Roman orator, lawyer, philosopher, and sceptic Marcus Tullius Cicero described the petit coastal town of Sapri as ‘parva gemma maris inferi’ – a little gem on the Southern Sea. Surrounded by the crystalline waters of the Tyrrhenian and part of the province of Salerno, this lovely slice of heaven is infused with a relaxed seaside elegance that only the Italians can pull off. Backdropped by majestic mountains on one side and the Gulf of Policastro on the other, Sapri is just as popular now as it was in Cicero’s days with its wide beachside promenade filled with bars and restaurants. Villa Salerno, one of Blakstad’s most recent projects, takes pride of place in this coveted and blissful spot.
Situated atop the steep cliffs that climb out of the sea, Villa Salerno enjoys sweeping views along the whole coast, south towards Mount Etna and north up to Amalfi and Mount Vesuvius. This four-bedroom home with a two-bedroom guest house is oriented to maximise the vistas and the sea breeze, all of it sitting within a beautiful grove of ancient olive trees. “The design is very Mediterranean,” says Rolf Blakstad. “It fits well with the surrounds because this area was once dominated by the Phoenicians, so this architecture suits the history of the locale.”
With a steep and rocky plot, the design incorporates some commanding retaining walls made with hand-cut stone. The walls’ presence lends a sense of concealment, creating a private sanctuary, a place where time is sacred and protected. The pool sits between the main house and the guest house, meaning summertime visitors are afforded privacy while meeting in the middle offers a sense of communal enjoyment – of the view, the breeze and the tranquillity.
The location necessitated a whole new outlook. “It was impossible to build directly on site,” says Blakstad. “The difficulties with getting materials up the cliffs were insurmountable.” The solution was to pre-fabricate. It wasn’t that long ago that the concept of a pre-fab home was synonymous with cheap and cheerful construction – its heyday was in the 1970s, marking the method with the same brush as baby-blue velvet suits. Modern technology and genius design have turned the concept around. Nowadays pre-fabrication is seen as an efficient, ecological and cost-effective construction method, even in the luxury market.
“It was a big learning curve for us,” says Blakstad. “It’s intense to master a new method, but it was great. This seems to be the future in many places.” The team drew up the plans according to the desires of the owners, local legislation and with the utmost accuracy. This information was then sent to the manufacturer in northern Italy where the structure was built in a highly controlled environment where there are little to no accidents or mistakes and where quality is guaranteed. The pieces were shipped in and assembled onsite with finishing touches, fittings and fixtures added later.
Looking at the final result, you would never know that this beautiful home was built in a factory in northern Italy. The rooms are spacious and bright with natural light spilling in from picture windows and oversized skylights, there are two shaded patios – one for dining and the other for lounging – and terraced gardens brimming with local plants. Interiors are crowned with honey-coloured wood beams while the floors are tiled with gently textured stone. The entire property exudes a casual luxury, understated and elegant without any note of ostentation. And of course, the views stretching across the sea supply a connection to nature that is priceless.