Alessi at Home and Afield
Alberto Alessi had a dream. He wanted to be a vintner, but not just any kind of vintner. “My ambition is to do the best wine ever in Italy,” says the sixty-seven-year-old head of Alessi, SpA, the $130 million family company he has headed since 1970. He has transformed it from a staid producer of stainless steel housewares into a dynamic powerhouse driven solely by design, be it in metal, glass, wood, ceramic, or plastic, and be it housewares, tableware, kitchens, baths, furnishings, or fashion— the company introduced a collection of eyeglasses in Milan this April.
To turn his dream into reality, Alessi set out to find land where he could not only grow grapes but create a home for his family. After a long search, he found an old farm, Villa Fortis, in the Piedmont village of Pratolungo, a small town just six miles from Crusinallo, where the Alessi factory and offices are located. But both the buildings and the grounds of this estate, which dates back to the early nineteenth century (its actual origins go all the way back to the sixteenth century), had been completely abandoned, and part of the land had returned to the wild. It was not habitable.
Alessi is a major figure in Italy’s Piedmont region—the Alessi factory is an important driver of the local economy—and yet when it came time to embark on a renovation, there was no favoritism; in fact, Alessi’s chosen architect, Alessandro Mendini, a longtime collaborator and trusted consultant, had to submit four different plans before he was finally able to satisfy the requests of the various local authorities. Alessi closed on the property in 2001, but construction didn’t begin until 2007. “Finally, after three proposals, we realized what they wanted,” he says—the restoration of the old house and surrounding buildings that stood on the grounds. Fortunately, total fidelity was not required. “They were really only interested in the facade and volumes,” he says.
Before the move, Alessi and his wife Laura and daughter Emma had lived in a small, loft-like space in an old villa in Suna on Lake Maggiore and they wanted to re-create the same sense of intimacy, hiring a fengshui expert to consult with Mendini. In spite of its lofty presence on a hilltop, surrounded by a serene rolling landscape, the house’s interiors are simple with a warm farm-like feel, thanks to the extensive use of wood and stone, much of which was recycled from the old house and grounds.
The one touch of extravagance is an indoor spa, complete with swimming pool. “I wanted to fulfill a long-term dream of living close to a spa so we could combat the humidity of our beloved lake,” explains Alessi. Eleven-year-old Emma loves entertaining school friends there.
The entrance to the house is through a long hallway with a study for Laura Alessi off to the side. The graphic intarsia walls add a touch of drama. The two-story living room, where the family spends almost all of its time, has a welcoming fireplace that was built using three chestnut trees from the property. At the other end, an open kitchen—a super-sized version of La CucinaAlessi produced by Valcucine and Oras and also designed by Mendini—dominates the space. Both husband and wife cook. A large wood table also crafted from the felled chestnut trees is surrounded by a virtual hall-of-fame of designer chairs including ones by Jasper Morrison, Erwan and Ronan Bouroullec, Enzo Mari, and Naoto Fukasawa.
Arlene Hirst is a design journalist living and working in New York.