HOUSE TOUR: Capri residence that uses indoor and outdoor life
HOUSE TOUR: A CAPRI ISLAND HOUSE THAT CAPITALIZES ON INDOOR OUTDOOR LIVING
You wouldn’t think it could take a decade to find a decent home on Capri, the diminutive Italian resort island that has been a stylish holiday haunt since the early days of the Roman Empire. But for one discerning man, finding the right house turned into a protracted project. The homeowner, an attorney from Naples, began visiting the island regularly in 1991 and spent part of virtually every stay looking at properties. The terrace of a house on the island of Capri, renovated by architect Francesco Della Femina with interior design by Pasquale Capasso; the garden, designed by Antonella Sartoga, includes a pergola inspired by one at Capri’s historic Villa San Michele. The butterfly chair by Jorge Ferrari Hardoy is a 1938 design.
“I looked at so many houses,” he says, “but I was drawn to none.” Then, on the last day of his summer vacation in 2000, he heard about a possibility in Linaro, an area of Anacapri on the island’s mountainous western side. The home sits above Capri’s famous Blue Grotto and is not far from the fragrant pine forest of Damecuta, site of a Roman villa built for Emperor Tiberius. At one end of the dining room, the French screen and Italian iron daybed are both 19th century, the table is from the Viennese Secession movement, and the stool is from the 1940s; the 1950s lamp is by Stilnovo, the cabinet is Tuscan, and the Bokhara rug is 18th century.
“I went to see the house at sunset, when everything was tinted yellow, orange, and red,” he recalls. “And in front of me stretched the entire Gulf of Naples. It was impossible to resist a landscape so boundless, amid such silence and tranquillity. Two hours later I had made an offer, which the owner, a gracious elderly signora from Naples, immediately accepted.” In the living room, an early-20th-century iron table was originally used in a yacht club, the sofa is custom made, a pair of 18th-century cabinets flanks a fireplace of Della Femina’s design, and the patchwork rugs are made from pieces of bleached and dyed vintage kilims.
The property, which he now describes as halfway between a beach house and a country place, didn’t start out as either. In the early 20th century, the site was occupied by a club for hunting quail, which was later expanded into a traditional Caprese house by about 1920. With its white walls, vaulted ceilings, and abundance of alcoves, the house typified the simple charm of island architecture. “It was shabby but beautiful and full of potential,” says the owner, who chose Francesco Della Femina, a Neapolitan architect known for several sensitive renovations on the island, to reconceive the space and make it both more functional and more beautiful. A pair of 1950s armchairs and paintings of Capri above a custom-made sideboard in the living room.
A top priority was creating numerous guest rooms with en suite baths for visiting friends, which meant Della Femina had to completely reconfigure the interior while keeping the roof and the outside walls as a shell. “My first impression of the property was a sense of freedom, especially with such beautiful panoramic views of the sea,” Della Femina recalls. But the traditional house looked in on itself, so he carved out windows from the thick white walls and created outdoor spaces that could serve as extensions of the interior. A covered terrace overlooking the Bay of Naples features a 19th-century chandelier and 18th-century painted chairs around an old tailoring table; the monkey sculptures came from a villa in Tuscany.
Over simple floors made of stone from Puglia, interior designer Pasquale Capasso worked with the owner, himself a discerning collector, to assemble an unfussy mix of antiques from the 1700s, unusual vintage pieces, and family furnishings. “Pasquale and I pillaged antiques shops and flea markets everywhere, especially in Florence and Sorrento,” the homeowner says. A canopy of hemp sheets shades the main terrace; an iron table is inlaid with 18th-century Neapolitan tiles, and the early-19th-century urns came from a villa in Naples.
The results of this plundering are evident throughout. In the living room, for instance, an early-20th-century iron table with stylized “rope” legs came from a yacht club in Livorno and brings a bit of sea breeze into the room. Capasso admits he has fruitlessly sought to find a blacksmith who can copy it. Meanwhile, 18th-century Tuscan cabinets flanking the fireplace have thick coats of lustrous gray paint that reflects the light of the fire in winter and the sunset in summer, when golden light floods the room. The garden includes olive and pine trees and plantings of agapanthus.
A composition of shell paintings in one of the guest rooms provides another visual reminder of the home’s seaside perch. Capasso recalls finding beautiful old books of shell images at the flea market in Florence. “I got an artist to paint over the shells, put them in a mix of frames, and voila—we had a headboard for the bed.” The owner credits this intuitive aspect to Capasso’s decorating with making the place feel so warm and enveloping, as if these rooms had existed forever. “To me, the greatest compliment is when people say it looks like an old family home,” he says. Shell images from old books, repainted by Giuseppe Mingione, line a wall in a guest room; the bed is covered with a vintage rug from Pakistan, and the early-20th-century bamboo table was found in Arezzo.
A similar sense of timelessness also permeates the garden, which includes a grove of orange and lemon trees, as well as a long colonnade leading to a terrace overlooking the sea. “The garden had been abandoned, but it was still among the most beautiful I’d ever seen,” says garden designer Antonella Sartogo, who was charged with revitalizing it. “The owner gave me free hand,” she says, “so long as I read Flora Privata di Capri by Edwin Cerio”—an engineer and naturalist born on the island in 1875. There was only one rule: No bougainvillea, an exotic, nonnative plant that Cerio had described as a “purple insult” amid the delicate palette of native plants. The entrance to the garden is planted with boxwood and agapanthus.
“The garden is just as spectacular after sunset, when you see thousands of stars in the sky,” says the owner, who named the house after Trasillo, the astrologer of Emperor Tiberius. “Apparently Tiberius didn’t make a move until he had consulted the stars.” The headboard, bedskirt, and pelmet in the master bedroom are covered in an Italian silk, the coverlet is of Moroccan silk, and the chrome-plated steel bedside tables are by Lucia Caselli; the Murano glass chan- delier is 20th century, and the rugs are 19th century