Crafting history: revitalizing a 600-year-old leather factory with contemporary design

February 20, 2024

The historical northern Italian town of Brescia is an undiscovered jewel in Northern Italy. Just a one-hour drive from the fashion centre of Italy, Milano and an hour from Verona, Brescia is known as “The Lioness of Italy”. It is a bustling metropolis that marries the high energy of contemporary businesses and shopping with the quaint living of small-town Italy.

I first discovered this incredible hamlet on a business junket to Italy at the request of the Italian Tourism department 20 years ago. Eventually, it was to become my home. Residents and friends in Brescia are forever asking “perche Brescia” or “why Brescia?” It’s a fair question. It surely doesn’t have the magic of Puglia, the seaside beauty of Positano, the allure of Roma or the food of Sicilia. But it has the perfect blend of all of these things. Not one thing stands out in particular, other than the people who are fabulous.

The wealth of Italy is concentrated in the north, which is the heart belt of its manufacturing industry. Ferrari, Beretta and Armani, to name a few, reside in the north region of Italy, home to Brescia. But as with everything, it is the people that anchor you here. My dad once said: “Son, wealth is not about the thickness of your wallet, but rather the quality of your friends.” And in Brescia, we are surely rich in incredible friendships. Two such of those friends are the magical partnership of Lars Duelffer and Massimo Prestini of “The Bolds.”

I had the chance to meet Lars and Massimo on a “go see” when my wife and I were looking for an apartment in the historic centre of Brescia. The city was founded by the Romans in 200 B.C. with a Castle that still graces the summit of the noble town where kings and Barons once looked down on their citizens. Much of the original history of “centro storico”, the historic centre, survived the brutal and incessant bombing of the World War II. Some of these ruins are fodder for the creative imaginations of architects and dreamers.

Lars and Massimo are designers, dreamers and re-creators of the highest order. We fell in love with them at first sight, and they have become lifelong friends from that first meeting. Lars and Massimo and their business, “The Bolds”, have created masterpieces from New York to Shri Lanka and through continental Europe. They gravitated towards a special niche of “recrafting historic derelict structures into works of art.” Our home on Via Delle Battaglie in Brescia Centro is one of those (see below for the “before” photo).

*Before renovations

Originally home to a leather craft business, the tower we live in dates back to the early 15th century. It’s hard to imagine the jewel that we now live in came from what any normal person would have said was uninhabitable and a hopeless cause. Not Lars and Massimo. They light up when they see historic buildings in disrepair. “We immediately have a vision,” noted Lars. “We see through the mess and immediately start envisioning what it could be. This property was one of those prize opportunities for us. The partnership I have with my life partner Massimo is unique. I can envision where it’s going, he’s brilliant and seeing how we can make this dream reality. We collaborate on every detail and have mad respect for each other. We love the story that unfolds in every period home we restore, and beam when our owners bury us in compliments and share their love of our work with their family and friends.”

Our home in Brescia reimagined by The Bolds is a beautiful statement of finding the balance between urban creature comforts and exploiting and restoring the magic of ancient times. Our home and the structure that holds it go back to the Renaissance period. The marble stairs that greet you as you enter the building date back to the 1400s and are literally worn from thousands of footsteps over the last 600 + years. You can almost hear the heavy footsteps of the workers from the original leather factory that inhabited this space laden with heavy rolls of leather goods over their shoulder, painfully carrying their weighted bounty step-by-step up the 70 plus or minus stairs, to get from street level to the top floor. No elevators in those days, nor today. A month of living at Chateau Pigeon is a workout that fosters impressive glutes and offsets the daily pasta and five glasses-of-wine regimen that is part of Italian essential living.

* After renovations

The average architect would have found easier shortcuts to ensure a profitable outcome of the design project. Not with The Bolds. Massimo proudly noted in his beautiful Italian language and voice: “Every detail, from the granite sinks to the precious little religious sculpture inset into the stone walls, to the magical lighting, is design with beauty and convenience in mind. We are passionate about what we do and love every project like it was one of our children.”

Via Delle Battaglie is a unique structure spread over four floors. Monotone to some degree with concrete finishes complementing the stone interior and brought to life by fabulous and unique lighting. The walk upstairs is always made special by the strolling through the candle-lit mini wine cellar. Eclectic art and Italian furniture amplify the magical surroundings that The Bolds have created for us here, in our home away from home.

And, of course, work doesn’t stop when you live in history. A very functional and minimalist technology-smart office is my enclave to write and craft thought, which this historic structure seems to continuously provide creative fodder for.

Beautiful period-style windows gracefully open as you welcome the morning air, gaze over the red tile rooftops of the Doumo, as the morning church bells greet you and your morning “café normale”. If there’s a heaven, then breakfast on the top floor of “Casa Pigeon” is surely where it is served.

Photos courtesy of Thomas Pigeon, Lars Dueller and Unsplash.

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Story by Thomas Pigeon

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