Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Back from Tuscany : architecture, lifestyle & design in Forte dei Marmi

Each summer, we spend a wonderful week in Forte dei Marmi, on the sandy Riviera Versilia. 

This pure Italian spot, apart from the touristic maps, is well described by Tyler Brule in the New York Times as " a small town on the coast of Tuscany that feels more like a cosy version of Palm Springs than a not too distant neighbour of Florence. The streets are organized along a tight grid and houses large and small hide behind thick hedges and ornate fences. In some areas clusters of palms punctuate perfectly manicured lawns but, as this is Tuscany, proud cypresses fill the sky and scent the air. 

The architecture is a mix of country houses that were absorbed by the town, stately symmetrical mansions and sleek modernist villas with wrap around terraces and angular roofs. Bicycles are the preferred mode of transport, and ladies in gauzy dresses and beaded sandals pedal to the market in the morning and then head off to the beach to take their positions at one of the many numerous beach clubs. For sport, there's competitive cycling, a shady tennis club or two and assorted water sports. 

On the beach, the clubs are groomed, raked and trimmed with the type of love that only comes from family-owned businesses. Indeed most of the clubs have been run by the same families for decades and back issues of Italian Navy magazines suggest that most owners did their time on the decks of destroyers or frigates in the Italian fleet. The best clubs are run with such an attention to detail (perfectly painted cabanas, attentive life guards, seamless bar service and color coordinated beach furniture) that seagulls don't go anywhere near the airspace".
Located around a jetty set up during the sixteenth century to ship the apuan marbles of Carrara, the origins of this charming seaside town as a settlement are tied into Michelangelo Buonarroti's artistic activity. The area was a swampy and uninhabited area for some time, then in the 1500's it started growing economically. From 1513, Leone XIII grants Florence the Captaincy of Pietrasanta forcing the great sculptor to give up Carrara's marbles in favour of the Seravezza deposits. Forte dei Marmi therefore became the main marble deposit in the area. For many years the only buildings in the area were indeed a loading wharf to transport materials and a warehouse. Officially, the city was founded by Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo throughout the 1700's, and was famous during those times as a customs house and a defensive centre. The town started to attract the first tourists during the 1800s, and after the second world war it became one of Italy's most exclusive holiday resorts. From its 20th Century history, Forte dei Marmi's style mixes contemporary lines with 1950's to 1970's modernist  influences. 
See this wonderful private villa, completed in 2008 by Dordoni Architetti, a design team from Milan. The luxurious elegance and sense of measure are enhanced by the choices of furniture designed by Bertoia, Mies von der Rohe, Fritz Hansen, etc., in modern editions by Cassina, Knoll or Flos for the lightings....

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