Famous for creating one of Italy’s most beloved lines of luxury leather goods, the Trussardi family fashioned a sleek, chic villa on the Mediterranean island of Elba (yes, Napoleon’s Elba), an elegant playground built on sky, sand, and sea. By, Paula de La Cruz
The early September day is quiet with dry Mediterranean heat. Climbing the road to Villa Trussardi, perched above the town of Marciana Marina on the island of Elba off Italy’s Tuscan coast, the rocks seem to evaporate into white clouds of dust; the azure sea is a few hundred feet below.
The main white metal gate of Villa Trussardi opens onto a cement path flanked by rosemary hedges, backed by pink oleanders. Along the path’s downward-sloping edge, a natural growth of stone pines crackles in sere wind. The house isn’t visible until one reaches the long set of black stone stairs that lead to the main entrance, and, more importantly, to its pool. From the deck, one gets a sense of an easy life full of buoyant pool parties lingering into the wee hours. That’s the way it always was, and still is, in fact, since Luisa and Nicola Trussardi purchased the villa in the early 1980s. (Nicola died in an auto accident outside Milan in 1999.)
Originally, the Trussardi residence was a modest house in the Greek island style, with Santorini-blue shutters and just a few rooms. The Trussardis expanded it, adding scale and a stark touch of Rationalism. If the house weren’t softened by nature, it would breathe the loneliness of a de Chirico painting. The wooden deck, large bar, and long table by the pool helps soften the atmosphere and provide a repeating theme throughout the villa: there are long tables where family and friends can gather in all the main indoor and outdoor areas. Luisa Trussardi points out that “both the exterior and interior spaces are very convivial” and always “full of guests, and now, my grandchildren, too!”
But it is the rectangular infinity pool that is the center of the villa’s life. It was painted white so that the water inside would easily reflect the shifts in weather and appear all the more brilliant in the context of the white rooms around it. It is flanked on one end by a tall white wall with two bas-relief stucco sculptures by Consagra, one of Italy’s leading post-war sculptors, which seemingly change shapes depending on the position of the sun and the shadows they cast. The top of the wall serves as the edge to a terraced orchard of peach trees, not exactly manicured, but not left to their own devices either.
The living room glass doors open onto the pool deck, but a corner of its flat roof serves an even more important function: it supports a gigantic winged Eros torso by Igor Mitoraj, a contemporary Polish artist based in Italy. The sculpture’s smooth white surface absorbs the colors from the water and is incredibly lifelike while maintaining its simplicity. At times, it almost gives the impression that it might just bat its wings and descend for a swim. Winged Eros reigns over the property and is master of the bronze greyhounds that appear on both the pool deck and on a travertine terrace below it, edged by a prolific plumbago, an evergreen shrub. Nicola, Luisa says, chose greyhounds as the symbol of the Trussardi brand for their “elegance, dynamism, and agility” when he extended the family business from a glove-making company to an empire of lifestyle labels in the 1970s.
The same attention to detail that Nicola exercised in business is seen in the effort he and his wife have poured into their house. Yet no part of its architecture is forced, nor is the garden too controlled. In many places, the wild maquis, a type of Mediterranean vegetation composed primarily of leathery, broad-leaved evergreen shrubs or small trees, is reined in or softened to emphasize the sloped terrain and to create partitions. This is most noticeable on the hedges right outside the main entrance, where bright green myrtle was planted behind a line of grayish-green germander to create a more dramatic drop.
To one side of the house, a narrow path flanked on both sides by hedges of holm oak, rosemary, and myrtle leads to a tennis court built at the center of an amphitheatre. The seats around the court were built from the remains of an existing quarry. Granite from Elba has been a sought-after stone since Greek times, and the Romans used it in the columns of the Pantheon’s portico and for parts of the Coliseum. Later, into the 19th century, around the time of Napoleon’s famous stay, Elba continued to be exploited for iron, and its forest was burnt for charcoal to extract the metal from the ore. Only its native flora was allowed to flourish freely, and in 1996, Elba was declared part of the National Park of the Tuscan Archipelago.
As with the swimming pool, the tennis court is backed by a retaining wall with a bas-relief of a mammoth rope by Helfried Kodré, a contemporary Austrian artist better known for his jewelry designs. The work is nearly obscured by an ampelopsis vine of brilliant fuchsia leaves. It looks shy, however, in comparison to the overgrown heaths, strawberry trees, myrtle, and butcher’s broom cascading like a tidal wave from the top of the wall. On many nights after racquets have long been abandoned for cocktails, the tennis court is transformed into an outdoor arena for music and theatrical performances. Next to the court, in what feels like the driest part of terrain, there is a terraced olive grove with wild carrot and dandelion flowers growing all around them. Luisa added a set of rooms below the tennis court to accommodate even more guests, with its own terrace and lounge chairs. At Villa Trussardi, a terrace is never just that—it is more often the roof of one of the many rooms scattered across different levels. Every terrace seems to float on the sea below or reach for the jagged edge of pines cutting into the sky.
Walking back to the house, there is absolute silence, except for an occasional Vespa zipping by on a distant road. On this early September day, the family has already returned to Milan, but the echoes of their great times together are present in the photographs that crowd a living room’s shelf along a wall-to-wall modular sofa. There are children diving into the pool, friends sitting in the garden, and black-and-white images of generations past. Across the room, a distracted gesso Venus and an unfortunate Greek athlete missing his arms stand in front of wide glass doors, with three tall bald cypresses planted on the main porch outside as their background. A long table with 12 white director chairs stands in front of the statues. The effect of the room is eclectic and Neoclassical, empty for the most part but never minimalist.
Like any self-respecting Italian family, the Trussardis love pesto. They make it often while in Elba, and so they planted many pots of herbs that line the stone walls toward the back of the villa. This is the area where they also have a small orto—vegetable garden—of eggplants, tomatoes, and zucchini. From this orto, a path opens toward the woods, hedged with neatly clipped rosemary on one side and the native maquis on the other. Under a large pergola, there is a brick oven, a grill, and, of course, lots of tables to hold informal gatherings. The path continues, lined with live oak topiaries, heaths, and myrtle to one side with the same species left wild along the other until the path disappears into the woods. This small nature walk leads back to the main car entrance designed around a gesso column by Arnaldo Pomodoro, a modern Italian artist whose work focuses on a series of columns and large spheres, mostly in bronze. The Trussardis’ garden is not a traditional one: there is no designated piece of ground to display shrubs and trees—instead, the native shrubs were hedged or trained as topiaries to emphasize the architecture and define different spaces along the terraced slope.
A diving board is suspended parallel over the surface of the cool, blue pool, beckoning swimmers to bounce higher and higher before plunging in head first. If only Eros could dive in, too.