PHOTOGRAPHY & TEXT HANS FONK

The sudden glow of the setting sun reflected in Lago di Como, the fanciful symphony of tree trunks in a forest, a fascinating passage in a piece of music, the unpredictable power of a glacier in Patagonia or the special shade of a certain colour: Romeo Sozzi finds them all extremely moving.  And he transmits the emotion of those magic moments to his surroundings and similarly seeks to transmit the emotion of his furniture creations to the world at large. He is the founder and driving force of Promemoria of Italy – one of the world’s foremost interior design companies. OBJEKT©International paid a visit to the fully-restored, resplendent Villa Mapelli beside Lake Como at Varenna belonging to the man who has elevated his work to a work of art.

He is a man of passion. He enjoys the magic moments of life, but is also capable of being incensed when others do not understand various aspects of that same life. Promemoria is his life work. The name might sound somewhat understated, but the furniture he creates is highly sophisticated and refined. Clearly there is a good reason why his products rank at the very top of the interiors world. Passion and creativity are the key words applying to his furniture – and to himself. He is guided by music and the visual arts. Romeo Sozzi: the man who exemplifies refinement, elegance and craftsmanship.

It’s impossible to generalise about his furniture. It is timeless and meticulously finished, within and without. The materials used in the products are exquisite: ranging from Tuscan cypress to African ebony woods, and from fine textiles and leathers to shagreen. He actually describes his interior objects as nomads looking for a house, a loft, a patio or a yacht: creations of nature, and independent.

His style is timeless with roots in the classical cabinet-making of the 19th century. In those days Romeo’s ancestors had a workshop in this region where they restored and repaired wooden carriages for local nobility. In the course of four generations the family accumulated a wealth of craftsmanship which culminated in 1988 in the founding of Promemoria. Romeo’s dream was to produce furniture of the highest quality, unaffected by design trends. Today his sons Stefano, Davide and Paolo support the furthering of that dream. It is a vision that can now be admired throughout the world. With showrooms in Milan, Rome, Paris, London, New York, Moscow, St. Petersburg and Dallas he is able to share his philosophy with many admirers.

However,  the best place to get a taste of his views on the interior is his Villa Mapelli in Varenna in northern Italy which he recently fully restored, adding all the modern comforts of the 21st century. Varenna is situated beside Lake Como, where the lake’s three branches converge. It is a small, ancient settlement perched against a rocky hillside. Its origins date back to Roman times. The name Varenna was first mentioned in 493 by Corius in his history of Milan. The wars between  Milan and Como put Varenna on the map in the 12th century, when fugitives from the fighting settled there.

The town went on to be ruled by various leading Italian families and over the centuries the Roman Catholic church played an important role there – which is borne out by the church of San Giorgio, which dates back to 1313.In Varenna itself time seems to have stood still. It is still a jumble of houses, clustered together in crisscrossing alleyways and intersected by steps. In the centre of the town you will find Villa Mapelli, the main building of which dates from the 17th century. Perched on a rock, it towers high above Lake Como. In the 18th century wings were added to either side of the main part, and during that period the garden was also extended to the edge of the lake.

In the 19th century the Veninis made the villa famous as a meeting place for composers including Franz Liszt, Guiseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner, as well as the writers Giovanni Verga and Antonio Fogazzaro. In 1926 the villa was sold to the Mapelli family and then Romeo Sozzi became the new owner in 2002. When he acquired it he immediately embarked on a far-reaching renovation that entailed addressing literally every last millimetre. As can be expected from Romeo: the aim was to enhance quality of life, from the terrace to the basement.

Motorcycle enthusiasts take note: in neighbouring Mandello del Lario you will find the Moto Guzzi museum, founded in 1921. Guzzi is the oldest motorcycle make in the world, after Indian and Harley Davidson. The Guzzi brand is associated with the colour ‘rosso mandello’ – a typical shade of red that stems from this area.