It sometimes happens that a small farm building becomes someone’s dream home. In upper Brianza, at the foot of the Montevecchia Hills, an old building that’s been used for the last fifty years as a tool shed and barn has become a living part of the local countryside, following a painstaking renovation carried out by a25 architects (Francesco and Paolo Manzoni). They’ve named the project Rifugio del Gelso, or the Mulberry Refuge, and when you step inside, it’s as if you’ve been transported into a fairytale, with a simple table with chairs and a single window framing the surrounding landscape. It’s an intimate, private, almost secret place. So, where does its name come from? It all began with a mulberry tree and its leaves, which once fed many silkworms….
From the early 1900s, this area was known for both silk production and growing mulberry trees, whose foliage was used to feed the silkworms. The trees were grown around farms and farmhouses, and to mark the boundaries of properties. They were also grown on the hilly landscape alongside the grape vines. Today the land and terraced hills are used for other activities, such as hay meadows, pasture, and corn crops, and only a few mulberry trees remain. And one of them stands right in front of the refuge. This explains the name chosen by the architects and owner, who, born in 1940 and after a lifetime of work at the Garelli motorcycle factory, decided to make this place his home and life. Nowadays, he always takes the time to chat with anyone passing by and has turned the refuge into an unusual local meeting place.
The project responds to the client’s brief, with storage spaces on the upper floor and a living area, as well as tool storage, at ground level, which you enter from a path at the front. Once the building was cleared out, it was renovated, retaining the very simple lean concrete structure. The lower floor was cleaned, while on the upper one, precarious infill walls were replaced with a new concrete block wall. The outside walls were strengthened with concrete blocks, reinterpreting the traditional open honeycomb bond. Since this part of the building is used for storing hay bales that are already dry, however, the open bond wasn’t needed.
The resulting building is spartan, rustic, and devoid of any frills. But that doesn’t mean that it’s devoid of aesthetic value. The beauty of this home is one made of simple things, perfectly in tune with the landscape, which can make even passers-by by feel like welcome guests. The materials were deliberately left rough, such as fir wood for the roof, brick tiles, and raw sheet metal for the gutters and downspouts. The only concession to decoration is a coat of brass paint on the pre-existing sheet metal door, almost a solemn seal that needs to bd broken before you enter this intimate, special place.
Location: Montevecchia (Lecco)
Architects: a25architetti - Francesco Manzoni, Paolo Manzoni
Built up Area: 60m2 (piano terra: 30m2, piano primo: 30m2)
Structures: ing. Christian Stefanoni
Photography by Marcello Mariana, courtesy of a25architetti