Newspaper article International New York Times

An Italian Retreat with a Monastic Past ; Spacious Vacation Home Still Bears Traces of Its Ecclesiastical History

Newspaper article International New York Times

An Italian Retreat with a Monastic Past ; Spacious Vacation Home Still Bears Traces of Its Ecclesiastical History

Article excerpt

A former seventeenth-century monastery that is now a rambling vacation home sits on a secluded Tuscan hillside, its ecclesiastical history still evident.

Convento Il Chiostro, a monastery in the 17th century and now a rambling vacation home, sits on a secluded Tuscan hillside where deer and wild boar still roam.

The area has barely changed since Florentine monks lived there, and yet the home is only about a 40-minute drive from the bustle of Florence.

Nicola Gandini, a retired publisher who once trained as an architect, and his wife, Giovanna, bought the rundown monastery 26 years ago and spent four years renovating it.

"I was fascinated by the building's originality, location and adaptability," Mr. Gandini said.

The building, with an area of 2,300 square meters, or 24,750 square feet, is architecturally distinctive. Step into the living room, which was once the formal entrance hall and meeting room, and you are greeted by a soaring nine- meter-high ceiling, more reminiscent of the TV series "Game of Thrones" than a holiday villa. Terracotta floors create a sense of warmth, while the walls are decorated with frescoes from Italy's Renaissance heyday. "Everything is original, even the doors," Mr. Gandini said.

Vast wooden doors open onto a terrace and lawn with stunning views. In the distance is the small town of Sesto Fiorentino, which sits on a wide plain. Florence is just out of view.

Clearly the monks lived well. A huge fireplace, big enough to roast a wild boar (if not two), dominates the room. "Every room has a fireplace and we use them a lot in the winter," Mr. Gandini said.

The ecclesiastical history of the building is evident in its design. Il Chiostro is Italian for the cloister, and a side door opens onto a three-sided cloister built around an open courtyard with a small hedge maze and a cooling fountain. The master bedroom and a billiard room, as well as a small fresco-covered chapel, all overlook this peaceful feature.

At the opposite end of the main, garden entrance, the grand room opens into the interior of the house. A long corridor that once would have led to spartan sleeping quarters now leads to two cozy wood-paneled studies, a further roomy bedroom and an elegant "everyday" sitting room. …

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