Hidden gems breathe life into a Palermo palace | Interiors
Ohen Dario Longo, a Milan-based lawyer, wanted to return to his hometown of Palermo, he spent a lot of time looking for the right place. “I wanted to make peace with this beautiful but hectic city with its hidden treasures,” he says.
“I bought this house in 2013, after a long search,” he explains. “I was looking for an authentic historic building, but most of the old palaces I visited had been heavily renovated and had therefore lost most of their soul. When I saw this place I realized it was exactly what I was looking for.
His beautiful home in the city’s Kalsa neighborhood spans two levels, from the second floor of a historic palace whose origins date back to the late 1500s, to the third floor he created from the attic and original terraces. But the authenticity he wanted had a price: “The palace was in a state of disarray,” he says. He was also linked to litigation – but none of that scared him off. He took the plunge – and has no regrets.
Longo describes this enormous house as “a succession of four grand ballrooms, one after the other, and a very small private quarter with only two bedrooms and a bathroom”. It retained this original layout, except for the addition of three additional bathrooms.
While the structural work was carried out by architects from Palermo, Longo preserved the interior himself, with the help of restorer Davide Sansone. “At some point in the last century, probably in the 1950s, in an attempt to modernize the property, the owner covered all the frescoes and paneling (wainscoting) with plaster and paint, with the exception of the vaulted ceiling of one of the main rooms”, he specifies. “One of the things that made me buy this place was that frescoed vaulted ceiling. But I certainly didn’t expect that we would find frescoes and paneling in the walls and ceilings of, literally, every room in the house!
The monumental work of unearthing and restoring hundreds of square meters of frescoes has occupied Sansone for the past three years – and is expected to continue for another few years.
“To remind us of all this effort, we left a single wall unrestored and painted it blue, in the dining room,” says Longo. “This blue wall is a reminder of how easy it is to paint over the beauty of the past and how difficult and time-consuming it is to bring that beauty back.”
In the frescoed lobby, Longo added a large 20th-century Murano chandelier, found in a Venetian villa. “I combined modernism with typical Sicilian antiques,” he says, “like the small sofa from the 1700s, which I had upholstered in a Japanese fabric from a store in Milan.”
Next to it, a precious 18th century Chinese vase under Oriental style wall decorations and a restored velvet sofa and armchair from the 1950s.
The dining room’s brass chairs were found in London at Rockett St George, while tube chandeliers by Michael Anastassiades hang above a Tulip Saarinen dining table with a marble top, and a collection of old soup pots is arranged on a wall. The doors are the original ones from the 1600s, restored.
In the center of the kitchen is a blacksmith workbench to which Longo has added a marble top. Old dishes on the walls contrast with a modern steel kitchen and an Ikea oak worktop.
In the blue bathroom, once the alcove of a noblewoman who lived in the palace, the original floor and wall decorations have been renovated and the modern washbasin placed on a vintage vanity unit so as not to damage the wall decorations. A mahogany bookcase dates from the end of the 19th century.
In what Longo calls the Hall of Mirrors, he installed 18th-century majolica floors from Santo Stefano di Camastra in Sicily. The central sofa is by Dutch designer Maarten Kusters for the Italian company Edra, while the two giant mirrors have been mounted on 17th century doors salvaged from a disused building.
“For this house, I simply followed its nature,” says Longo, “choosing old objects, design elements and adding my findings, both from Palermo’s flea markets and from the Internet.”
Finding the right parts was like a game, he says. A game that led to an unexpected but graceful mix of styles.