Restoration of Villa La Peruviana

“Villa Peruviana, unlike other aristocratic villas of the beginning of the 20th century, was built to welcome and astonish guests with its very special and spectacular appearance”. Taken from an article by Francesco Ronchi, writer.

Standing on a small rise in a panoramic position, over the town of Seveso, a few kilometres from Milan, the villa was built as a place of public and private representation for the Bizzozero family.

Luigi Bizzozero was the nephew of Generoso Gallimberti, a person who was very successful in his business relations with Latin America, especially with Peru, so much so that he was nominated Consul General. Hence the name “Villa Peruviana”. In Perù Gallimberti had first-hand experience of the hardships that Italians had to undergo as immigrants. From these experiences he learned that “a pencil, a small humble pencil, could be a great weapon for the moral elevation and economic welfare of his town: Seveso”. And so on 25 October of 1886 he founded the School of Design. The nephew Luigi Bizzozero launched out on the commercial career of his uncle and extended exports and imports both in Latin America and to the whole of Europe. This activity brought him various nominations: Consul of Peru, of the Ecuadorian Republic and Venezuela. He was the founder and first President of the Milan Trade Fair, whose first Exposition took place in 1920. The Villa Peruviana was built in 1904 according to the project of Natale Bizzozero, Luigi’s brother, over a vast area set by for a landscaped park à l’anglaise. It is in the shape of a “C” and rises on two floors together with a semi-interred floor. The whole building has large open spaces, covered and open terraces, an entrance portico and a corner tower. Its general architectural appearance is eclectic mingled with formal and architectural liberty features. The walls of the whole villa are built of full brickwork, which is left visible on the outer facades. The horizontal structures are wooden, as is also the roof. All the structural, formal and decorative elements of the facades were built in artificial stone obtained from a mixture of cement and inert material mixed with fragments and pigments of the stone that was to be imitated and used. Hence the term artificial stone. Between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th artificial stone became very popular for internal and external decoration of buildings: cement is versatile and offers the possibility of obtaining great plastic effects: poured into moulds it can create or reproduce any shape or material. On the outside walls of the Villa Peruviana the use of artificial stone reaches its maximum expression in the ornamentation of the decorated transom windows, the capitols of the columns, the balcony of the double bedroom, and on the corbels supporting the rain gutter cornice. Nature motifs, and geometrical and animal images form part of all the decoration of the outside walls. On the east side, especially on the walls of the covered terrace, we see the use of graffito decoration with mythological scenes: the graffito technique was very much in vogue in Italy in the 15th century and revived towards the end of the 19th, and in the first decades of the 20th. The frieze that runs under the cornice of the rain gutter around the whole perimeter of the building is decorated with a floral motif in typical liberty style, with sinuous and elongated shapes, unfortunately in very bad shape at the moment. The decorations inside the loggia of the tower also have floral motifs: in the centre the walls have floral motifs created with a mould technique. At the central entrance portico access to the villa is by means of a frontal stairway with two side ramps with steps in gneissic stone typical of the area, while the balustrade is in decorated cement. In line with the outside, the inside spaces also have rich decorations: frescoes, mould and plaster decorations, graffiti with floral and geometrical motifs. Everything thought out and created in order to astonish, to involve the guest and the spectator. A particularly powerful visual impact is had in the room on the ground floor which faces the main porch, once a dining hall, separated from the living room by a great glass wall created with the émail tubè technique by maestros Corvaja and Bazzi, among the greatest glass artists of Italy. All the furniture has been lost over the years, but from the graffiti of the walls, from the cornices, the floor and above all the exuberant coffered ceiling, it is not difficult to imagine what the room must have looked like once, with all its original furnishings and decorations. The walls were covered with inlaid wood panelling to echo the decoration motif of the ceiling. The villa stood abandoned for many years and was not used for any other purpose, and in some of the rooms the ceilings fell in, bringing the painted layer down with them, so few traces have remained of the fresco decorations. The ground floor rooms re-echo forms and motifs of the past with scenes taken from the Gothic, Medieval and Mannerist traditions, and expressed by various art techniques. Everything conspiring to create spectacular and striking visual effects. The rich decorations of the ground floor are countered by the quiet elegance of the first floor, which was reserved for the sleeping quarters. The ceilings of the rooms and staircase are covered with plaster decorations with delicate floral motifs. On the ceiling of the double bedroom there is a tondo with an allegorical scene of two children holding bunches of grapes. The floors of the rooms are of wood while the other floor spaces are the typical flooring of the age with tiles made of a mixture of cement and marble fragments. The restoration work as I mentioned before has not yet been terminated. The re-opening of the work-site is planned for the New Year.

