The photographer, the builder & the architect
This is a wonderful story of how a photographer, a builder & an architect came together to renovate a 15th-century Tuscan Villa. A renovation managed from a different continent and timezone…. and they are still friends!
It all started with Ed Riddell. Ed had lived in Florence as a student, he fell in love with Italy and immersed himself in the Italian language, art, and culture. Eventually, he moved back to the US and set up an advertising agency in Jackson Hole. Decades later, he and his wife Lee decided to make a switch and start working as professional artists, Ed is a photographer and Lee is a painter. This also gave them the freedom to travel back to Italy and also Lee couldn't resist the charm of Bella Italia.
Soon they were visiting at least twice a year, bringing along their friends Jodi and Jack Livingood (head of Big-D Construction). After 10 years of traveling back and forth to the US, the Riddells started looking for their Italian home.
When they stumbled upon a house built in the 1600s with the original three-foot-thick stone walls still standing, they knew they found their home. The villa's location in Montalcino, surrounded by nature and breathtaking views, left a lasting impression. As Ed explains, "It's one-of-a-kind. You're above the clouds, the light is amazing, and you can enjoy a gelato in just a five-minute walk, while surrounded by grape vines, olive trees, and stunning views."
Although the villa was in relatively good shape, the prospect of purchasing and renovating a house in Tuscany was intimidating. They decided to ask their good friends, Jack and Jodi Livingood, to come on board as co-investors. They agreed immediately… without even visiting the site! Additionally, they also approached architects Paul and Jillian Bertelli, who were familiar with Montalcino and had family connections in Italy, to join the project. They also agreed, without hesitation.
Despite the challenges of different time zones, the team was well-equipped to succeed. Ed acted as a liaison thanks to his local knowledge and language skills, while Paul Bertelli collaborated with Italian architect Marco Pignattai on design. Livingood kept a close eye on the construction process and budget, while Jillian Bertelli managed the interiors. Pignattai personally hand-picked local craftsmen and artisans, supervising every detail of the work. With similar paradigms in scale, materials, and cultural artifacts, the architects found the perfect fit for the project. According to Paul Bertelli, Pignattai's approach was ideal for design and material choices.
The design of the villa is straightforward, however, rather than following the regional custom of placing the living space upstairs, Bertelli's vision for the kitchen/dining/living area included easy access to the pool and gardens on both sides. There definitely was some skepticism about the layout with the bedrooms upstairs, underfloor heating, solar panels, and having a more centralized kitchen, but Bertelli persevered. The main focus of the project was to enlarge the openings, allowing natural light to flood the interior and create a connection with the outdoors. This required the use of structural steel, which was worth the effort: light is everything in a house.
Despite taking longer than expected, the project's attention to detail and craftsmanship is evident in the final product, and exceeded Jillian Bertelli's expectations. Despite initial skepticism about certain design decisions, they eventually embraced their ideas. Have a look at the stunning end project: Plinius No. 017
Undertaking a building project in a foreign country, like renovating an Italian villa, may seem like a dream come true. However, it's a significant undertaking that requires extensive research. It's crucial to allocate sufficient time and funds as a buffer to account for any potential delays or cost overruns, which could adversely impact the experience. The Riddell/Livingood/Bertelli team recommends the following steps:
1. Spend significant time in the area, learn the language, meet the locals, and absorb the customs.
2. Research specifics of the locale that could affect the project’s goals; for example, Montalcino lies within a UNESCO World Heritage Site, resulting in an extra layer of restrictions and approvals due to strict historic preservation laws.
3. hire a local team for the villa, Riddell/Livingood/Bertelli found an architect with whom they could communicate well, who shared their vision and would represent their interests.
4. hold firm on important goals. Radiant floor heating was an ambitious undertaking that pushed the local team out of their comfort zone, but it was something important to the Riddell/Livingood/Bertelli families.
5. listen to local craftspeople and give them the time and space to do what they do best.
Architectire: Paul Bertelli and Studio Pignattai Rabagli Associati