Turin’s Marcante Testa has a wonderful way with architectural ornamentation — and it shows in its aptly titled project “An Explosive Compound.” The exterior and interior design commission reimagines a home with a particular history: Part of a larger complex dating back to the mid-19th-century, the house in Cavallermaggiore, in the northwest of Italy, once belonged to scientist Ascanio Sobrero.
In 1847, the chemist discovered nitroglycerine, the compound that would later be used in the invention of new mine explosives, and then dynamite, by none other than the Nobel family scion Alfred Nobel. Horrified by his dangerous creation – which also led to explosions and deaths in factories performing tests on the substance – Sobrero warned of its volatility to anyone who would listen.
While Sobrero would disavow his own legacy, his home has a layered story that deserved preservation: It ended up being passed to his brother, Candido, then became the possession of Countess Costanza Arminjon. She would then sell it to the grandparents of the current owners — a pair of twins with fond memories of traipsing through the abode of their nonni. Therefore, they wanted to honour the previous life of the house, keeping some of its furnishings and finishes, while adding their own identity to it. (Just one of the twins currently lives in the home.)
They called upon Marcante Testa, the Turin duo comprised of Andrea Marcante and Adelaide Testa, which has become known for elegantly and inventively updating Italian interiors. For this project, however, the firm began with the exterior: It demolished the entrance to the house and redesigned it as a singular architectural piece: a combined gate, entrance and staircase. The gate expressively frames the entrance and the views from it, and includes metal mesh panels inspired by chicken coops, while the staircase is assembled from red bricks that recall local barns.
This idea of framing is important to Marcante Testa — it is reintroduced multiple times within the home. A bold, orange-red metal structure links rooms, curates views and even integrates new furniture. While defining custom-built furnishings and functions, it also emphasizes the time-honoured details — from an old wall lamp and an intricate wallpaper — that were kept intact.
For more contrast, a resin strip of flooring wraps the contours of the kitchen, entrance and living area, going up to the bathroom, to counterbalance the existing tile work. The meeting of old and new is especially pronounced in the living area, where the designers kept all the wall furniture but framed it with “new joinery objects.”
The designers also brought in the metal mesh from the outdoors. Mesh panels diffuse light and create moments of separation in various areas. They’re among a number of screen-like elements — old and new — that superimpose ornamentation, both minimal-industrial and ornate-decorative, to this lovely, vibrant home.
The dynamic interiors duo preserves the soul of a historic home while bringing in colour and framing devices to give it new life.