House Tour: Inside An Architect's Dream Home

For Christopher Ward and his wife, Alessandra, a lifetime’s worth of design ideas are funneled into a distinctly modern house in the Italian countryside.

Davide Lovatti/Living Inside
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Faced with the prospect of designing a dream home for his family—in the quintessentially pastoral landscape of Reggio Emilia, in north-central Italy’s Emilia-Romagna—Italian American architect Christopher Ward sought inspiration not from local traditions but from the tropics. “I wanted to build something different from the typical country house we have here in Italy,” he says. “I wanted something exotic.”

He and his wife, Alessandra, moved into the 3,875-square-foot three-bedroom home in 2014 with their two children, Gregorio and Maria Vittoria, after three years of work. It is a blend of numerous styles, including Brazilian, alpine, Scandinavian, and California modern. And there are more than a few glimpses of Ward’s architectural heroes—John Lautner, Mies van der Rohe, Kengo Kuma—in there, too.

Designing his first major residential project gave Ward the opportunity to unpack all the ideas he’d built up during his 12-year career in fashion-retail design, working for clients such as Max Mara, Canali, and Italian apparel brand Liu Jo. Ward first studied at the Politecnico di Milano, the country’s largest technical school, and then worked with Duccio Grassi Architects before launching his namesake studio, based in Reggio Emilia, in 2011. The core of his business remains in the retail sector, which is why this house project—and being his own client—was such a welcome departure. “I had a library in my head,” he says. “I had the chance to put everything down together.” The Wards are committed travelers and list their favorite spots as the Maldives, Thailand, Miami, and Mykonos, where they visit every summer. They’re hippies at heart. “We didn’t just follow one straight rail for the project. It had input from all our trips over the years, all the things we have bought,” he says. “It’s a melting pot, and fortunately it worked.”

The result is a cohesive and unique home, with Ward’s sensitivity toward natural materials making the first impression. He used charred local timber, burned on site, to bring character to the façade. “I decided to give it a barcode pattern so it wasn’t plain...a little bit more dynamic,” Ward says. The creative use of wood extends inside. A brushed-iron front door opens onto a double-height vaulted space. Ostensibly it’s a dining room, but it’s where design conventions are turned on their head. “When you enter on the ground floor, you have American walnut covering all the ceiling and resin on the floor. Your first impression is that the house is turned upside down. Then, going upstairs, the wood becomes the floor.

Having an open-plan space in the middle of the house gave Ward the opportunity to create adjacent, more intimate nooks. First, there’s the kitchen through a sliding glass door by Rimadesio, a leading Italian manufacturer of premium partitions and storage solutions. Alessandra is a keen cook, and the kitchen is where the family—and their five dogs and one cat—spend most of their time. It’s a minimal, functional design with Bulthaup fittings, and the Eero Saarinen Tulip table and classic Wishbone chairs by Hans Wegner in turquoise add a Scandinavian edge. The double-height room also leads into a small den, with a concrete hearth that sees a lot of use come winter. The Wards are big movie fans and will watch films by their preferred South American and Spanish film directors, or simply sit and listen to some rap, electronica, or jazz (Pat Metheny and Michel Petrucciani are their favorites). But it’s in the summer that the house comes into its own. The doors are flung open and largely remain that way for the warmer months. Most meals happen around the custom-designed table with a barbecue attached and the outdoor furniture from Gloster, Moooi, Vitra, and B&B Italia. “We wanted to live here like we live when we’re on vacation on the Mediterranean,” says Ward.

Although the house design was officially Christopher’s pet project, Alessandra played a huge part in choosing the furniture, fabric, and finishes (“It was good couple’s therapy,” she jokes about their collaborative process). The vast master bathroom, clad in colorful pear wood, was his gift to her. “I had the vision of something in between a Japanese bathroom and a Norwegian sauna,” Alessandra says. "Something spacious, linear but warm.”

Most of the rooms feature furniture designed by Ward, and the walls are covered in large photographs taken by the couple on their travels. Many are of New York, another favorite destination of theirs; Ward’s father is a Chicago native, and they make it to the States at least twice a year.

So what do the neighbors think in this traditional corner of Italy? “It’s very much the countryside, so people are not so cultured. In the beginning, some of them didn’t like it, as it was so different. But after coming inside and seeing the details, they’re kind of loving it,” Ward says. “That was my goal: to bring foreign architecture and culture to this little country town.”

Pictured: Christopher Ward in an original Gio Ponti armchair. His wife, Alessandra, leans on a sideboard of Ward’s own design.

Architecture and interiors by Christopher Ward Studio. Via Tassoni 115, Reggio Emilia, Italy; 39-5/2228-7725; christopherward.it.

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