You can find Giuseppe and Elena Dilena’s home on the top floor of a 1930s apartment building in northern Italy. Designed in the Liberty style (an Italianate variant of Art Nouveau), the building resembles many of its neighbors in the historic center of Udine, a city about 30 miles from the Adriatic Sea. But in the attic, the couple has converted a loft-like space into a miniature homage to an icon of 20th-century design.
“My wife and I are both very passionate about architecture and design, although I would say we are just hobbyists,” says Giuseppe. “We love the local Liberty style, but we’re also quite passionate about modernists like Mies van der Rohe.”
The apartment specifically nods to the 1929 Barcelona Pavilion, with its rich stone and free-floating walls, which Mies designed with Lilly Reich. “We all had the same architectural and design references in mind in the early stages of this project,” says Piero Zucchi of GEZA Architecture, who designed the space for the couple. To foreground views of the surrounding cityscape and allow plenty of space for entertaining, the designers gave the 2,583-square-foot penthouse an almost entirely open floor plan. It is broken up only by a long rectangular block clad in deep green Verde Alpi marble. “It acts as the dividing element in the apartment, separating the living space from the sleeping area,” says GEZA cofounder Stefano Gri. With this broad expanse of book-matched marble panels, Zucchi and Gri transported Mies’s masterpiece into what is essentially a cool urban loft.
“The contrast between the minimalist features of the interior and the Art Nouveau building is a real surprise for people who come to the apartment.”
PIERO ZUCCHI, ARCHITECT
Taking the path to the left of the marble wall brings you to a combined kitchen/living/dining area, as well as a winter garden enclosed in floor-to-ceiling glass. “We thought of the garden as a sort of internal terrace or greenhouse, where the clients can enjoy good views of the city while having breakfast,” says Zucchi. Between the marble and the plants, these splashes of green provide the only hint of color in this otherwise white, black, and gray space.
Giuseppe and Elena also added a roof terrace to the apartment. “It was such a challenge to get the permissions to add that element,” Giuseppe recalls, because of the building’s historic designation. To access the roof, GEZA designed a sharp, severely angled staircase rising from the marble-clad block, zigzagging up into a bright white skylight like some kind of modernist ascension into heaven.
From their attic sanctuary, the Dilenas can look out on their beloved hometown through numerous windows as skylights flood the space with natural light. “This attic was bare bones when we first saw it,” says Giuseppe, “but we immediately fell in love with it, seeing its radical potential just by squinting our eyes.”
ARCHITECT GEZA Architettura
LOCATION Udine, Italy
B Mechanical Room
F Master Suite
G Living Area
I Dining Area
J Winter Garden