The first question James Cavagnari wants to answer is: Who is your home?
Whether he is designing a reconstruction or a new, contemporary house, the science of Cavagnari’s process is the same. He must discover the project’s personality before he can envision how it will be captured. Take Villa Cupolino, a breathtaking 14th-century villa overlooking the city of Florence. The recent renovation shows how Cavagnari can honour the identity of a historic home and bring its lost soul back to life, by uncovering the distinct personality that was lost over time.
The designer is fascinated by the character of each home, and this guides his vision and his work. “For an existing building, you must ask, where is it, how it is, how is it linked to the territory and the people?”
With Villa Cupolino, Cavagnari and his team saw a woman, hidden and waiting to return to dignity. “She is a grand and elegant lady. How could we help her to become what was lost, with new possibilities?”
The transformation required a skillful hand as history was not kind to the original structure. During the Second World War the villa was partially destroyed, and attempts to rebuild weren’t faithful to its origins.
“They did things that don’t belong to our tradition,” Cavagnari explains. “The people didn’t have an idea of the history here, so there were mistakes.” The damaged roof was closed with a heavy concrete slab, a material from the 1960s that does not exist in the Italian tradition. It had to be rebuilt entirely. “We proceeded little by little, to what this house could be if nobody had ever destroyed it.”
Now, the villa and its gardens are immaculate, a triumph of respectful restoration with an elegant modern finish.
Giving back an identity to this house
Cavagnari likens the many possibilities of a building to the aspects of someone’s personality: a reflection of essence.
“We have to understand what could be and make the best story, but not every story is possible. Sometimes a house that can be romantic, countryside, natural, but it can’t be luxury. In the heart of the Mediterranean Sea in Sicily, it has to be pure, essential, ethereal. A penthouse in the center of Moscow or New York must give a feeling of power, of dynamic. It has a different story. So it is with people.”
Another consideration is the personality of the clients. What kind of people are they, and which of the house’s possibilities will fit them best?
A bird may love a fish, but where would they live?
Cavagnari’s designs are a synergistic meeting between the two identities, home and client, that expresses the soul of both. For this reason he insists on creating both the interior and exterior of each project he undertakes, as these elements interrelate and communicate with one another and cannot be imagined separately.
These collisions, between a house, its history, its location, the vision of the clients, and Cavagnari’s playfulness, is where the genius of Prima Design shines.