A Filmmaker Needed a Quiet Place to Write. Where Better Than a Tuscan Villa?

A Filmmaker Needed a Quiet Place to Write. Where Better Than a Tuscan Villa?

TWO YEARS AGO, the Spanish filmmaker Albert Moya came to Florence to visit an artist friend who’d unwittingly become the caretaker of a large family estate, left empty after a famous Italian writer died, on the outskirts of town. Moya was staying nearby, at the tumbledown hotel Torre di Bellosguardo, when he learned that another unlikely (and quite strange) residence had become available. It was in the area — the southwestern Florentine hills, quiet and almost suburban, where families have long purchased properties with views of the Duomo — so Moya decided to stop by. “Anyone who lives here looks at the market all the time,” he says over espresso one frosty December morning. “There’s nothing [available], really. So when something comes up, it’s kind of pornographic.”

The director, 34, was raised in a village of 800 people outside of Barcelona, but has spent most of his adulthood in New York and Paris, where he creates videos for luxury brands like Loewe and Louis Vuitton. He entered the fashion world accidentally: The Belgian designer Dries Van Noten was the first to hire him, after seeing his 2012 short, “American Autumn,” about a group of New York City schoolchildren hosting a Surrealist dinner party. Moya had come to Italy in part to work on the script for his debut feature — “about three brothers and their daddy issues, basically” — based on an idea he discussed with the Athens-based screenwriter Efthimis Filippou, best known for collaborating with the Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos on films like “The Lobster” (2015).

Moya initially planned to find a more permanent home in Paris after his working holiday. Instead, after visiting the 2,475-square-foot apartment, he decided to stay in Florence so he could write in solitude. When he toured the rental, “it was full of crap but empty of people,” he says, noting that the last occupant, who bought the place in the 1970s and still owns it, was an Italian soccer player who “had this amazing taste and awareness of space and architecture.” Situated on the sunny second floor, it was one of four flats parceled out in the 1950s from a 14th-century Tuscan estate, Villa di Marignolle, that once belonged to the Medicis. The astronomer Galileo Galilei stayed here several times in the 17th century, until the family of artistic patrons eventually sold it off. Perhaps to counterbalance the house’s intact Renaissance-era frescoes, oak window frames and doors and large garden crowded with cypress trees, the owner had decorated most of the rooms with various types of shiny but handsome wood paneling for the floors, the arches that divide them and the railings of two lofted interior balconies. Those levels are reached via their own staircases at either end of the cavernous, 50-by-16-foot living area, from which the sole bedroom and small kitchen and bathroom branch out. “I like empty spaces and complete austerity because I travel for work. When I’m home, I want calm,” Moya says. “But here, the question was, ‘How do we respect the woodwork?’”

“THE RULE,” MOYA decided, “was no furniture, no nothing,” aside from a few simple birch dining chairs by Frama, a Copenhagen-based design firm, that line the entry vestibule. “I just wanted a place that’s really pure.” Much of the main room is given over to a shallow conversation pit that existed when he moved in, although he removed sofas around its perimeter to make way for piles of wool-covered pillows that he hoped would encourage his friends, who often visit from other countries, to lie around and daydream together while staring up at the weathered 23-foot-high post-and-beam ceiling. One of those guests was the 38-year-old architect Guillermo Santomà, a fellow Catalonian with whom Moya planned the overhaul and whom he left alone for a week during its installation. By the time Moya returned, Santomà had covered most of the space — including the lounge area, the dining room (along with its round table and curved benches), the stairs to the mezzanine level, the pair of mezzanines themselves and the bedroom floor — in mocha carpeting that feels especially soft and plush against all the honey-toned wood. In the center of the 20-by-12-foot bedroom, the duo installed a low mattress covered in white alpaca fur, with a raised wooden frame bordering it that’s upholstered in the same brown rug, in lieu of a traditional bed: “The rule here is not to bring any computers or phones,” Moya says, so that he and his visitors might fall asleep by the light of several candles on an altar along the wall.

Everywhere else, though, the place is engineered less for rest than for productivity. On one balcony, there are blush pink grow lights, the remains of a marijuana-cultivation experiment; on the other, there’s a retro weight lifting rig, with a leather punching bag and black iron barbells. Below that, in a corner of the living room between two windows overlooking the well-tended grounds, Moya constructed a large editing station with four movable screens that resembles a Louise Bourgeois spider by way of “The Matrix.” Between the spareness of the interior — they’ve added no art and very few objects — and the monochromatic palette, the dwelling is undeniably cinematic, like a dystopian movie set, even if the director has already decided to shoot his own feature in a brown brick and red-tiled summer house completed in 1973 by the Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill on the Costa Brava, not far from where Moya grew up.

Florence, however, has inspired him to finish what he set out to do. “There’s nothing that ties together all the creative people and artists here, so it’s harder to be in touch with one another,” Moya says. “I don’t go out so much.” Mostly he writes into the evening, lazing on a rug as brown as his corduroys, laptop resting on a wooden ledge nearby, as he watches the sun fade behind the hills opposite the beige city. Only then will he be kept company by the floating plexiglass light sculpture that Santomà designed and installed next to the conversation pit, which glows in any hue desired and looks like something out of James Cameron’s “Avatar” series. “At the moment,” Moya says of the lamp, “that’s my boyfriend.”

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