SHIP IN THE SKY
When Italy surrendered to the Allies in 1943, German forces occupied most of Northern Italy. Life in Milan was tough and dangerous. For Signore Fossati, a wealthy Milanese industrialist, it was past time to get his wife and children to safety. He installed his family in a rented house in the picturesque town of Civenna, overlooking Lake Como, to wait out the war.
A year later, while having his afternoon aperitif, the barman told him that a nearby block of land, with the best views Lake Como has to offer, was on the market. He met the owner within the hour and a handshake deal was sealed.
Gio Ponti, Italian architectural icon, founder of the world’s foremost architectural magazine, Domus, and family friend of the Fossati family, became engaged. To capture the spirit of the site, which floats in the sky above the lake, Signore Fossati decided to build an ocean liner. This theme was close to Ponti’s heart, who was also famous for designing transatlantic ship interiors. So the Domus architects incorporated ship funnels, lights, wood panelling and flooring into the landlocked ocean liner, sailing on the edge of a cliff dropping steeply down the forested hill to the lake.
It took two years of clever engineering and hard work for the three-story holiday house to be launched. The ship metaphor is captured by the curved living areas, with sleeping areas in angular cubes, joined by the spine of a central spiral staircase. Surrounding the house are several hectares of gardens and forest, creating a lush, completely private enclave. The 180-degree views of what many regard as the most beautiful lake in the world have to be seen to be appreciated.
The family spent every weekend and all holidays at the villa until the children were grown, married or moved away. Gradually the treasure of Signore Fossati fell into disrepair, becoming all but abandoned.
A few years ago, three Australians found themselves searching Italy for a European holiday home, to both use and rent out. During numerous expeditions over four years, they looked round Rome in the centre, in Sicily, Florence and Venice, but could not escape the magnetic force of Lake Como, located an hour north of Milan.
They had in mind a traditional Italian villa with frescoes, marble statutes and Juliet balconies. But then they saw the iconic Villa Ponti. “It’s completely different from what we set out to find,” said author and now one of the house owners, Barbara Biggs. ‘Instead of ancient history, we found breathtaking modern Italian design. While Australia has mid-century architecture, we’d never seen anything like what we walked into that day.’
The Melburnians bought the house and began a massive renovation in July 2017. ‘We wanted to keep the architectural integrity of the house, respecting its nautical themes. clean lines and 60s style, while adding luxury,’ said Jan Owen, another owner.
Stage One, renovating 500mq of living area including eight bedrooms, three living areas and two kitchens as well as 200mq of terraces, is complete. Stage Two, a garden wellness centre replete with spa, saunas, and an infinity pool, will be completed before May 2019, when the summer tourist season opens.
‘As well as the wonderful house and gardens, and absurdly beautiful views’, said David James, the third owner, ‘we’re only 15 minutes from Bellagio, The Pearl of Lake Como as it’s known and right in the centre. Perfect to explore all the region has to offer and also close to Milan.”
And then there were four! The beautiful New Zealand Chanel first came to Villa Ponti Paradiso while her architect daughter was a Workawayer during most of 2018. Gwena and Chanel both fell in love with the villa. Now, having bought into the property, which enabled us to build Stage Two – the stunning swimming pool and sauna – Chanel and her children are now part of the Villa Ponti Paradiso Family.
Barbara, Jan & David and Chanel
Three Australians and one New Zealder with a love for everything Italian.
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