Conversation with Christian Pizzinini and Antonio Scolari

Travel deep into the south of Italy, down into the heel of Puglia. Within the elegant Baroque town of Galatina, hidden down a narrow alley, you’ll find Palazzo dell’Elefante della Torre, a remarkable space born from history, misfortune and grand design. In 2013, Christian Pizzinini and Antonio Scolari — public relations executives and art lovers — discovered the run-down palazzo, and fell in love. After six months of renovation, they unveiled a 22-room home spread over three floors, with old tile and marble floors, high vaulted ceilings and two roof terraces.

Most notably however, they revealed their impressive collection of 20th-century Italian design assembled over a decade of scouting, exploring markets and galleries, and receiving tips from friends. It is showcased in the home and includes Ettore Sottsass ceramic pieces, a Medea chair by Vittorio Nobili, a sideboard by Osvaldo Borsani, and a rarely-found double bed created by famed Milanese architect Giò Ponti. It also includes contemporary artworks, as well as mid-century pieces from around the world.

It’s a stunning assemblage in an enviable location, which Christian and Antonio make available to the public in several ways. The Palazzo is their home for most of the year, but it’s also an occasional exhibition space (where they invite artists to interact with the spaces in the building) and has three rooms for guests.

When we discovered this property we were hooked, and of course we had to find out more…

Christian Pizzinini and Antonio Scolari

Christian Pizzinini and Antonio Scolari

Christian Pizzinini and Antonio Scolari

What brought you to Galatina?

Christian Pizzinini and Antonio Scolari: “We arrived in Puglia 10 years ago and bought our first two properties in Nardò, a fantastic Baroque town. After some years, we heard about nearby Galatina, an amazing town that is scheduled to become a Unesco World Heritage Site, which means that the site will be preserved for the future. We heard about the sale of Palazzo dell’Elefante della Torre, which had been abandoned for 70 years. As we entered the door, we understood that this would be our next project, a place to bring our rare Italian design pieces and our art.”

Do you know much about its history?

CP & AS: “The Palazzo belonged to the barons Mongiò dell’Elefante, an ancient noble family who built seven palazzi in Galatina and owned a bank. During the last century, a lot changed in the south of Italy. Business affairs grew in the north but stopped in the south. The Mongiò family had financial problems and sold the properties. Our palazzo remained without life for 70 years, but this was the right moment to give it a new life in a totally new style while preserving the history inside.”

Your collection of furniture and decorative arts is very impressive. How long have you been collecting?

CP & AS: “We have collected rare pieces by the big Italian designers for 10 years. Inside the palazzo, you can find some objects by Giò Ponti, Luigi Caccia Dominioni, Osvaldo Borsani, Ettore Sottsass, Ico Parisi, Ignazio Gardella, Franco Frattini, Franco Albini, Barovier, Venini, and so on. All original pieces, some of them arriving from the old grand hotels of the Fifties. We love the bed by Giò Ponti, which came from the Parco dei Principi in Rome, and the sideboard by Osvaldo Borsani with handles by Lucio Fontana. Most of the pieces came from Milan and that region.

“We don’t only collect design, but contemporary art too. We try to discover new talents. We are in love with conceptual pieces. We introduced some interesting Italian names like Eduard Habicher with his site-specific red stripes A-Volta in the ballroom, as well as Giovanni Lamorgese, Raffaele Quida, Sophie Ko, and Luigi Veronesi. The newest arrivals are some bronze statues by Roseline Granet, custom-made for the Park Hyatt Place Vendome in Paris. She is called today’s Rodin.”

It’s a fascinating combination. How would you define your aesthetic?

CP & AS: “We try to give space and harmony to every piece we insert. Every object should have a little story to tell. The rooms remained simple and not overdressed, so that every piece has its own stage. Over the last few years, we’ve studied a lot about the history of Italian design, so now we concentrate our purchases on very rare pieces only. Our aesthetic? Simple and sophisticated with a lot of cultural aspects.”

The home falls under the umbrella of your Progetto Nomade (Nomad Project). What is that, exactly?

CP & AS: “We are nomads, living between Milan, Salento and the Dolomites. We run a PR agency by computer and mobile so we can bring our job with us wherever we stay. Our staff work from their homes. Last year, we started Progetto Nomade which will involve some projects in design (including collaborations with young designers), events, and projects for interiors. The next step is to open a little Nomade Gallery in Milan (work in progress!).

“Over the last few years, we have organized some exhibitions to open up our home to visitors. We have good connections to the Italian designers, to the galleries and to creative people. The last exhibition, during the summer of 2018, had the title Hotel Nomade Objects. Twelve creatives [including Hannes Peer, Giuliano Andrea Dell’Uva and Studio Lunoma, whose work is pictured above] produced objects that were displayed throughout the Palazzo. Its success was amazing! Now we are working on a project about Light, but it’s too early to speak about it.

“And for the future, it could be that we go in the direction of art in residence. We don’t want to have a hotel atmosphere; our guests should feel at home and in a very unique place.”

Christian Pizzinini

Any comments?