Conversation with Johny Thielens
In the middle of the Tuscan countryside, close to the medieval ruins of Montelifré, lies one of our most unusual properties, Siena Loft. Sitting almost out of place and time, it was once an industrial hangar, but in 1999 became the home and atelier of Austrian artist, sculptor and architect Reinhold Traxl.
He and fellow architect Peter Thurner created a “box” where big glass openings could be closed by movable, transparent iron curtains, and pulled the outside landscape in by creating terraces.
In 2013, Belgian businessman Johny Thielens and his wife Rita (pictured above) took it over, converting it into two apartments with vast windows that flood the space with light. They retained Traxl’s adventurous spirit as well as much of his striking art.
It is, they say, “a place for artists, for dreamers, for people with an open mind, in a word: for people daring to leave the beaten path.” Naturally, we had to find out more about it…
JOHNY THIELENS, HOW DID YOU FIND YOURSELF IN TUSCANY?
JT: “I worked in the clothing industry, but my wife Rita and I moved to Italy in 2000 and went into the hospitality business. I have a passion for design and restoring houses. We knew the region and liked it. It has a very nice mixture of everything – climate, landscape, culture, good food and good wine.”
HOW DID YOU DISCOVER THE PROPERTY?
JT: “Reinhold’s wife is from Belgium as well and was a friend of ours, so we knew the property before. Eventually Reinhold became sick, and they wanted to sell the property. It was first a pottery factory, which went bankrupt, then it was a body shop for cars, which went bankrupt as well.
"It’s quite an unusual structure for the landscape. Reinhold and Renata lived and worked in the structure, in one apartment, and the rest was open space. We completely refurbished the old apartment, and in the other part made a second apartment – more of a loft apartment. In between, there is still open space.”
YOU KEPT HIS ART, WHICH REALLY MAKES THE SPACE VERY UNIQUE. CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT IT?
JT: “There’s a lot of art throughout the garden – six big art pieces from Reinhold that remain there. There was almost no garden so we created a garden and the swimming pool, and repositioned the art works around it.
"All the pieces have names and meaning. They are his way of seeing the landscape, of understanding the landscape. He is very back-to-basics and minimalistic in his works. The piece by the pool has three openings that represent the landscape seen by a child, a small adult and a very, very big person.”
WHY IS IT A “PLACE FOR DREAMERS”?
JT: “It’s an unusual place for Tuscany. It is very rare to find such a modern interpretation of living in the Tuscan countryside, the more while it isn’t disturbing nature, but even bringing honor to it.
"Most people coming here will be expecting a traditional Tuscan farm, but when you’re here you can let your imagination go. It’s also why I was attracted to it. It’s a very nice and easy space to live in.
"We built enormous windows that give a lot of light, throughout the seasons. Most traditional houses are darker because they have small windows so not much light comes in. Here, you have the feeling that the outside is coming in and the inside is flowing out.”
Johny Thielen’s vacation home rental in Tuscany is available for rent through BoutiqueHomes here.