An Ai Weiwei photo series hangs within the living space. Lara Gilmore shares, «three life-sized photographs depicting the artist breaking a two-thousand-year-old Chinese Hun vase. We took this as symbolism. Breaking the old and choosing what to bring forth into the future»
Casa Maria Luigia in Modena
Skirting the city limits of Modena in Italy is Casa Maria Luigia. A country home that pre-dates back to the eighteenth century, burrowed in the region of Emilia Romagna in Italy. The city of Modena has and continues to play a key role in providing agricultural produce and automotive goods to Italians and consumers around the globe. It is also within this terrain where balsamic vinegar originated. Here, the dressing is made by hand, then stored and aged in wooden barrels over a period of time. Further, within the valleys of Emilia Romagna as well, exists the practice and preservation to the making of Parmigiano Reggiano. The milk of the Vacca Bianca Modenese characterizes the cheese, native to this region. It sets it apart from its famous substitute, parmesan.
Automobile brands that have sprouted from this region of Italy include Ferrari, Pagani, Lamborghini as well as Maserati, to name a few. As history goes, the people of Emilia Romagna uphold the contributions brought in by the second wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, Maria Luigia. Having had the region passed unto her in her reign, she therefore inculcated the arts and culture within the city. She, in fact, promoted music, theatre and art making. Mingling amongst these offerings is Osteria Francescana. A three-Michelin-star restaurant that sources and serves food from the environs, owned by restaurateur, Massimo Bottura. The restaurant was a realization that came to a fruition in 1995 with the assistance of his wife and business partner, Lara Gilmore.
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The dining experience has over time garnered a following within the food-connoisseur community for its modern takes on staple Italian cuisine. Osteria Francescana has gained a Green Michelin Star rating under its belt. It allows for the fusion of contemporary art and modern takes on Italian food while remaining sustainable. In a decision to expand Osteria Francescana to its guests and avid followers, Bottura and Gilmore formatted Casa Maria Luigia. The idea for the casa comes from Bottura’s time. During this period, he taught and educated kitchens, chefs, and a vast audience on his expertise in Italian cuisine.
Bottura’s time abroad led him to staying in hotel rooms that left him feeling disconnected. There was, in fact, a rigidity in the ways hotels conducted themselves. They offered rooms and dining experiences featuring the aspect of diminished homeliness, absent in his time away. In seeking out a hotel that had the balance of hospitality and the ‘home away from home’ ethos, Bottura therefore decided on amalgamating the veins of his restaurant, Osteria Francescana. He extended it into hospitality. He formatted Casa Maria Luigia in May of 2019 and a restaurant within the casa called Francescana. The premises offer a combination of select food items from the menu of his restaurant for dinner. Guests have the added advantage of basking in the openness of the home concept Bottura and Gilmore realized in Modena. The breadbasket of Italy.
Bottura and Gilmore, the new owners of the property
The property has changed hands in ownership over the course of its three hundred years of existence. But, it now belongs to owners Bottura and Gilmore. Purchased in the year 2017, Gilmore – who sat in for the interview on behalf of Casa Maria Luigia – explains that the home was ‘Ca Magelli’ prior to their acquisition. The word ‘Ca’, as she explains, is an abbreviation of the word casa in the Modenese dialect. For the latter, ‘Magelli’, the owner of the home – Luigi Magelli – brought it forth before them.
A known party host, Magelli inherited the property from his father. He then proceeded to renovate the structures to fit his liking. Planting in oak trees that still stand on the grounds, a pond and a boat house, Magelli used the casa to host parties. The rooms on the property were for his guests to retire after a night of wining and dining.
Having acquired the home after seeking out a space to bring forth their idea, Bottura and Gilmore went to work. They moulded and renamed it into one that reflected their identities. A tasking process, Bottura and Gilmore explored possibilities, leading them to the now known Casa Maria Luigia. «We were toying with a set of names for the casa and came to an anamnesis to our initials. Our peers constructed the design of our initials our peers for the use of our wedding. This would be the leading idea that led us to naming the property as such».
The meaning behind the structure’s name
Having the initials of their name ‘M’ and ‘L’ for Massimo and Lara, paying a laudation to Bottura’s mother and the individual who fostered arts in the region of Emilia Romagna, the couple came to the collected conclusion to brand the property as Casa Maria Luigia. «When I met Massimo’s mother, she was famous within the family as Nonna Lu, and by her friends as Luisa. It was upon her passing, did I come to learn of her birth-given name, Maria Luigia, named after the patron who accentuated the arts here». Naming the property as such was an assiduous and thought-out choice by the owners for it held multifarious meanings.
As Gilmore explains, there is an existing coaction of masculine traits Luigi Magelli formatted. To complement this, there is also an influence of femininity. This is followed through by the naming after Bottura’s mother and the artist patron of the region. In this cohesive dichotomy brought forth by Bottura’s masculine understanding and Gilmore’s feminine expressions, the owners have created a celebration of art, food and culture within the walls of the casa. The term ‘Casa’ was the last added feature to the name, shares Gilmore. The title holds importance to the brand and its identity. The choice to name it ‘Casa’ – a word that holds the meaning of home – rather than the word villa, was to accentuate the purpose of Casa Maria Luigia being a home away from home. A laudation to Bottura’s vision.
Bottura and Gilmore’s background
The couple, prior to meeting each other, came from varied backgrounds. Bottura, a Modenese native, had taken a period of torpor from his tenure as a chef at the Trattoria Del Campazzo in Modena. He therefore traversed to New York City on a goal to seek perspective and a varied working environment. While, Gilmore, who was a graduate from art school and working with photography magazine, Aperture, had come into Caffé di Nonna in Soho seeking a job, as did Bottura.
