With Equity Residences recent purchase and renovation of an apartment in Old Walled City in Siena Italy, merging Sienese culture with modern convenience proved to be one of their most fun and rewarding projects.
Siena has preserved its Medieval architecture better than many other cities in Italy. Its architecture is distinctly Old World—most notably the stone walls, wooden doors, and narrow lanes of its piazzas, palazzoa, and historic districts.
With a history dating back as far as 900 BC, maintaining the arts, cuisines, and cityscape of this area is of utmost importance to the locals as well as to lovers of history the world over. UNESCO—the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization protects Siena’s historic district.
Greg Salley, managing director for the real estate private equity fund Equity Residences, collaborated with Italian developers and architects to remodel the penthouse. Their goal was to create a portal to the past while pleasing the modern traveler with conveniences such as a large kitchen and updated fixtures throughout.
The two-story apartment building where the Equity Residences penthouse is located dates to 1492, and it once belonged to the Chigi family. The history of the Chigi family in Italy is a long and storied one. Their fame goes back to Rome in the thirteenth century. It continued through the seventeenth century, and over the years the lineage has included princes, dukes, and even a Pope.
Marco Paglialunga, the local developer, bought the entire building from the University of Siena. When asked about the choice of this particular area, Marco revealed, “The beauty of this building is not only for its historical tradition.”
Marco explained the vision he saw when he considered this property. He described its location between the Piazza del Campo and the historical garden of the Chigi family. At one time, the garden belonged to the Chigi’s private estate. Eventually, it was opened to the public and can now be enjoyed by all.
Marco says that The Piazza del Campo is one the most beautiful squares in the world. It is renowned for its beauty and architectural integrity.
Another nearby attraction of the apartment is the local church and surrounding area. The Contrada owns all these structures.
“Contrada is a historical tradition in Siena,” Marco explained. The Sienese people first established them in the Middle Ages as a means of protecting themselves against nearby threats. In times of need, Contradas—or districts—came together to offer military or political support.
Today, Contradas exist as a means of historical and educational preservation. The annual Palio horse race is a culmination of the contrada traditions and Siena’s biggest event.
A Blank Canvas for Merging History and Modern Luxury.
Managing director Greg Salley admitted that the challenge of finding the right residence for the Equity Platinum Fund was steep. Working on behalf of Equity Residences, he searched apartments and houses throughout Tuscany that would appeal to the Equity Residences investor tastes and expectations.
“Almost all the [apartments in Siena] didn’t have typical elevator access. They sometimes had these dangerous lifts that were stuck in between old stairways with no walls and exposed chains,” he said. The spaces were small, barely able to fit two people.
He described chopped up layouts and other challenges such as wall kitchens and having no heating or air conditioning. He kept looking until he found the perfect apartment. When he found it, he says he saw it as a blank canvas—he knew that in this building they would be able to marry history with modern luxury.
In fact, the Equity Residences apartment is situated in one of the rare buildings in Siena that boasts a full-size elevator, handicap access, and heated and cooled floors. The building façade has preserved its 15th-century charm thanks to strict local rules that prevent developers from modifying historic sights.
To merge Italian aesthetic and American expectations of modern amenities, the Equity Residences team hired local architects to design the penthouse and choose the furniture.
Architects had to approve all work plans with the local board responsible for historic building preservation. They weren’t to change any aspect of the outside architecture. Ferruccio said, “We have to demonstrate how this room would benefit from the natural lighting without changing the look or the shape of the windows.”
This restriction caused challenges, but the team persevered. They worked together to renovate the apartment within a remarkable six-month timeframe. Starting in September 2017, the project ran until March the following year.
With only six months to do an entire remodel—from moving walls to adding finishing touches—the Italian architects worked day and night. They made their stunning vision a reality.
From Historical to Modern
The first step in the process was remodeling the layout of the apartment.
Greg Salley said, “We relocated the kitchen, and by doing that we expanded the kitchen to make it a space to socialize and to cook.”
This allowed them to offer the modern, entertaining area Americans expect.
Greg went on to say, “We also included amenities like a microwave, a stovetop, and everything you would expect to be able to get together and cook a wonderful meal.”
The team foresaw other opportunities for the kitchen space, such as hosting cooking classes. This would give investors and guests an authentic taste of Italian cooking in a fun, modern atmosphere.
Besides the kitchen, the team also did a major remodel of the master bedroom. They enlarged it and added modern steam showers. Along with these changes, lighting and finishes were added to give the penthouse a distinctly Italian touch.
The Equity Residences team had a tough job when it came to redesigning the apartment without altering the outside appearance of the structure. The stone walls are roughly five feet thick, or one and a half meters, and they’re over five hundred years old.
To set this penthouse apart from the other buildings nearby, they gave it a grey metal front door, which contrasts the doors made of wood on surrounding structures. As travelers approach, they will know they have reached a location unique for Old Siena.
A Merging of Charm and Comfort
The effort put in by the American and Italian teams paid off. The layout of their master plan resulted in a magnificent merging of Old World architecture and New World comfort.
Americans who travel to Siena and stay in this convenient and practical penthouse will enjoy all the comforts of home alongside the historical beauty of Old Siena. Authentic Italian touches like the Carrara marble used on the fireplace and in the kitchen came from mines just north of Siena.
The rooms feature themes of Siena as well as themes about diving into the past, enjoying delicious cuisine, and admiring flora and fauna of the region. The furnishings were custom made to merge Old World charm with modern tastes. From the sofa to the beds, each piece was chosen specifically for this apartment and its unique aura.
When speaking of the furnishings in the apartment, architect Ferruccio said, “The chair we found discarded by his owner. We took the chair and brought it to the company which made the sofa for us, and we restored it.”
The Equity Residences team left no detail undone. The result was a unique and charming apartment with broad appeal.
Preserving the Past
Preserving the cultural architecture of Siena is important for both historical and educational purposes. Siena is known for its history and art, and the architecture throughout the city reflects these characteristics.
Archaeologists have used architecture for many years to get insight into cultures. Understanding a society’s architectural traditions helps historians better understand the way cultures in the past lived.
The differences in architecture around the world reflect differences between nations. This is apparent even today in the way Americans prefer large kitchens for entertaining, while the Italians see the kitchen as merely a place for preparing the food.
Locals and UNESCO lovingly guard Italy’s rich history, so amazing traditions of craftsmanship, architecture, and art remain intact and celebrated.
What better way is there to celebrate this heritage than by merging the beauty of the past with the modern conveniences of today?