Casa Soleto by Studio Andrew Trotter and Marcelo Martínez
In the Salento area of Puglia, stands a 17th century palazzotto, lovingly restored by Studio Andrew Trotter and Marcelo Martínez to give guests an authentic experience of Italian village life centered around the experience of barefoot luxury. For twenty years, the labyrinth property remained unoccupied – furniture, books and photos from previous residents left untouched inside as if time stood still. Architect and interior designer Andrew Trotter has majestically brought Casa Soleto into the twenty-first century while preserving its historic features. We spoke to him about the importance of craftsmanship and how earthy, natural materials can create a feeling of ease.
Photography by Salva Lopez
You wear many hats – architect, interior designer, product designer and magazine editor, just to name a few. Is there a unifying philosophy that guides your work across disciplines?
Simplicity and keeping calm. I don’t think too hard about things, I’m quite intuitive. I like in a way that whatever I’m doing feels natural and easy. Nothing should be forced. Maybe it’s because I started all this at a later age, and I don’t want to be old and stressed. I like my life and I love my work.
Whilst originally from the UK, you studied interior design in Australia. What about the way of life here continues to resonate with you and inform your sensibilities as a designer?
I had an amazing teacher, Sam (Salvatore) di Mauro who taught me to be inquisitive. I have fond memories of my time in Australia – the nature, the relaxed lifestyle, I think this instilled my calm nature. I also loved the fresh ideas that came from Australia being a young country.
Tell us about how you discovered the property that became Casa Soleto.
I have a hobby, some would call it an addiction, but one of my favourite pastimes is to search houses online. In September of 2020, I stumbled onto a house in a town that I had never heard of before. Often it is only grand houses that have gardens in the town, but this was a perfect size of around 220 square meters, with a front patio and a back courtyard garden.
At the beginning of our two-week stay in Puglia we called the agent. “I’m so sorry, he told us, “the house is under offer and I can’t show it to you." Three days later I called him again. Still under offer. [A]fter much persuasion we visited the house and fell in love. Two weeks later we got the call that the first offer fell through and we immediately made a counter-offer[that] was accepted.
Were there any specific design inspirations for the house?
Mainly we wanted to have a calm space. The rooms are majestic, and with beautiful details that had been left to fade. We wanted to bring all this back, with a touch of modernity, yet keeping all the feeling of the beautiful Italian building, maybe with a hint of a clean Belgium aesthetic.
In what ways did you try to preserve its heritage, and where did you try to incorporate a modern touch?
We tried to keep as much as we could. We only replaced two floors, we kept most of the internal doors, some of the artwork that was in the house, and the full kitchen and table. But the house only had one bathroom, so we added four more with vintage-looking sinks and toilets to keep the feeling of the old days. We added a pool, new wall plaster by Domingue Finishes, and new pieces to the kitchen in the same style so we could cover the fridge and dishwasher. We needed to modernize the house, but at the same time keep the old feel throughout.
What influences did you take from the neighborhood and surrounding landscape?
Soleto and the surrounding town are baroque, the houses are quite heavily detailed, yet inside they are simple. It’s a special place.
The house is full of texture and layers, while embodying a sense of simplicity. What unique pieces of furniture and furnishings did you source to complement that aesthetic?
Texture is the key. We worked with Domingue Finishes to use lime plaster in many shades to create walls that looked like they had passed time. Armadillo rugs give a warmth and texture to the cold concrete floors. Linen was used throughout on all sofas, cushions and bedding. We found a few very special antiques like the dining table from a convent in Abruzzo, and the red wardrobe from Lombardia. It was also important to add a few modern pieces, like Frama, that design in a pared back timeless way.
As a lighting designer yourself, how did you go about accentuating the interplay of light and shadow across the day to highlight the home’s architectural features?
When you have large rooms and small windows, the play of light is amazing. There is nothing really we had to do here. We added very little fixed lighting, I generally believe that two lamps are enough for each room. I far prefer lamps as objects that give ambiance to a room.
You’re a strong supporter of artisan-made products. What is it about age-old craftsmanship that you find so beautiful?
Craftsmanship is very important. You see quality that only comes from the hand. This is why we loved to work with Armadillo. They rugs are the perfect unison of new and old. They are modern, yet the same as rugs of the past hundreds of years. Timeless. Throughout our building work, whether in Soleto or other places, it is very important for us to keep artisans going. It is them that bring traditions to our work and keep our work feeling that the houses belong to a place and are timeless.
Is there a reason you are drawn to natural materials?
It’s just a feeling, a barefoot luxury, that makes us connect easily to a house, a blank canvas, that we can easily relate to.
How do you want people to feel when they stay at Casa Soleto?
Casa Soleto should be a calm haven is a chaotic Puglia. A place to relax and enjoy with friends. A place to cook and find the art of cooking without any rush.
What is next on the horizon for you?
We are working on many projects in Italy, the US, Mexico, Jamaica and Israel. It’s a very exciting time.