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An architect’s Medieval tower in Florence
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jane sacchi recounts the
experience of updating a twelfth-century tower in italy, originally
restored by her architect husband bruno in the

buno sacchi and i married in 1969 and bought an attic
overlooking the arno in florence. however, by 1975, a top-floor
flat without a lift was no place for small children, so we started
to look for a permanent home. the brother-in-law of a friend of
bruno’s had long owned a property and land above bagno a ripoli and
now wanted to sell it. bruno went to look and was fascinated by the
building. a small medieval borgo comprising a tower and three
internal courtyards, torre di sopra dates from the twelfth century.
the tower and courtyards were in total disrepair and were being
used for agricultural purposes, housing cattle and chickens. bruno
was captivated and we bought it in 1976.

the property was originally built as a watchtower set on the
advantageously positioned hills 10 kilometres from florence, on the
pilgrims’ route to rome, at the same time that henry iii was
rebuilding westminster abbey.

it would have originally been a tower of probably five or six
storeys, with a fortified courtyard with battlements and arrow
slits. one hundred years later, the property had become a
gentleman’s residence. one side of the courtyard has an open loggia
above which was originally the banqueting hall. the ground floor of
the tower, now our dining room, is decorated with rare frescoes
dating to before 1345, when the black death decimated europe. the
design is known as vaio in italian, a typical medieval pattern
depicting a tent made of shield-shape pieces of squirrel fur; the
pole with curtain rings is visible.

the frescoes in the banqueting hall, now our main bedroom, bear
the crest of the peruzzi family, bankers to henry iii and
subsequently to henry viii. the torre pre-dates chaucer,
brunelleschi’s duomo and michelangelo’s david.

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born in mantova in 1931, bruno studied architecture at florence
university, before forming the architect’s collaborative studio
forte 63. he later became assistant to italy’s most eminent
post-war architect, giovanni michelucci, co-signing projects with
him. he went on to design the marino marini museum in the church of
san pancrazio in florence and work on the palazzo del tau in
pistoia – originally a monastery, restored by bruno, who also
designed the museum and neighbouring chapel –  as well as
doing extensive work for the contrada di valdimontone in siena and
numerous private projects, many of which were in casa vogue.

“bruno’s project for the torre was innovative and ahead of its
time in its solutions to the technical problems of a building of
its age.”

it took three years to transform it into an exceptional family
home, during which period bruno often wandered about with a hammer
and chisel picking plaster off the walls to expose the frescoes. he
took time to consider each space and how the light falls at
different times of day, making every angle, aperture and window a
picture in itself. he created contemporary interiors that managed
to contrast with and yet enhance the ancient setting. on the first
floor of the tower, he discovered the frescoes with a cross-shape
motif. it is here that, when faced with the technical challenge of
delicate flooring unable to support more weight, he ingeniously
designed the hanging staircase that is suspended from the beam

‘visual truth, nothing fake,’ he would say. ‘you cannot restore
a medieval tower to its original condition – you would have
only stone. so be honest with what you add.’

he used white travertine alongside black slate for the floors,
insisting on primary materials being used throughout, such as wood
and steel, usually painted in his beloved orange minio – the
anti-rust undercoat paint used in tuscany and a signature note in
many of his houses. ‘visual truth, nothing fake,’ he would
say. ‘you cannot restore a medieval tower to its original
condition – you would have only stone. so be honest with what you

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on the ground floor, he designed a travertine table for the
kitchen inlaid with orange stucco and supported by steel girders.
the dining-room table required such length that he simply used
wooden planks resting on builders’ trestles, surrounded by eames
chairs. the sitting room was furnished with blue arflex ‘strips’
sofas and ottomans set against the black-and-white flooring. the
study still has the original kartell stackable unit. in the four
bedrooms, on the first, second and third floors, the medieval
surroundings were punctuated by artemide’s ‘eclisse’ bedside lights
and le corbusier chairs. 

in 1985, i returned to england and bruno continued to live at
the torre. in his latter years, he amused himself by decorating the
external doors and painting a ‘mondrian’ on the loggia wall. this
is where i have created the summer sitting room, a corner of shade
and the perfect spot to watch the sunset over the distant tuscan

during the last years of his life, the torre fell into a state
of neglect. after his death in 2011, our children and i decided to
restore it to the former glory of bruno’s original plan. the vast,
arched, steel window frames throughout had rusted and had to be
replaced, the entire property rewired, floors relaid and stucco
work restored. extensive interior redecoration included hanging new
curtains and having the eames chairs’ cushions re-covered in
antique linen. sadly, the original ‘strips’ sofas are no longer in
production, so simple ikea ones were found to recreate the same
layout. bruno’s collection of african masks are where he hung them,
on the stone wall of the tower.

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the kitchen is almost exactly as he designed it, in white, black
and orange. astonishingly, it looks as contemporary now as it was
in the seventies and only required a coat of paint. the garden has
been landscaped and a new entrance driveway created through the
olive grove in order to maximise the impact of the tower on

in the 25 years that i have been away from italy, the
bureaucracy has not got any easier: i queued, i telephoned, i
applied, i queued again, i went to endless offices that weren’t
open on that particular tuesday. despite the challenges, it has
been a thoroughly satisfying two-year project made enjoyable by the
team of extraordinarily talented and good-humoured craftsmen, all
of whom had worked with bruno and had great personal respect and
affection for him.

it has given them, as well as us – bruno’s family and friends –
immense pleasure to see his torre and the legacy of his style live

torre di sopra: 07774-821460; torredisopra.com

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