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In 2002 we decided we wanted to do more in the way of renting holiday homes, and after several false starts looking at renovating various properties around Lake Orta, we signed up for a plot of land at Lortallo, and worked closely with a wonderful local architect on the designs for Villa Gelsomina. In 2002 and 2003, William's IT work took him to Milan three days a week, working for a large insurance company as the link man between London and Milan. During this period he stayed at Vacciago (it's just an hour's commute from Milan) which allowed regular meetings with the architect during the all-important design stage, and meant he could pop in to the building site during the early stages of the construction, which began in October 2003. From 2003 to 2005, William was heavily involved in the building work, overseeing every area of the construction, finishing and furnishings.
The plan of Villa Gelsomina is like a boomerang, giving a degree of privacy to the outside space of each apartment. The north wing (Paradiso and Ciao Italia!) faces north west, giving a stunning "full frontal" view of the island - I say view, but this is actually a picture that you cannot take your eyes off - whereas the south wing (Dolce Vita, Panorama and Ciao Sole!) faces west, directly across the lake. The middle section (the terrace of Dolce Vita, the kitchens on the first floor, and the second bedrooms on the ground floor) have a "full frontal" view of the Madonna del Sasso and Monte Rosa - which just happens to be aligned with a dip in the hills on the other side of the lake, thereby allowing far more of its immense glaciated parapet to be seen than from any other point in the area. By a further coincidence, the great view (from the bedroom of Dolce Vita and balcony of Panorama) of the 12th century Torre di Buccione just happens to be square on, and of course the whole villa enjoys spectacular sunsets and affords a panorama of the local weather - sometimes different in different areas of the lake!
The construction of the villa uses 33cm thick walls made of interlocking and insulated clay building blocks, and local montorfano granite for the six columns and ground floor window and door cornicing, in the style of older local villas, with high quality aluminium window frames and double glazing throughout. This stone is from the mountain which stands in the valley beyond Gravellona Toce all alone (literally "orphan mountain") was used for all the best local villas, once the quarry at the foot of the Madonna del Sasso precipice had closed, and was also used for the Duomo in Milan. The columns were exactly patterned by the architect on a local specimen, and the four balconies are single pieces of 8cm montorfano granite with matching supports, moulded in the local style. The plots for the arches were provided by William (they are stretched cycloidal arches), and the custom polygonal shapes of the column capitals designed by William to match the non-square plan of the succession of arches. The roof is a masterpiece from a specialist company from one of the villages at the beginning of the Domodossola valley, with beautiful exposed fan shaped rafters at the four "ends", required because of the non-square plan of the building. The colour scheme was patterned on a local villa which it turned out had probably used a traditional colouring technique that had to be applied to wet plaster which we could not match exactly, however our painter achieved something very close through brush/spongework, and the shutters, which are of different materials and from different manufacturers to meet the specific situation of each window and door, are all an identical and familiar green. The grounds are carefully landscaped with gentle slopes and ever changing curves to cope with the curious angles and considerable differences in level, and make best use of the space, with stone steps made from the giant boulders that were found on site in the heavily compacted glacial subsoil during the excavations for the villa. The main path is cobbled in small red porfido from the Dolomites, in the traditional fan pattern (this pattern is called vaggera), with a "stepping stone" path in irregular shaped beole set in the lawn and encircing the villa. We've received many compliments for the pleasing blend of traditional and modern themes in the design of the villa - you can see the result for yourself!
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