorgeous, untouched landscape.” Following strict local historic preservation rules, La Galleria was reconstructed in the traditional stone-and-mortar style with red-tiled roofs. Because environmental concerns were a priority, the home, as well as Monticelli, boast energy efficiencies that earned both an AAA energy rating.
The interiors, however, are another story. In contrast to the local tradition of using antique furnishings, the villas’ interior spaces are bright, open and filled with a mix of contemporary art, furniture and the latest modern amenities. “I want the houses to be as comfortable as possible,” says Angela Lauro. “I think about what I would want to find in a house. One must feel at home inside.” Working with local artisans and craftsmen, Lauro designed the windows, doors, beds, tables, white-upholstered couches and armchairs, kitchen cabinets, stone sinks and even the fireplaces. “The process was long and difficult because we wanted everything to be custom made,” he says. Interspersed with the contemporary furnishings, such as Philippe Starck bathtubs, are Biedermeier pieces from the mid-1800s.
Completed in 2009, the 6,400-square-foot La Galleria can comfortably host 12 guests with six bedrooms and 6.5 baths. The 1,700-acre estate features a private infinity-edge pool, bocce ball court, rare rose gardens, a vegetable garden and a magnifi cent 400-year-old oak tree that “fascinated me from the start,” says Lauro. The expansive patio and lawns offer a majestic view of Val d’Orcia— green rolling hills, bright red poppy fields and the old volcano lava dome of Monte Amiata—stretching all the way to the ancient towers and cathedrals of Pienza, another World Heritage site that is considered the ideal representation of a Renaissance-era town. Located nearby on the same estate, the recently completed 6,450-square-foot, 6-bedroom Monticelli offers similarly delightful touches, including a color therapy shower in the bedroom beside the infinity pool. Lit by lamps, the rain-effect shower water changes colors (yellow, green, blue and red). Angela Lauro created two distinctive rose gardens at the house. “Everyone here has wild herb gardens with rosemary and lavender,” she says. “I thought, ‘what’s the most different thing I can do?’” Roses were the answer. The smaller walled garden features languid shades of red and pink. In the west-facing terrace garden, pink, orange and yellow blooms reflect “the same fantastic sunsets you find in Renaissance paintings, with very wild, bright colors,” she says.
Guests at La Galleria and Monticelli enjoy a unique opportunity to live with museum-worthy contemporary art curated from the Lauro’s private collection. For instance, over Monticelli’s fireplace hangs Massimo’s favorite painting, Young Lonely Palm, done by his close friend, American artist Aaron Young. Nearby hang two works by another American painter, Richard Aldrich. Rashid Johnson’s Run Jesse Run, the title’s words spray-painted white on a large mirror, animates La Galleria’s dining room. Other artists represented include Brendan Fowler, Piero Golia, Matthew Chambers, Nicola Pecoraro and Sam Falls. Massimo inherited his passion for art from his parents, who discovered contemporary art and began collecting it during travels abroad. “I learned to love beauty in general and to search for the very best—that one can afford,” he says. He still keeps updated on emerging young artists, “which is not that easy living in Italy,” he says. “But I manage.”
After completing the third residence later this year, the Lauros’ twin passions of art and architecture will turn to an even more ambitious project. Close to home in Città della Pieve and Il Giardino dei Lauri, they have purchased a parcel of land where Perugino painted his famous fresco, Il Battesimo di Cristo. There, they plan to build Art Borgo. “A borgo is a group of houses around a church or council, but in this case, it’s a museum,” says Lauro. Internationally known architect Piero Sartogo, who designed the Italian embassy in Washington, D.C., is currently working on a very contemporary plan. “It’s something not seen here,” Angela says.
When asked why they go through the expense and time to carry out their ambitious projects, Massimo and Angela respond with the passion for which Italians are famous. “I try to offer as much as I can. I want our guests to have a special experience in my house,” says Angela. “The houses aren’t built to be rented; we create them as if they were our own home,” Massimo adds. “Many of our guests say the house is even better than the photos. We try to take you to a more passionate place and every small detail contributes.”
Make Yourself at Home
Tuscany The Lauros’ homes in Val D’Orcia are just two of the more than 12 Signature Residences available in the general area of Tuscany that also includes Chianti and Siena. Members can choose from the sprawling 12,700-square-foot Il Campanile villa in Siena with its nine bedrooms to host a family reunion or the more intimate Cottage Chianti and its two bedrooms and 2,370 square feet of charm. Between the two, members can pick from villas with three, four, six, eight and nine guest rooms.
Top Picks from a Vacation Advisor
Where to Eat: A former 16th-century convent, Relais Santa Chiara in Sarteano serves local classics in its elegant courtyard. In the ancient walled village of Monticchiello, seek out the trattoria, La Porta. The restaurant inside the castle La Locanda del Castello is famous for its white truffle dishes, the best in Montalcino.
Day Trip: The road to a wine tasting at Montalcino winds through the vineyards that produce one of Italy’s most exquisite wines, Brunello di Montalcinao.