Describing the event as serendipity, Gilmore shares that she and Bottura came to know each other through their time spent working in the café. They met on the first day of their jobs. Bottura as the chef of the establishment and Gilmore as a waitress. Through this, the couple then got to know each other, sharing their assiduity for the arts and culture. Being prompted by Bottura to visit his hometown of Modena, Gilmore took on the invitation. As she puts it, «the rest is history».
The experience of Casa Maria Luigia
Scattered across the casa are twelve bedrooms in three categories. On the grounds of Casa Maria Luigia is a secondary building. A three-bedroom bungalow on the property called ML Luigina. Guests have the option of choosing which rooms they wish to be accommodated in. The three categories of the rooms in Casa Maria Luigia – ML Festina, ML Bella Vita and the single ML Alcove Penthouse – feature Dedar fabrics, Attica ceramics for the bathrooms and Ortigia bath amenities. Companies that exist within Italy or from the environs.
To provoke the sense of homeliness, each room also comes with a complimentary mini bar stocked with food by the chefs in the kitchen below. An in-room espresso machine and tea options are available for guests to indulge in. Further, complementing each of the living quarters is a selection of contemporary art pieces and Italian design furniture hand-picked by Bottura and Gilmore. The attention to detail and the inclusion of food made available in-room creates a sense of privacy, similar to when being in one’s home.
Rooms at Casa Maria Luigia
Guests roam the property. An invitation to move around as though being in one’s home. Common areas like the main-hall, the record room containing seven thousand vinyl records belonging to Bottura. The family-style dining area have been curated to ensure a connection is formed. Dining periods – breakfast, lunch and dinner time – are carried forth in a vast dining space. Guests, in fact, sit by each other. The chef will take them through the dining experience, sharing stories behind each dish on the menu. «This is how we separate ourselves from other hoteliers and bed&breakfasts» explains Gilmore. «There is a transparency and invitation that evokes a togetherness between the staff members and the guests that stay here. The ability to mingle and converse in a communal manner therefore cultivates bonds and longevity between the casa and our guests».
The ML Luigina, while sharing certain traits of the other rooms, features Italian stone floors and a Marrone + Mesubim stainless steel and Corian kitchen. Separated from the primary building, guests of the ML Luigina have a private access to the bungalow. An added feature is the separated swimming pool, available cooking classes within the bungalow as well as an on-request dining experience. The redesign process of Casa Maria Luigia took place with the assistance of Bottura’s peer, Catia Baccolini, Gucci’s CEO, Marco Bizzari, and a list of Italian creatives. Working with the existing structure, modern and contemporary design pieces mark the rooms of the property that showcase preserved fresco, windows and flooring that were upkept by Bottura and Gilmore. «Each room is varied. There is a dichotomy shared between the pieces of artwork that we have installed into the rooms against the preserved structure of the building».
Design at Casa Maria Luigia
Further, littered across the property are pieces of artwork and design items Bottura and Gilmore chose. A reflection that has been carried forth from Osteria Francescana. An Ai Weiwei photo series hangs within the living space of the casa. «There are three life-sized photographs depicting the artist breaking a two-thousand-year-old Chinese Hun vase. We took this as symbolism depicted in Casa Maria Luigia. Breaking the old and choosing what to bring forth into the future».
A table called Gong by designer Paola Lenti sits by the open-kitchen space of the casa alongside a Piero Lissoni sofa for guests to lounge on. Gucci wallpaper adorns the inner walls of the property and a series of photographs of teenage smokers by Ed Templeton line the walls of a room within the casa. «We partnered with Gucci Décor to finalize the internal structures of Casa Maria Luigia. Besides the wallpapers, there are furniture pieces and fabrics that are in rooms and other spaces of the hotel». Alessandro Mendini designed the communal table within the restaurant area of the Casa Francescana. Mendini also designed a replica of the table for Bottura’s and Gilmore’s soup kitchen in 2015.
Culinary proposals at Casa Maria Luigia
Food items for guests come from the environs of the property or within the region. Gilmore states that the reason for doing this was to emphasize the offerings of Modena and the region of Emilia Romagna. Parmigiano Reggiano comes with Lambrusco wine, sourced from cheesemakers and vineyards that neighbor Casa Maria Luigia. Employing the use of the balsamic vinegar into the salads is another way the chefs of the casa utilize food from Modena. While, farmers and a vegetable garden cultivated within the property of the casa offer guests fresh options for salads and snacks. Groundskeepers maintain the garden, watered by an underground spring that acts as a source of water for the casa.
Leading the kitchen is head chef, Jessica Rosval. A former chef of Osteria Francescana of six years. Along with recreating a nine-course tasting menu from Osteria Francescana for dinner, Rosval also oversees the food making process throughout the day in Casa Maria Luigia. Rosval and her team of chefs, in fact, begin cooking at 6.30am, utilizing the wood fire oven to cook breakfast foods for the guests. «We serve gnocco fritto with a slice of mortadella or ricotta. A dish that is synonymous with the environs». The cooking process takes place throughout the day, seven days a week.
Located twelve kilometers away from the city of Modena off the highway, Casa Maria Luigia looks to reopen their services and hospitality to their guests in capacity. Enticing the olfactory senses, taste receptors and the mind, Casa Maria Luigia intends on living forward as a disseminator of experiences in food as well as in the arts.
Casa Maria Luigia
Stradello Bonaghino, 56, 41126 Modena MO, Italy
Casa Maria Luigia subsists within the confines of a country home that dates back to the 1700s. It was a project birthed by Michelin star chef Massimo Bottura and his partner, Lara Gilmore. The structure features an amalgamation between the ardor for food from the environs and a vast art collection, as well as the paced life rooted in the countryside of Modena. Casa Maria Luigia has garnered a name for itself for being a home away from home.