Asmundo di GisiraPhotography by Photofoyer Agency • October 19, 2017
Located on the East Coast of Sicily, facing the Ionian Sea, Catania, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a city rich in history and legend, harkening to a past plagued by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions thanks to neighboring Mount Etna. While transforming an 18th-century former mansion, Giuseppe Minaldi and Valentina Giampiccolo, cofounders of Italian firm Studio GUM, not only embraced Catania’s past but also reinforced it with an unconventional design sensibility that nods to the stories and symbols that define the ancient Italian city. “It stimulates the curiosity of the visitors,” says Giampiccolo, “pushing them to explore their surroundings” and reflect on and celebrate the legacy of Catania.
The myth of Billonia, a beautiful young girl who handed out flowers and happiness, serves as the design inspiration, notably in a portrait in the entrance but also in graphic wallcoverings throughout the hotel. As a tribute to the pink birds that would linger in the fountain in Giardino Bellini park, a larger-than-life flamingo by Domenico Pellegrino peers into the reception area. And to establish a sense of place, artist Rossana Taormina was tasked with “telling the story of an imaginary owner of the palace,” says Minaldi, which she translated into a portrait of a man sitting with a map, linked to a green background wall by a woven wire. “These areas of the hotel artistically recall the places where the social and cultural life of Catania used to take place,” he adds.
Each of the six guestrooms tells a different story. In the Proserpina room, the goddess of grain and architecture is reinterpreted as a greenhouse made of iron and tissue set under a beautiful frescoed ceiling. The Uzeta room recalls the valiant knight who defeated the Saracen giants, noted in a large ceramic alligator and a headboard of overlapping leather pieces studded in armor-inspired brass. The Aci and Galatea room, meanwhile, tells the story of the fabled lovers by separating the two beds with a green fabric weave.
There’s a myth in Catania that a fire beneath the sea feeds Mount Etna, evidenced in the Coalpesce room where red velvet drapes surround a blue-patterned wall, while the Eliodoro room tells the origin of the elephant—the town’s symbol—in a headboard covered in tiles that replicate the texture of the animal’s skin. Arguably the most dramatic is the Agata room, an homage to the revered patron saint of the city. The canopy bed is covered in a translucent veil, which sits between a deep red carpet and a white latticed-pattern ceiling light installation flanked on either side by black and white murals of an awestruck and adoring crowd.