Tour a Fairy-Tale Tower in the Italian Countryside
Living Room

Tour a Fairy-Tale Tower in the Italian Countryside

The story of Torre del Falco—the Tower of the Falcon—begins in Italy’s hilly Tuscia region north of Rome. There, on the outskirts of the town of Ronciglione, Paola Igliori returned some years ago to her family’s estate, Villa Lina, a sprawling and picturesque property surrounded by the Cimini, a range of volcanic mountains. Igliori, a writer and filmmaker who had been living in New York City, inherited a 1920s villa, built on the remains of one erected more than two centuries earlier; an 18th-​century botanical garden; and a symbolic landscape created in the 1930s by the noted architect Raffaele de Vico. She now lives there full-time and has spent years transforming the estate into a country retreat, where she welcomes travelers interested in discovering the treasures of the region.

But while she restored and decorated most of the buildings on the property, she did leave one structure untouched: Torre del Falco, a crumbling 19th-century farmhouse built around an ancient tower. That is, until it became the dream project of her son, Filippo Chia (who is my stepson).

in the foreground is a stone waterfall fountain next to shrubs and cypresses of varying heights, and in the background is a lawn with shrubs and benches and potted plants backed by a line of tall trees

The vast gardens at Villa Lina, Paola Igliori’s estate near Ronciglione, Italy, include tall cypresses and a 1930s waterfall fountain by Raffaele de Vico.

Simon Watson

In 2004, Chia was 21 and studying photography at New York University. He returned that summer to Italy, where, as usual, he shuttled between his mother’s Villa Lina and Castello Romitorio, the vineyard near Montalcino, Tuscany, where his father, artist Sandro Chia, is based. While visiting his mother, he ventured out to explore the old farmhouse and tower, which had been uninhabited since the 1950s and was on an isolated part of the property in the midst of a hazelnut forest. “I used to play here with my friends as a child,” says Chia, now the CEO of the Castello Romitorio winery.

Covered in brambles, its roof collapsed, it was a mysterious place, even a little eerie. And yet its interiors still showed traces of the original pastel-colored paint—all shades of green, blue, and purple—that had adorned its walls. That summer, exploring once again those remains from a long-lost past ignited in him a fervent desire to salvage the building.

a library has shelving with books and a large vase, a low sideboard below a window surrounded by artworks in differently colored marble patterns, ceiling with brightly colored squares, and a green murano glass chandelier

To paint the library’s vintage console, Chia used a cement-based formula that was given to him by the artist Cy Twombly. The 1890s chandelier is by Murano, and the decorative wall and ceiling treatments are by Marina Moscetti.

Simon Watson

Back in New York, Chia supervised the plans sent to him by Igliori and Pietro Belei, the architect in charge of rebuilding the farmhouse. With the help of old photographs, they re-created the volume of the main house, the old tower, and an adjacent small pavilion. Restoration of the interiors began as soon as he returned to Italy the following summer. “The idea was to create a place that was in the same eclectic spirit as the other houses on the property,” he says.

Inspiration was found in the genius loci of this region, known for both the elegance of its Renaissance villas and the rough-hewn farmhouses that date back to medieval times. At Torre del Falco, for example, the facade was covered in a stone-colored plaster finish reminiscent of the exteriors of the Villa Lante della Rovere in the nearby village of Bagnaia—a Renaissance gem that once belonged to the family of Igliori’s mother, Angela Lante Montefeltro della Rovere. In the main living room on the ground floor, he inserted a pattern of triangular pigeonholes, a characteristic feature of rural architecture in the area.

Chia also looked southward, to Naples and the island of Capri, where he and Igliori are part owners of Villa Quattro Venti, the historic palatial home built in the early 1900s by the American symbolist painter and poet Elihu Vedder. When sections of that house were sold off, Chia-—who collects 18th- and 19th-century maiolica—salvaged the hand-painted tiles for his kitchen and bathrooms.

The minimalist open staircase at Torre del Falco also pays homage to a different Capri monument: the modernist Villa Malaparte. Another of Chia’s passions, Roman archaeology, found its way into the ground-floor library, where a bookshelf was built around a huge Etruscan-style vase, and wall murals pay tribute to Pompeii and Herculaneum.

an ochre guest bedroom has a bronze chandelier, silk curtains and shade, a bed with caned head and footboards and multicolored zigzag patterned spread, a faux marble nightstand with a glass based lamp

A guest room has a Louis XV caned bed and a 19th-century faux-marble nightstand. The stucco walls are in a natural ocher, and the 19th-century Neapolitan tile was hand-painted to mimic parquet flooring.

Simon Watson

The house is filled with art by friends, such as Lola Schnabel, whose engraved print hangs in the living room. Another acquaintance, Giorgio Franchetti, the late civil engineer and art collector, taught Chia the ancient Roman method for laying terra-cotta floors, in which tiles are placed in a checkerboard pattern and the seams are filled with a mixture of marble dust, white cement, and water.

There is a genre in Italian Renaissance and Baroque architecture known as capriccio, called a folly in English. Buildings and interiors of this kind were inspired more by a need for creative expression than for practical reasons; these whimsical structures are often motivated by a desire to rekindle long-lost worlds through design and decoration. Torre del Falco is Chia’s own poetic construct—a folly, and a home, that is both experimental and timeless.

winter 2023 cover elle decor

This story originally appeared in the Winter 2023 issue of ELLE DECOR. SUBSCRIBE