House tour: 17th century Italian farmhouse
When Milan based interior designer Eric Egan received the commission to decorate a sprawling 17th-century farmhouse on the border of Umbria and Tuscany in central Italy, the timeline from the estate’s owner was nonnegotiable. “I’m coming exactly 12 months from now with 17 people,” his peripatetic client warned. “And Eric, I don’t want any white walls.”
A bench by Restoration Hardware in the courtyard.
Twelve months to transform 10,000 bare square feet into a magical countryside retreat might seem reasonable in any country except Italy, where it can often take that much time to produce a single sofa. But the Chicago-born Egan, who has lived in Milan for more than 20 years, navigates the country’s sluggish bureaucracy, tangled logistics, and always-on-vacation artisans with the efficiency and precision of a heat-seeking missile.
In the dining room of a house decorated by Eric Egan in Umbria, Italy, a Claude Lalanne chandelier hangs above a table with a 1970s base by Mastercraft and a custom faux-bois top painted by Florentine artist Diego Granato; the 1940s armchairs are by Pierre Lotier, the photograph above the fireplace is by Jin Jiangbo, the telescope is by Restoration Hardware, and the custom rug is by Luke Irwin.
The designer not only delivered an impeccable collection of furnishings—either bought at European auctions or designed by Tuscan artisans—on time, but he also sewed up every minute detail of the ambitious estate’s choice accessories, including kitchen knives from G. Lorenzi, exotic teas from Peck, three sets of custom-made Loretta Caponi linens for each bed in eight bedrooms, Acqua di Parma toiletries in 12 bathrooms, cases of Santa Maria Novella potpourri, a dog bed made from vintage Etro fabric, and 12 mountain bikes for guests to explore the property’s surrounding green hills.
Egan designed the living room’s sofa, which is upholstered in a Donghia linen, and the custom rug is by Luke Irwin; the vintage chaise is covered in a Dedar fabric, the 19th-century Spanish fauteuils and sunburst panel were purchased at the Christie’s auction of Duarte Pinto Coelho’s estate, and the circa-1800 stool came from the John and Susan Gutfreund sale.
“Everything was planned out, including the food in the refrigerator,” recalls Egan, with a wry smile. “The whole idea is that the house should be fully functional and finished on day one. As a designer, I sell one product: a finished house. All done, so that our clients can spend their vacation enjoying their property.”
In the husband’s study, a “witch ball” (said to ward off evil spirits) hangs above a Louis XVI desk. The Directoire armchair is from Bakelita, and the klismos armchair is by Soane; Egan designed the wood paneling, the curtains are of vintage Brunschwig & Fils fabric, and the antique needlpoint rug was bought at Christie’s.
Egan’s turnkey approach is the result of several years of working on large-scale hotel projects, including the Principe di Savoia in Milan and, most recently, the Gritti Palace in Venice. Splitting his time between Milan and Buenos Aires, Argentina—where he runs BAguest, a second business focused on the growing Latin hospitality market—Egan employs the same discipline and microscopic attention to detail in private homes that’s required in hotels.
A hand-painted mural by Francesca Guicciardini lines the entrance hall; the tole light fixture is custom made, and the flooring is terrazzo.
“They’re all supposed to look like nothing happened and no one did anything,” Egan says of his traditional interiors. “Except that now the toilets work and you’ve got Wi-Fi.”
A powder room’s stone sink and brass faucet are antique, the circa-1730 giltwood mirror is Spanish, and the sconces are by Restoration Hardware.
The five-star service was catnip to the Italian farmhouse’s owners, a busy international couple with four children who own multiple properties around the world. They bought the dilapidated estate in 2010 and renovated its six buildings with local stone and wood over the next two years; then it was Egan’s job to unify and fill the interiors.
An antique chestnut table, armchairs by Restoration Hardware, and a papier-mâché chandelier by L’Oro dei Farlocchi on the dining terrace.
The designer relied upon his extensive network of Italian artisans to provide many of the house’s charming details. The bird-and-botanical mural in the entryway, for example, was painted by hand over the course of six weeks by a Florentine craftswoman. She also lacquered a guest bath in a rich chocolate brown and stenciled the arches (with more birds) in front of the pool.
The bed in the master bedroom is dressed with custom linens by Loretta Caponi; the niche is lined with a Fortuny fabric, the custom screen has panels of de Gournay wallpaper, and the curtains are of a Le Manach fabric with trim by Houlès.
Linen curtains were hand-blocked by dish-towel specialists in Emilia-Romagna, while the dining room’s faux-bois tabletop, set on a 1970s Mastercraft base, was hand-painted by a Florentine artisan. “We’re very interested in today’s artisans,” says Egan, who regularly combs the countryside looking for young talent. “We’re actively promoting them and their skilled trades.”
A vintage slipper chair in the master bath is upholstered in a Dedar linen, the tub fittings are by Lefroy Brooks, and the Spanish silver-gilt mirrors and antique Khotan rug were purchased at Christie’s.
For major furniture pieces, Egan dove into European auctions—starting with the London sale of the estate of Duarte Pinto Coelho, one of Spain’s last great decorators, which yielded crimson cut-velvet chairs for the living room, silver-gilt mirrors for the master bath, and a wood sundial sculpture. Thirty stone garden statuaries, including a huge eagle that needed eight men to carry it up the stairs, arrived from an auction in Amsterdam. An 18th-century black-lacquer desk that once belonged to couturier Hubert de Givenchy came from the Christie’s sale of John and Susan Gutfreund’s Paris apartment.
The terrace, which overlooks the Umbrian hills, has armchairs by Restoration Hardware and a folding stool and pillows by Flamant.
“You need a key piece in every room, especially in a country house,” Egan observes. “These are the things that make the house more interesting than your typical Tuscan retreat.”
The wife, whom he describes as “the most efficient person you’ve ever met in your entire life,” made the process easy, approving or rejecting items with astute swiftness. She also bought several unique items, such as a Lalanne bronze twig chandelier for the dining room that is so large a window had to be removed to get it in the house.
But despite the fancy touches, nothing is fragile or frigid in this cozy vacation home. Egan covered the house in vintage fabrics and trims, unfurled a dazzling ikat rug from Luke Irwin in the living room, and plastered the husband’s study with vintage sailboat models. “The husband says that of all the houses they own, this is the most comfortable,” Egan says cheerfully. “So now I’m doing a 20,000-square-foot house for them in London.”
The pool loggia.