Does This Roman Penthouse Have the World’s Best View? See for Yourself

Alexandra Lange
·4-min read
Photo credit: Serena Eller Vainicher
Photo credit: Serena Eller Vainicher

When designing an apartment with a view of the Colosseum, the first rule of architecture should be: Get out of the way. But that was not what the previous owners of this top-floor, two-story Roman apartment had done. The ceiling was low, the room was filled with columns, and there was a big box in the middle of the floor covering the mechanical equipment for the building’s elevator. “From the first moment, it wasn’t only an interior project,” says Massimo Alvisi, who with his wife and partner, Junko Kirimoto, took on the two-year renovation, completed just before the pandemic.

To make matters even more complicated, the apartment needed a new roof, a challenging maneuver in the center of a historic city like Rome, where, he notes, “everything you do has to be approved by the heritage board,” from the color of the outside stucco to window shapes and sizes.

But Alvisi Kirimoto prevailed, managing the complex process of getting stone, wood, glass, and steel up from the narrow streets to the penthouse, where a pitched roof now presides over a wide-open living space, with a raised stage that both covers that equipment and improves the angle on the Roman ruins from the blocky Gaetano Pesce sofas.

Photo credit: Serena Eller Vainicher
Photo credit: Serena Eller Vainicher

It helped that most of the 19-year-old firm’s work is at a public scale, from their elegantly detailed affordable apartments in Barletta to the shipshape Franco Corelli Academy of Music in Camerino, both in Italy. Before founding the Rome-based practice, Alvisi worked for Renzo Piano Building Workshop and Kirimoto for the renowned studio Fuksas.

Photo credit: Serena Eller Vainicher
Photo credit: Serena Eller Vainicher

The pair’s experience with theater design was part of what drew the clients to their work. The “open-space super-attic” is now a favorite place to chill. “It’s like a templum—a sacred place to contemplate the stunning view and at the same time feel inner peace,” says the homeowner. “I love the duality of the design, where two dimensions coexist: the meticulous attention to detail inside, and the lightheartedness of the mind when looking outward.”

The owners, both artists, “trusted us but were strong enough to influence our approach,” Alvisi notes. They already had a collection of furniture by Pesce, the contemporary Italian design master known for his playful manipulation of materials like resin into bright, highly touchable objects. (The colors “make the space vibrate,” says the client.) But they also asked their architects to use wallpaper—an atypical choice in Italy, and one often disdained by modernists who like to keep their walls and floors bare.

Photo credit: Serena Eller Vainicher
Photo credit: Serena Eller Vainicher

It was Kirimoto, a native of Yokohama, Japan, who thought to use a floral wallcovering. The pattern connects the interior to the flowers and trees on the apartment’s double terraces, much as Japanese houses employ landscape prints to create a visual link with their courtyards. All three of the wallpapers are from one manufacturer, Romo, and in similar silvery tones, creating a vegetal conversation between the leaves in the kitchen and the budding branches in the bedroom. The gold and orange flowers on the walls also pick up the vivid hues of a Maarten Baas bench and the copper tones of a bedside table by Ghidini 1961.

The couple’s second request was for special materials, easily fulfilled by turning to Italy’s rich craft traditions. Her preference for pink translated into a main bathroom dominated by a hand-carved, fontlike marble sink, the organic shape modeled by Kirimoto in clay. “The sinks were made in Tuscany, close to Carrara, the same location as Michelangelo’s stone,” Alvisi says. The vanity table, selected by the client in concert with the architects, has a curvaceous pink shelf and is carefully positioned so that she can see the Colosseum while putting on her makeup.

The doors are particularly striking—wooden frames hold glass panes punctuated by oversize wenge knobs that seem to float in the center. “We wanted them to be something special,” Alvisi says. When open, the doors create long lines of sight through the apartment. When closed, they act as soft mirrors, with lengths of natural linen sandwiched between the two sheets of glass.

Photo credit: Serena Eller Vainicher
Photo credit: Serena Eller Vainicher

While the living room is sprawling thanks to those chunky, room-spanning roof beams, the kitchen is relatively modest, a compact space ideal for morning coffee under the Louis Poulsen lamp. “They didn’t want a big kitchen,” says Alvisi. “In Italy there is a strong tradition of kitchens that are not really open. It is a room; it is not in the living room.” Ultimately, the apartment is designed like a traditional house, with rooms. Even the wood-paneled staircase, the first thing guests see when they step out of the elevator, is modest in scale and off to one side, rather than being a dramatic museum piece. “The clients told me they like the idea of having a very gradual perception,” Alvisi says. Every day there is something new to discover, inside and out.

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

This story originally appeared in the May 2021 issue of ELLE Decor. SUBSCRIBE

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