As honeymooners in 2009, the young couple who now own Villa Le Scale ("House of Stairs") first visited Capri, the Mediterranean island near Naples that has been a popular resort destination since Emperor Tiberius moved there from Rome in 27 A.D. The groom, a hedge-fund manager, was so smitten by Capri's idyllic beauty that he vowed he would someday own a home in its hills.
They returned five years later when a friend, knowing the couple were looking for a vacation home, told them of an early-19th-century villa on the island that had come on the market. This time, it was the bride who was smitten. Now a mother of three, she fell in love with the place as soon as she ascended its marble staircase under a canopy of scented local flora. "I wanted the house before I got to the front door," she recalls.
Although they live in Geneva, the husband and wife are both from warmer climates: He's Australian; she's Mexican. They met as teenagers at the United World College campus in the United States and married while living in London a decade later. They were looking for a place that offered "a bit of sea and sun, where the children could run free, that they would remember fondly for the rest of their lives," she explains.
Eager to start enjoying the gleaming white villa—which has five bedrooms in the main house and two more in a guesthouse near the pool—the new owners gave their designer just three months to make it a lovely yet livable indoor/outdoor retreat with soul. The task fell to the Lausanne-based designer Jorge Cañete, whom the clients had just hired to decorate their primary residence. "Jorge is amazing," the wife says. He was not only interested in both her and her husband's opinions, but also those of the children. "He even interviewed my two-year-old son about the colors and furniture for his bedroom," she adds.
The organizing theme of their seductive home is "la dolce vita," not so much the film as the concept. "It wasn't going to be a museum to the 1960s," says Cañete, "but we wanted to capture something about the sweet life." For the wife, it was about "having beauty around you in a world of contrasts—imagine a young woman on a Vespa riding on ancient cobblestones while wearing high heels."
Given the schedule, the project became the eye of a minor interior-design storm, made all the more complicated by island rules that forbid moving furniture during the day and streets too narrow for a vehicle. "I could have sourced everything from Naples, but that would have been too easy," Cañete says with a laugh.
Cañete's decor complements the original 19th-century marble bathtub, an 18th-century fountain, and a 16th-century fireplace with sleek modern pieces from companies such as Gervasoni, Casamilano, and Boca do Lobo and by such top-tier designers as Paola Navone, Ingo Maurer, and Patricia Urquiola. British artist Philippa Smith moved into the villa for several weeks to create site-specific artworks that would amplify Cañete's playful spirit and signature style, which finds a poetic balance, he says, "between memory and modernism."
After a year in their new vacation home, the clients are thrilled. The children seem happy, too. "My five-year-old daughter recently asked me why we could not live in Capri all the time," her mother relates. "She told me, 'I'm sure we could learn Italian very well.'"
Originally published in SiwebATION Germany, this story also appeared in the January/February issue of Siweb. See the full house tour here.