Villa Marie, an impressive Tuscan estate dating back to the 18th century, is located in the quiet village of Vorno, only a short 15 minute drive from Lucca and 30 minutes from Pisa. This beautiful four story luxury holiday villa with nine en suite bedrooms offers an indoor and outdoor swimming pool, a private spa with sauna and hammam, as well as a pizza oven and a wine cellar.
The current owners, Marleen and Luc, have lovingly restored Villa Marie into what is now their dream Tuscan home. They purchased the estate in 2013 and have worked tirelessly to restore the property to its original grandeur. We sat down with Marleen, to find out more about their fascinating home renovation journey under the Tuscan sun.
Tell us a bit more about the location of Villa Marie. What drew you to this area of Tuscany?
Vorno is our favorite Tuscan village situated just a stone’s throw from Lucca. We discovered it by chance during our bike tour around Tuscany in 2010. The village was so quiet and peaceful. Surrounded by picturesque hills, for us it was, as Italians would say, “un colpo di fulmine” (love at first sight). We came back in 2013 to further explore this area and that’s when the iron gate at the end of long high walls caught our attention. Far behind the gate, beyond a large garden, we noticed a neglected-looking mansion with green shutters. The property intrigued us so much that by the next day, we had already done the research and found out that it was for sale.
What were the biggest challenges you faced with the renovations?
It is a large estate with gardens set on a 2-hectare plot of land (almost 5 acres). The main house is 1000 m2 in size and comprised of four floors (10,800 ft2). There was a guest house to be restored as well, and the vast gardens were overgrown and dilapidated. It soon became clear to us that the renovations would be very extensive. What we didn’t expect was how complicated it would be to get all the necessary permits to implement our ideas. We also didn’t expect that it would take seven years to complete all the work. The search for a brilliant architect took quite some time as well, yet we always knew what great potential our dream home had.
What was your experience with the renovation of the main villa?
When the structural work on the various floors of the villa came to an end, it was time to start building the indoor pool. That’s when the excavator bumped into the groundwater, and we had to install a drainage system. Then an even bigger problem arose – there appeared to be no foundation under the building, only soil and stones. Before starting the excavation work for the pool, we had to install a solid foundation.
Once the interior renovations finally began, our architect from Florence understood what we had in mind perfectly. The Tessieri floor tiles were laid in the bedrooms, the kitchen and library were installed and the result was beautiful. For the library we picked our favorite books and objects from our private collection, we found a nice round table at the antique market, and had two armchairs custom made. For each bathroom we chose unique floor tiles – Turkish travertine, white Carrara mosaic or beige Marfil. Sinks with elegant cabinets and marble tops were installed.
Where did you source the furniture and décor?
Numerous original pieces of furniture began their second lives after having been restored by one of the villagers who turned out to be a brilliant carpenter. We also explored the local antique markets for furniture, prints, and frames, which was a true labor of love.
Tell us a bit more about the frescos in the main villa. Who painted them and where was inspiration drawn from?
Our architect introduced us to a talented artist, an expert in mural restoration of historic palazzos in Lucca. Right away it became clear what an incredible effect her work would have on the home! It transformed even the smallest space into a work of art. Soon our dining room was completed with vast landscapes painted on the walls. The living room’s walls were decorated with a checkerboard motif, inspired by a design detail that I’d once seen in a little church in Pietrasanta. The master bedroom was given a French touch. The Japanese cherry blossom motif found its perfect place in the seating area on the first floor.
What is your favorite space at the villa and why?
This villa is my most beautiful project so far. Wandering around the rooms where the decorative murals are completed makes me intensely happy, but my favorite spot is the library with its custom-made book shelves in warm elm wood, filled with beautiful books as well as travel souvenirs brought back from our trips. I love to sit in the blue armchair with a book and a glass of good wine, enjoying soft classical music in the background. However, during these moments the doors to the living room and to the kitchen are always open and I have a hard time keeping my attention on a book. I find myself looking up and taking it all in. My gaze drifts towards the living room and further towards the kitchen. I love the beautiful floors and magnificent wall and ceiling frescoes, the deep red color of the armchairs in the living room, a striking combination with the beige color scheme of the kitchen.
What design feature or furniture piece do you love the most?
I have a love for beautiful antique and artisan vases, both glass and pottery. My collection is still growing. It is one of my greatest pleasures to put fresh flowers from our garden in the vases at the villa.
My other passion is our chandeliers and sconces that were designed in Murano. Together with the colorful cement floors and decorative wall and ceiling paintings, they give that typical Italian palazzo character to our villa. The showpiece of the villa is the large 24-light antique chandelier that we inherited from the previous owners when we bought the property and then carefully restored. It used to hang above the dining table in the lounge on the ground floor. Later we decided that it was too large for the ground floor, and so it found its spot on the second floor.
How was the renovation process for the guest house?
This was actually the first task – transforming the old farmhouse, now the guest house, into a beautiful residence that wouldn’t lose its authenticity. Old terracotta floors regained their original allure, walls were freshly painted and a kitchen was installed. But it was not only the interiors of the farmhouse that were given a thorough overhaul. The facade was also freshened up with most of the attention geared towards the carved niche on the street side with the faded image of the Virgin Mary. After an extensive search we found the perfect mosaic artist. The colorful mosaic depicting the Madonna was inaugurated by the parish priest on a cold winter day in March 2017.
If you could invite anyone to Villa Marie, who would that person be and why?
My husband Luc is a great horn player who has recorded numerous CDs. I am a musician and art historian. Music, art, and aesthetics have always been my life guidelines. Nothing brings me more pleasure than being able to enjoy beauty, whether it is in the garden, in the home’s interior, in music or in a book. My guests would be several people from Belgium and Italy, all of them very artistic. I would invite them for a gastronomic dinner on our beautiful terrace. Dinner would be cooked by the chefs from Ristorante Giglio in Lucca and there would also be live music, accordion, horn, singers, and a jazz trio.
I would invite Axel Vervoordt, the famous antique dealer in Belgium, and Frederiek van Pamel, a floral artist and decorator from Bruges. Our dearest children Arthur and Marie would also come from Belgium, as well as our niece Elise who would write a book about our gathering afterwards.
Our guests from Italy would be Paolo Pejrone, the inspiring garden and landscape architect from Piedmont; Susanna Orlanda, an art gallery owner, with one of her plastic artists. I’d also invite Mimmo d’Alessandro, patron of the famous Lucca Summer Festival. Laura Tedeschi, a mural artist from Lucca who turned our villa into an art gem, and Daniele Pacini, an architect and designer of the most beautiful furniture, would also be amongst our dear guests.
It would be a beautiful gathering with an endless exchange of inspiration and ideas.
What advice would you give to anyone who’s thinking of buying a restoration project in Tuscany?
Get professional advice from a trusted architect and a garden designer before you take the plunge. Have them draw up a preliminary study, estimate the time it will take to get all the necessary permits and, of course, estimate the costs to make all your dreams come true. And don’t forget to add ample margin on top of that!
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