Every building in Rome’s old centre tells a story – and chances are it’s a longer and more interesting one than you’d guess. The six-storey building at Via delle Coppelle 23 is no different. Its medieval foundations sit on the ruins of the Terme Alessandrine, a bath complex built by Nero around AD62 and purportedly still in use in the fifth century AD. By the 15th century, the building had been expropriated by the Vatican to serve a charitable arm, which it did until the 19th century. It then changed hands a few times before emerging postwar as an apartment block, more or less as anonymous as any other surrounding it.
In 2009, when Carlo Mazzi first saw it, there were more than 13 owners and plenty of infighting, “like a bad telenovela”, he says. But that didn’t keep him, his wife Patrizia Albano and his daughter Barbara Mazzi Pensieroso from pressing ahead with acquisition plans. Three years later, the Mazzis had convinced every one of them to sell. Formerly the president of Prada SpA and board member of several banks and financial institutions, with degrees in engineering and economics, Mazzi is also a noted collector, with twin soft spots for beauty and antiquity. Beneath the palazzo’s recent history, he saw the outline of a new purpose – a building that would celebrate every era of its existence for those looking for a rarer variety of Roman hospitality.
Which is how Palazzo delle Pietre – the new name for Via delle Coppelle 23 – came to exist in its current form. With its eight apartments (the largest sleeping up to five comfortably), the Palazzo is an extremely elegant take on the long or short city stay. The decor, which brings together museum-quality Roman antiquities, Renaissance and baroque furniture, collectable textiles, rare marbles and original contemporary art, is a showcase both for Italian history and for Mazzi’s discerning eye for a good piece – high or low provenance. Mazzi hopes that Palazzo delle Pietre will soon become a centre for cultural exchange, via FraMmenti Club, a cultural organisation his wife is involved in – a place to discuss and celebrate history, food and wine, music and architecture, and the ways they connect in contemporary society.
In Rome, as elsewhere, the model for luxury self-catering takes a few different forms, from Airbnb Plus (where you pay primarily for high design) to the likes of Rocco Forte House, whose five very smart but fairly uniform apartments near the Piazza di Spagna come with daily service and provisioned pantries. At Palazzo delle Pietre, the offering is top service – not just pantry-filling and daily maids but private guiding, wine tasting, art and antiques hunting; all, of course, without the ambience of a “serviced” environment. The latter part is helped considerably by the fact that the Mazzis themselves have a stake in things: they live in the top-floor apartments.
In Rome, a good residence is discreet – I walk past the door twice before realising it’s the entrance. Once inside, I’m struck by the calm: the walls almost entirely block the chaos of buzzing Vespas and beeping horns on the street outside (among the Palazzo’s compelling attributes is its ultra-central location, between the Piazza Navona and the Pantheon).
Mazzi, elegant in a powder-blue sport coat with a leonine head of silver hair, walks me through the ground-floor rooms, to which guests have full access. Many of these are floored in an extraordinary Labradorite-like marble from Madagascar that, writ large, resembles a frozen glacial lake, the tones feathering spectacularly from white to duck’s egg to near cobalt. The effect is glamorous and contemporary. Mazzi has used all the marbles in the palazzo – and there are at least 10 of them, each one more gorgeous and rich in tone than the next – the way they would have been in antiquity: sourced from afar (the Romans pillaged theirs from the far reaches of the empire), chosen for boldness of hue and deployed generously.
The floor contrasts vividly with the deep-russet stone of an antique column displayed in one hall, and chimes prettily with two 19th-century benches painted a richer blue. In an adjacent sitting room contemporary De Padova chairs surround a second-century corinthian chapter that has been repurposed as a coffee table. Sun pours down through the conservatory ceiling, casting the incisions on a wall-mounted fragment of Roman entablature into relief.
This refined collision of eras is reiterated throughout the building, much of the design conceived by Mazzi in collaboration with Maurizio Pappalardo of mp2a Architetti Associati. The process took nearly seven years, with a daunting structural intervention (as is often the case, once works were begun it became clear their scope was far vaster than anyone had foreseen). But the final result is a series of spaces that exalt a whole spectrum of good design, whether two years old, or two millennia old.
The first-floor apartments have loft-style layouts, with bedrooms fitted under beamed ceilings covered in ornate 18th-century paintwork. Throughout the remaining seven, the aesthetic is eclectic. Large Caucasian tapestries from esteemed Milanese dealer Altai Gallery hang on walls (and rugs largely from Africa lie on yet more striking marble floors). Chairs and pouffes from Alivar and Kartell are scattered around a discreetly placed flat-screen TV.
But the showstoppers are the artefacts, architectural remnants, textiles and art in each space – most Mazzi’s own, but some original to the building – and the adeptness with which they are mixed. In one bedroom, a wooden door frame is painted an ornate apricot-yellow marble pattern. “This was slated to be thrown away at one point,” says Mazzi. “It was covered in layers of varnish, dark brown. Then we thought, ‘Can we send it to our restorers [Mazzi works regularly with such artisans in Tuscany]?’ They began to de-varnish, and found this incredible marmorizzato pattern underneath.” In another bedroom, an alcove high up in the wall holds a collection of terracotta cylinders: simple but beautiful service objects that play like a sculptural installation in the space. Funereal? I ask. “No, they’re vessels that were used to collect water from the roofs, originally they would nest one inside the other. Actually, we found them here.”
Mazzi turns back the Rivolta Carmignani linens on the bed to show me a piece of which he’s particularly proud: a headboard he had fashioned from the two wings of a 16th-century choral chair. An inspired repurposing, which in turn inspired similarly themed pieces, including the headboard in the charming ground floor apartment, made from two 17th-century painted candle bases, intended originally for a cathedral and reworked by an artisan in Arezzo.
And so it goes, across six floors and tens of centuries: a marble-inlaid plinth or table predating Christianity here, an enormous 19th-century suzani there. Hung over a door is an ornately carved 17th-century wooden frieze, restored to Mazzi’s specifications by a famous Arezzo bottega; in the ground-floor apartment’s private garden, there is a monumental marble fountain from the high Renaissance. Kitchen cabinetry in hand-polished brass; an original Warhol Flowers silkscreen above a bed.
The subterranean rooms of the Palazzo have been put to use as well, with a compact Technogym-filled fitness centre, and a single but very luxe spa treatment suite – clad again in marble, this one a large-vein brown-on-silver. We finish our morning in the ground-floor dining room, chatting about FraMmenti Club, which was activated last year, with musical performances, talks by antiquarians and historians, and more, which take place monthly for its members (guests of the Palazzo who speak Italian, he says, are always welcome). In the meantime, he’s in the process of preparing a compendium on the Palazzo itself – the history and provenance of its treasures – to live in each apartment for its guests, a project about which he’s patently enthusiastic. It will, he hopes, be a catalyst for appreciating the palazzo as he does; a guide to all of the unexpected stories behind the façade.
palazzodellepietre.com; from €600 a night for a minimum two-day stay