The main cause of the deterioration of the villa is to be attributed to the long period of time that it stood abandoned, with absolutely no maintenance work done on it at all. The aim of the intervention has been to re-establish the unity of the building by saving the formal and architectural features from the ravages of time, its stratifications, the materials, the colours, to manage to recover its character without making the mistake of creating a historical fake. So, in order to understand and get to know the building, long and accurate preliminary studies have been carried out: historical research in the archives and land registry, and metrical and photographical inquiries, and a careful and accurate analysis of the pathologies of its deterioration, each element described according to its state of preservation. Tests have been carried out on site on the kinds of materials to use, trying to choose products and techniques that will respect the building. Chemical and physical analyses have been performed, with samples of the material of the building itself in order to understand their composition and state of preservation: the samples regard the internal and external cement of the building. Restoration operations began from the roof: the wooden structure was in a very bad state of abandon and leaking water had rotted the wooden beams completely so that in some places they had collapsed. All the wooden structure was restored and all the original roofing of dark “Marseilles” tiles was put back into place. After the removal of all the vegetation that in some parts of the facade had concealed the shape of the architectural lineaments with widespread growth of macro and micro-organisms, everything was disinfested with biocide products after which it was washed down with sprayed water. The wall surface was found to be in a good state of repair: there was no need to remove and replace a single brick. In the case of leakages the crumbling cement was removed, and the joints were washed and pointed with cement of the same composition as the original. Preventive treatment was given against the formation and accumulation over time of moss and lichens. The brickwork was protected with silicon-based products.

From a close-up analysis of the frieze, there emerged the original floral motif executed with the fresco technique with parts painted over a secco. In particular, at the points in which the paint of the repainted motif had come away, the decorated fresco motif had re-appeared. The decoration was in a sorry state of preservation: there were numerous gaps, with many places where it had been destroyed and material had been lost. Restoration first removed surface deposits, and then operations of consolidation and re-adhesion of the top painted layer to the bottom layer were carried out, as well as cleaning and grouting with cement with a composition compatible with the material for restoration. The following stage was pictorial integration of the gaps with the a velatura technique, and as the ornamental motif was repetitive, in some areas the missing parts were reconstructed with less bright colours to distinguish them from the original.

The main cause of the deterioration of the graffiti is damp and the effects caused by thermal shocks, which cause the various layers of plaster to swell, resulting in progressive flaking away. After the cleaning stages, done with water sprayed at low pressure and poultices, operations of consolidation and re-adhesion of the layers that were coming away were carried out, and for the missing parts we opted for reconstruction with a traditional technique: application of two layers of plaster. To give back unity to the whole building the same design was followed, always based on the original.

On the facades, all the elements made in decorative cement, protected in part by the gutter cornice, were in a fair state of preservation, while as for the balustrade of the main stairway and the parapets of the terraces, the parts more exposed to the weather, the deterioration had gone so far as to make the material crumble away, and in some points had led to the total loss of parts of the building. The cause of this grave deterioration of the cement is the phenomenon of carbonation. The high degree of porosity of the material due to the aggressive action of the weather allows the water to penetrate inside the cement elements as far as the metal reinforcing rods and rust them through. Deterioration here can lead to quite large fissures or cracks, and in more serious cases the concrete covers have come away completely with a total loss of parts of the material. To date, the cement has been restored to all the elements of the facade in a fair state of preservation, so with pathologies regarding above all consistent surface deposit in dust, biological patina and black crusts. Before the biocide cleaning treatment was administered various tests were carried out to find the best cleaning technique that would not alter the nature of the material. Depending on the consistency of the deposit, various cleaning systems were employed: water spray, poultices soaked in de-mineralized water to extract soluble salts, and ammonium carbonate poultices for cases in which the deposit was thicker. Grouting was done with cement that was compatible with the original, and preventive treatment was carried out to stop biological agents re-forming, and water-repellent protective treatment was used on all the cement surfaces.

