For some, paradise is a villa on the northern Italian lakes. They were a favorite haunt of European royalty in the nineteenth century. Today, connoisseurs still luxuriate along these shores. Set in a landscape that is part Alpine and part Mediterranean, the Lombardy lakes mix what is best of the two worlds.
Snowcapped mountains rise in the distance and palm trees line the shore; pine forests scent the air and gardens are filled with jasmine, camellias, and oleander. In the mornings, brisk mountain air currents cool the lakes. Balmy tropical breezes relieve the heat of late afternoon. Some of the lakeside towns have a pristine Swiss appearance; others hint of the dolce vita of the Riviera. There’s even a touch of Venice here. One travels by water to the great villas, whose entrances, like those of the palazzi along the Grand Canal, are marked by Baroque wrought-iron gates, lichen-covered docks, and barbershop-striped mooring poles. Hoop-framed and canvas-covered boats are as familiar a sight on the lakes as gondolas are in Venetian waterways.
Living in the lake district is the elegant old-world kind. Over the past few centuries, lakeside villas were built for the sole purpose of lavish, unending holiday enjoyment. Built for people with big city houses who did not want to experience the shock of reentry when they went to the country.
The large lakeside villas are palatially Baroque, and the smaller ones resemble the classic Renaissance-style villas of the hills around Florence. Many of the large lake houses had frescoed exteriors, but now the preference seems to be monochromatic ivory, ocher, or rosa mattone, a deep salmon-colored brick that contrasts nicely with the blue-green water and lakeside gardens.
The clients rambling house was re-imagined. A new color palette. A mixture of classic modern furniture, some family anitiques, and objects brought back from trips around the world, will serve as counterpoint to the pared-down interior design. When I ask the client how he invisioned his space, he answered “very discreet, please”.