Stairwell

Most were built 100 to 200 years ago by the farmer-residents, who used such easily available materials as fieldstone, timber, and terra-cotta tiles. A typical Tuscan farmstead was made up of two or three buildings, Ross explains. “Historically, people lived in the top of the main house, and the bottom floor was for animals,” he says. Outbuildings were used for small animals, such as pigs and goats, or for hay storage.

 

Stairwell

Most were built 100 to 200 years ago by the farmer-residents, who used such easily available materials as fieldstone, timber, and terra-cotta tiles. A typical Tuscan farmstead was made up of two or three buildings, Ross explains. “Historically, people lived in the top of the main house, and the bottom floor was for animals,” he says. Outbuildings were used for small animals, such as pigs and goats, or for hay storage.

 

Remodeled Exterior

While the renovated homes are now fully modernized, with heat and air conditioning, professionally appointed kitchens (minus the cow stalls), and luxury baths, the reconstructions were closely monitored by Italian preservationists. “They have very strict requirements in Tuscany,” notes the architect. “You won’t hear me complain too loudly, though. Tuscany is as nice as it is because they are very stringent as to what they allow. The reason you don’t see a lot of development there is because you have to be very patient. It takes a long time.”

 

Terrace

Today, the 15 reconstructed and privately owned casali range from 4,000 to 7,000 square feet in size and integrate original stone walls, terra-cotta vaulted ceilings, and reclaimed timbers. Roses climb up walled courtyards, and pergolas frame postcard-perfect views of the working vineyards, olive-tree orchards, and rolling hills that surround the properties.

 

Roses

Throughout the renovation process, sustainable building methods were used to minimize the environmental impact on the land, so the historical properties retain their original relationship to their rural settings. Roses climb up the original stone walls of the casalis, bringing the authentic rustic beauty of the Tuscan countryside to the property.

Living Room

When not enough of the original fieldstone was on-site for rebuilding, masons sought out regional stones with the same character and color. They intentionally rebuilt walls with slight imperfections so the walls would look like the unskilled work of the original farmer-builders. (Structural integrity, however, was never compromised, Ross adds, and modern building and safety codes were strictly enforced.) 

The layouts of the houses closely conform to the original dwellings, explains the architect. “We were limited as to what we could do by the original load-bearing walls, so spaces are somewhat compartmentalized. Large rooms tend to be broken up with vaults or columns. That is in direct relationship to what was already there,” Ross points out.

“It’s pretty amazing that some of the houses’ nicest spaces, with vaulted ceilings and arches, were originally animal pens. But that was the way Italians were used to building. They built structures that were made to last,” he notes.

Bedroom

Interiors are elegantly appointed as well—down to the Italian linens on the hand-painted beds and the olive oil (grown and produced on the property) in the kitchens. Interior designers from J Banks Design in Hilton Head, South Carolina, and Showcase Design in Carbondale, Colorado, shopped the world for antique and reproduction furniture, luxurious linens and fabrics for a rural Tuscan farmhouse feeling.

Bath

Italian Bisazza glass tiles and heavily veined Carrara marble slabs line walk-in showers and tub surrounds in the luxurious bathrooms. “The bathrooms are the most contemporary elements in the interior design,” Ross says. Obviously, the original homes didn’t have bathrooms, he adds, and the Italian philosophy is: “If it’s old, it should look old; if it’s new, it should look new.”

Details on the following slide.

 

Bath Details

No luxury was spared in the bathrooms, where antiqued mirror, large soaking tubs, and contemporary fixtures create a restful, old-meets-new ambience.

 

Kitchen

Kitchens reflect Italian styling, with farm tables and antique cupboards in lieu of American-style built-ins, as well as professional deManincor gas and wood-burning stoves, Gianfranco Ballerini refrigerators (some with hand-painted door fronts), and Carrara marble farmhouse sinks.

 

Pool

Each residence is organized around a glass-tiled infinity-edge swimming pool and hand-set stone patios.

 

If Walls Could Talk . . .

Think Tuscan farmhouses, and you likely envision rustic stone structures. U.S.-built Tuscan-style houses typically have stone facades. Historically, however, those Italian structures were nearly always plaster-covered, says Gary Ross, Timbers Resorts director of architecture. Plaster offered better weatherproofing and was a sign of prosperity. “If you look at most old stone masonry, it’s pretty disorganized, with bits and pieces of tile thrown in,” Ross says. “That’s because it usually was plastered. Over time, the plaster has failed and fallen off. Americans are in love with the old stone, but actually it was never intended to be seen.”

 

Exterior

The Castello di Casole estate remains a working farm, with 88 acres of vineyards producing Cabernet, Merlot, and Sangiovese grapes (a limited-edition wine is produced by neighboring winemaker Paolo Caciorgna) and 13 acres of olive groves. (A single-press extra virgin oil is bottled on the estate.) There are trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding, as well as a protected game reserve.

 

Get In Touch

The historic Hotel Castello di Casole has 41 luxurious suites, plus a two-story, three-bedroom penthouse. There are also Hotel Villas, apartment-style olive grove suites, available for rental. The hotel and villas were restored using original materials found on the estate and are elegantly furnished for modern comfort. For rental information, contact 800/785-7429, email hotelinfo@castellodicasole.com, or visit their Web site.

For information on real estate and private club ownership, call 800/419-7084 or e-mail info@castellodicasole.com.

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GreenSpace: Luxurious and Sustainable Renovations in Tuscany

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Written and produced by Amy Elbert
Photographs by Bret Robins & Amy Elbert

Romantics fantasize about buying and restoring a rundown stone farmhouse in northern Italy. That’s probably why the book Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes and, later, the movie of the same name were so appealing. As the book and movie lightheartedly relate, renovating a crumbling European farmhouse—particularly when you’re a clock-watching American—can be frustratingly slow and difficult. But Timbers Resorts, a Colorado-based real estate development and management company, took the homeowner angst out of the equation. In the past several years, the company has converted 15 structures scattered over a 4,200-acre estate near Florence and Siena into luxurious furnished residences with pergola-covered terraces, infinity-edge swimming pools, and Italian wood-burning pizza ovens. Plans call for converting a total of 28 casali (houses).

Timbers Resorts acquired the estate—Castello di Casole (the Castle of Casole)—in 2005 and worked hand in hand with Tuscan historical preservationists and regional builders to rehab the stone farm structures, as well as a castle/villa that sits at the property’s highest point. The centuries-old -castle (the tower dates from the 10th century) opened in July as the Hotel Castello di Casole with 41 luxury suites, a spa and wellness center in the vaulted former wine cellar, two restaurants, and a bar.

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