On a pastoral estate in Umbria, aristocratic architect Benedikt Bolza transforms a centuries-old house into a grand, rustic dwelling for his young family
Almost two decades ago, Count Antonio Bolza and his wife, Angelika, acquired Castello di Reschio, a 2,700-acre estate in the wooded hills of Umbria, Italy, with a vision of turning its rural houses—all of them centuries old and in ruins—into luxurious villas. At the time, their son Benedikt was studying to become an architect, and he soon joined the family operation, overseeing the restoration and design work on the estate. In the roughly 13 years since, Benedikt has painstakingly rebuilt 22 of the 50 houses (another three are now in progress), complete with bespoke interiors, traditional gardens, and infinity pools. The estate also offers resortlike services catering to an elite international clientele of buyers and renters.
“We not only design the homes and gardens for our clients, we manage their properties,” explains Benedikt, who also serves as the estate’s director. For years he and his family camped out in the drafty rooms of Reschio’s 11th-century castle, but eventually the time came to put down more permanent roots—especially after his wife, Nencia (of the princely Corsini family from Florence), became pregnant with their fifth child. “The castle was freezing, and when it rained we had to pull out dozens of buckets and even some umbrellas,” Nencia recalls. “We needed a home of our own, and it had to be a big one!”
The couple decided to take one of the estate’s largest homes, which also happened to be among the most challenging to update. Though its timeworn stone exterior was in decent condition, the interiors were a different story. “It was a labyrinth of staircases and poky rooms for seasonal workers and their families,” says Benedikt, who is known as Count Bolza, a title conferred by his aristocratic Austro-Hungarian lineage. “The only solution was a radical one—demolish the interiors and rebuild them from scratch, adding a level for extra space.” The architect had initially set his eyes on a less complicated property, but Nencia insisted this was the one. “I was thinking of the children,” she says. “From here they can walk to the horse stables.”
By the time Benedikt and his team of more than 100 builders and craftspeople tackled the house, he had a crystal-clear idea of how it would all fit together. “The truth is,” he says, “I love to plan every detail, from the roof down to the tiniest lampshade.” In the early years of the Castello di Reschio project, Benedikt’s obsessiveness didn’t always go over well with the workers. “They weren’t used to detailed drawings, and they thought they knew better,” he says. “In time they learned to be more meticulous. I, on the other hand, learned from their knowledge of traditional building materials.”