Ground floor
Starting from what was once the dining room we immediately set about restoring, in the places where the ceiling had fallen in, the vault structure, and filling in the gaps in the plaster cornices. The decoration of the ceiling is “serial”, and with the aim of restoring harmony and completeness to the room the gaps were reintegrated by reconstructing the ornamental motif. While for the panels in which the painted layer had small gaps, these were reintegrated with an a velatura process. Below the coffered ceiling there are stretches of wall decorated with graffiti in a good state of preservation so restoration was limited to operations of cleaning and surface protection. In the fireplace room, on the ground floor, the ceiling that had fallen in was rebuilt and plastered with a mixture of a base of lime sand and natural earths. Observing from close up the strip that runs along the whole perimeter of the ceiling, traces of frescoed decoration with typical liberty floral motifs were uncovered. Both decorations were salvaged and restored in this way, allowing a reading of the stratifications. For the small gaps a pictorial a velatura reintegration was carried out, while the bigger gaps were handled with neutral reintegration. Special attention was paid to the plaster: with the operation of cleaning away the overlying layers of the painting superimposed on the walls the original plaster frescoed green and the decoration of the imitation marble ridge came to light. Pictorial integration of the plaster was carried out by a velatura lowering of tone of the areas with gaps and abrasions. In the entrance hall the decoration, in a reasonable state of preservation, is made up of grotesque motifs with plaster cornices. In the centre of the ceiling a frescoed mythological scene is the main feature of the reception room. All the decorations have been salvaged and restored. For all the decorations on the ground floor, in particular all the decorations on the ceiling, the operations of salvage and restoration may be considered completed.

First floor
On the first floor the decorations regard only the stuccoes of the ceilings of the rooms in a bad state of preservation, except for the stuccoes of one bedroom, situated next to the staircase, the double bedroom, and the bathroom. In these rooms the stuccoes have suffered serious damage owing to the damp caused by water leaking in, so creating problems of cohesion and plaster coming away, so far as to have parts dangling, and pieces falling: in one of the rooms, after numerous pieces of stucco had fallen in, a frescoed decoration emerged with a liberty floral motif. The stuccoes were restored by operations of pre-consolidation, especially in those areas in which the danger of coming away was imminent. Cleaning operations were successively carried out, and stuccoing and reintegration with reconstruction of the missing parts. In the double bedroom, after the removal of the overlying paint, all the marble of the ceiling came to light and was restored.

The floors
All the floors, except for those of the rooms in the sleeping quarters, were made with a mixture of lime and stones and marble fragments, which have different sizes depending on the kind of flooring. On the ground floor, in the official representation room, we can see a Venetian-style floor with a central decorative motif that in all probability reflects the motif that once decorated the centre of the ceiling, before it fell in. In the dining room and reception room the floors are alla palladiana while in the spare room and the kitchen the stone chippings are very thin and monochrome. The floors are in a fair state of preservation except for the one in the bathroom on the first floor: apart from numerous cracks, in some places there were parts of floor ornamentation missing and cornice made of black mosaic. All the cracks and patches were filled with chippings and fixing agents of the same material as the originals. The mixture was prepared on site and the patches and the parts of cornice were made after various samples. The operations of beating the patches were accompanied by smoothing, stuccoing and polishing. The terrazzo tiles in the first floor corridor, in a good state of preservation, were removed, cleaned and replaced as they were originally, but it was not possible to salvage the wooden floors in the bedrooms, because they were in a very bad state of preservation because of water leaking in from the roof all the time that the villa had stood abandoned.

Internal and external doors and windows
All the outside doors and windows were stripped and the frames taken to the workshop for restoration. After the paint had been stripped, carpentry work was done on them in order to mount the new insulated window-panes. The wood was treated with natural materials. The inside doors with their frames were restored and painted, as they were originally, using rabbit glue and natural earths.



Seveso, Milan