An Idyllic French Riviera Hideaway
Italian architect Piercarlo Dondona creates a light-filled haven for a design-savvy young couple in the hills of Nice.
Though largely built-up, the hillsides of the French Riviera town of Nice are still dotted with beautiful 19th-century manor homes, with lush grounds and tranquil views of the sea. It was on one such estate where a secluded Belle Époque cottage caught the eye of a young creative couple, who began hatching plans for updating the property the moment they stepped onto the grounds. Prized for their history and timeless charm, many of the surrounding houses have been redesigned in a range of contemporary styles that artfully combine the old and the new. So they called a friend, the Nice-based architect Piercarlo Dondona, and together, the trio threw themselves into modernizing the structure’s classical aesthetic with color and pattern.
The renovations began outdoors, where large trees and vine-covered walls evoke a secret garden that blends well with the house’s original façade. To enhance perspective, Dondona added a sleek swimming lane that traverses the length of the area, lending a sense of modernity. Inside, two staircases form the backbone of the space, linking the house’s three floors. Dondona modified the flow and arrangement of the rooms, creating a sense of limitless space thanks to an airy living room that sits on the upper floor. “The end point is the immense terrace, a lively space that plays a central role in the house,” the homeowners say. “When we return in the evening, we feel it has been soaked in sunlight, both in summer and winter.” In the dining area, the kitchen’s green walls mix with minimalist concrete-slab flooring.
The lower level of the house is reserved for rest. Here, a master bedroom overlooks the garden and has a beautiful simplicity, with original parquet floors, bright white walls, and a coffered ceiling. An accent wall was painted anthracite gray to match and obscure the television for maximum relaxation. On the opposite side of the space, connected to the closet, the homeowner’s daughter’s room is a charming nest filled with vintage and secondhand pieces. While the main bathroom retains its original sink and mosaics, Dondona installed a gray-hued shower in a former closet, resulting in a chic blending of styles and time periods. “The house continues to evolve: the skylight will soon be redone, ancient pottery will animate the terrace, and new plants will be added to the garden,” Dondona says.
The interiors now reflect a lifestyle where good taste and reflection guide every decision. The owner, an antiques dealer and admirer of the Italian designer Carlo Mollino, chose two of the Modernist polymath’s iconic pieces: Reale, an oak-and-glass dining table, and Gilda, an armchair of leather and ash. In fact, all of the furniture featured throughout the house is a study in refinement, from Caravane’s crisp Stella sofa and the streamlined Boffi ceiling fan in the living room to the vintage commode in the bedroom. Throughout, the couple paired a neutral white-and-gray color scheme with bold motifs to add personality. They discovered the English brand Timorous Beasties while researching various coverings and loved an inky black-and-white iguana-themed print so much that they applied it in the entry and the dining room. “We thought the iguanas would be a real presence that would animate the spot,” the owners say. Mission accomplished.
*Translated and adapted by Rebecca Dalzell from the French story by Ellia Ascheri.