Castello di Vicarello is a unique and luxurious boutique hotel set in the rolling hills of Tuscany where every wall sings a song of the ancient past.
How would you describe Riva Lofts Florence in a nutshell?
Riva Lofts Florence are 9 luxury apartment rentals on the Arno riverbank with a private garden and white sandstone pool. Period stone walls and arched windows meet understated 20th-century furniture and create a very pure, minimalist and airy collection of chic studios. These designer lofts were created by famous architect Claudio Nardi and are managed by his charming daughter Alice. Together they kept an excellent balance between the look of the contemporary architecture and furniture, the refined antiques and the touch of the warm and historic building. Riva Lofts is pure metropolitan lifestyle in a traditional atmosphere, and in one of the most enchanting cities - Florence.
The property used to be your father’s studio. What was the inspiration to transform it into a small boutique hotel?
There were two things. My father, who is an architect, always dreamt of doing something where he was the architect, but also the person commissioning the work. And I always wanted to work in tourism — actually I wanted to be travelling the world.
We thought that maybe opening a hotel would be the best solution for both of us. My father could design the place and the world would come travelling to us, which is almost like seeing the world. Another thing was, Florence is a very busy city with a lot of people from abroad, but it’s really hard for us locals to get to get to know these people. The Florentines like to have separate lives from the tourists. For me and my father it’s the opposite. We want to get in touch with these foreigners coming to Florence. And now we have the chance to get to know them. So that’s our way of sharing Florence with the world.
Please tell us a bit about the history of Riva Lofts.
When my father bought the house in the mid-90s it was abandoned and quite ruined. Well, it looked much worse than it actually was. The walls and the roof were still in very good condition, so we only had to restore it from an aesthetic point of view.
We believe that it used to be a farm because in our living room we have a signature of the mason who built it that says “Giovanni Paolo the mason with his sons in 1873”. Later on, I think a group of artisan workshops used the house because we found a lot of traces of ceramic pieces in the garden and there are these very big windows where we think they used to dry leather.
And from 1996 it was my father’s architecture studio until 2004, when we renovated it and opened Riva Lofts in 2006.
You said that you travelled a lot to find much of the furniture. What are some of the places you bought them?
Well, we mostly looked in flea markets but also online. For example, we have a big, beautiful amazing French counter in our living room where we serve breakfast. My father bought it online. We paid more for the shipping than for the counter itself. But we loved it so much and it is really beautiful.
The abat-jours are different in all the rooms; it’s the same with cups – excuse me, I’m crazy about cups – so when I go to a flea market I buy 6 or 12 cups and they’re all mixed up. So every morning, you might have coffee in a different cup, and they’re all so beautiful. A few things also were in my father’s house already, so we moved them to the hotel.
The only thing we bought from a real hotelier company are the beds. They are Simmons beds, probably the best beds for hotels. But all the rooms at Riva Lofts are different, we have different chairs, different tables, different kitchens, different lamps...
What has been the biggest reward renting it out to guests?
The biggest reward are the people... you know, we had never done any advertising – nothing. The people were coming to us. My father as an architect is quite well-known, so when we opened the hotel there was a sudden curiosity from an architecture point of view.
And all the people who come here tell us that it’s even more beautiful than the pictures — usually it is the opposite. They say the place is beautiful and the feeling you get here is really homey. It’s a big reward because none of us has ever had a hotel, or thought about becoming a hotelier.
It means that we had good intuition doing something that we didn’t know very well. I think it is the combination of a beautiful place — where you normally expect the staff to be very stiff — and this informal, very warm feeling. For us it was a gamble and it was a challenge. We said, “Okay, that’s the way it should be in our opinion” and it worked. That’s the biggest reward we could have had.
Riva Lofts is not in the center of Florence, it is a bit on the outside. Please tell us a bit about this part of the city.
This is a very interesting neighbourhood because it was created from nothing in the sixties. This area used to be moorland and the mayor at the time decided to build a thousand houses for people who used to live in huts.
When they started having houses, schools and a church, it became a very strong and tight community. Until about ten years ago, it was known as rather poor part of the city; it was residential but not interesting.
Now they are re-evaluating it. Because this part of town didn’t have the massive building boom, we don’t have any tall buildings or skyscrapers. It’s just small houses with a lot of parks, gardens, and green areas. We are actually just in front of both the park and the river. I was born here and I’ve always loved this neighbourhood.
Having been away for some time, is there a particular place that you go to that makes you feel like you are back home?
Yes, the Santo Spirito square is what I love the most. It’s in the heart of the Oltramo, the local area. It’s a beautiful square with a beautiful church that was designed by Brunelleschi. It’s a very simple design, a very simple facade – very clear. And there are a couple of good restaurants and bars. Not like those at Piazza Michelangelo on the other side of the river. I always tell our guests to avoid restaurants there. They treat you like a wallet with two legs. I wish that these places would close because it’s an offence to tourism.
Anyway, at Santo Spirito square you have all sorts of people hanging around — it’s a sample of real life. In the summertime, there are concerts there and some organic food markets. And there’s a flea market – every Saturday there is a different one. It’s a place where every time I go there, I meet someone I know, or there’s something interesting to see or I eat good food. For me, my idea of Florence is Santo Spirito.