Historic Italian Apartments
“I have a passion for furnishings, design, antiques, architecture, and painting,” Antonello Radi will tell you. He’ll tell you this again several times, until he’s sure you’re convinced. If you need further convincing, you might survey the 16th-century Italian palazzo he restored and meticulously furnished a decade ago in the Umbrian city of Foligno. He’s only been living there for three years, though, because he also has a bigger, grander house in nearby Spello, where he can oversee the garden—yet another passion.
“Above all,” he says, “I love furnishing houses.” Given this predilection, he was fortunate to be born into a wealthy and prominent family in Foligno, a commercial center surrounded by vineyards, olive groves, and rolling hills. Radi, a bachelor, studied jurisprudence, found he didn’t like the life of a lawyer, and now works in the family business, finance, when he isn’t traveling.
“I grew up in a family that’s in politics and finance,” he explains, “but one that has always been very creative—so since childhood I’ve understood the meaning of beauty.” Trips to antiques shops with his parents ignited his mania for collecting. “It was a really big problem for my mother and my father,” he says, but quickly adds, “I don’t collect like a crazy man. It isn’t a disease. I don’t want to have it all—only a small collection of the very best pieces.”
Which is what the Foligno apartment is all about. The floors are covered with Persian rugs from the 19th century. (“I researched them. I also have a passion for carpets.”) The colorful wall tiles in the kitchen are Sicilian, from the same era. Most of the furnishings, though, come from Radi’s native Umbria, for which he professes deep feeling (“I love my land. The quality of life here is very high, simple but very beautiful”) or from its next-door neighbor, Tuscany. Notable among them is a museum-quality collection of cocci—terra-cotta vases, he explains, “for carrying wine, for carrying water, for cooking beans, for cooking meat”—lining the kitchen walls.
At the other end of the spectrum, at least in market value, are the corals and seashells that appear on practically every surface. “Now they’ve become fashionable to have in houses,” Radi says, “but I’ve always had them. I had a big collection when I was a child. I love the sea. When I’m there I get up early and go to the beach to collect them.”
The sky-blue of the bedroom and the earth-tone red of the study came out of period research: “In the 1600s and 1700s, they used a lot of color in the houses of the nobles.” The ceiling frescoes were painted at the end of the 18th century. “Foligno isn’t beautiful, but it has many beautiful old palazzi. In the 18th century it was famous for commerce, and there were many artists who painted inside those houses.” Though Radi likes mixing modern pieces (he owns several by Dino Gavina, a prime mover of midcentury Italian design and a friend of his father’s) with antiques, he admits a bias for old items, “because they transmit more energy. Every piece tells a story.” He can reel off the provenance of each one. The Madonna and Child in the salone is from Renaissance-era Umbria. In the kitchen stands a rare 16th-century Umbrian tavolo a bandella, or folding table. The two light-blue cabinets in the red study are from the same period; the simpler one came out of a monastery. The gold-leaf valance in the bedroom is from the 18th century, the chest at the foot of the bed from the 17th, and the night tables from the 16th, all of them Umbrian or Tuscan, “simple but very costly, very important and highly sought after.”
The bathroom—where Radi installed a raised tub with steps, “as in antiquity”—holds two Baroque treasures, a Florentine birdcage nestled in an alcove under a window and a faux-marble cabinet from a church in nearby Assisi. “It’s in excellent condition because it was always in a sacristy. I love finding things not in shops but in the places where they’ve always been.”
Radi prides himself on his connoisseurship—”People search me out for advice on furniture or on paintings when they’re looking for a special piece”—and, even more, on having acquired his knowledge independently. “I’m an autodidact,” he asserts. “I like learning on my own.” That includes painting: He’s up every other morning at five to work on his large-scale figurative oils. On the mornings he’s not painting, he’s gardening.
“I love the beautiful,” Radi says, “so when I go places I look for beautiful things to remind me of the day I was there. I love to be surrounded by beautiful things. I’m not a minimalist: I love living, and minimalism is for people who don’t know how to live. I’m a maximalist.”