This project is our first in Sicily, and has been an incredible opportunity to learn about the rich cultural heritage of the island, the unique landscape and the abundant local ingredients and cuisine there. The house is set in 20 hectares of agricultural land on the slopes of Mount Etna, approximately 100m above sea level, between Catania and Taormina.

The site for the L House is set within larger grounds of a rural estate, within a series of terraced orange, lemon, olive and avocado groves, and now some vineyards. The landscape had been abandoned for over forty years and was becoming overgrown.  A simple barn – a palmento or millhouse, with a small ruined building attached (forming the L in plan), was at the end of a narrow track through the site within an orange grove. The initial idea was to refurbish the barn which had been used for pressing olives or grapes, and build a contemporary extension in place of the ruin.

We were really fascinated by the volcanic landscape and the role of Etna in the history of the island. The impact of the volcano on materials and architecture is also strongly pronounced on the island. We visited a lava stone quarry and were particularly interested in a type of lava that is cut from the top of the lava flows. The stone has an almost sponge like appearance, with air bubbles- known in Italian as ‘occhio di pernice’ – (partridge eye lava), a fantastic surface texture that we used to wrap the new volume in. We were inspired by the violent volcanic landscape to create a simple extension to the existing barn form with an angled geometry and folded roof of lava stone as if erupting up through the ground. We have reinterpreted the simple rural architecture of the original building in a clean and more contemporary way with a crisp minimal barn volume, with concealed gutters but with antique terracotta roof tiles, and covered with very soft pink render. This is in contrast to the volcanic twisted extrusion that sits against it.

Originally the proposal was to refurbish the existing building and rebuild a contemporary version of the ruin. However once the roof was dismantled, the walls fell apart, and in order to meet stringent local regulations for earthquake proofing buildings, a new structure was required. We kept to the original principles of the design, but standing on top of the ruined buildings, we were no longer within the orange grove, but had dramatic views up to Etna and out to Taormina, the sea and even the coast of Reggio Calabria. With these panoramas we added the design of the infinity pool and the terrace, pergola and outdoor kitchen to extend the living space right out into the landscape. The outdoor kitchen is oriented beyond the end of the house to give panoramic views to Etna and towards the sea and the port of Riposto.

The windows and pergola have been used as much as possible to frame views of nature, the landscape and the infinity pool looking out to sea. We wanted to create a year round house comfortable in all seasons, and from our increasing familiarity with the Sicilian seasons, could really blur how indoor and outdoor space can be used, with shading externally in the heat, and a recessed fire pit to enjoy outdoors even in the depths of winter.

Across the project, lava stone is used in many different ways – cladding the erupting volume (which was baked again in the furnace to increase the intensity of the colour), the terrace surface, a rougher texture and with smooth infinity pool edges and surround. Internally, glazed lava stone is used for the floors and in the bathrooms in custom designs and glazes, inspired by local colours of the sky and sea and the sabia volcanica.

The house started a simple restoration of a humble agricultural building, and although the design has evolved into a project closer to a luxurious home, the materiality and simplicity of the design are still very much rooted in our perceptions of Sicily.

‘The project epitomises the interests and passions of the studio, exploring and taking inspiration from our travels and bringing these ideas very much into the character of our work.’

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