Anna Gastel first restored the Lombardy tower that has become her family’s rural retreat some 16 years ago. Standing tall among the vast, flat planes between Lomellina and the Po river, the resplendent six-bedroomed cascina a corte was originally built for dairy farming in the 18th century.




“When I first walked in, I found this lovely space with nine-meter-high ceilings. It was so beautiful,” says Anna Gastel of the former tobacco “essiccatoio” (drying room), which she painted white, before installing tall glass doors and turning it into the main drawing room. It’s here, on the colossal walls of this grandly proportioned chamber that Gastel installed the majestic Galileo Chini canvases bequeathed from her uncle, the influential Italian film director and connoisseur, Luchino Visconti.

This is a house where Gastel’s beguiling array of possessions—some inherited, some gathered over decades of obsessive collecting—have found a compelling new life, transforming the space into a supremely comfortable, elegant and eclectic family hideaway. “There were no architects or visual references,” says Gastel unequivocally of her instinctive, object-driven approach. “That’s my way of decorating. It’s very free.”



In lieu of a mood board, Gastel was guided by the desire to create somewhere “full of light, joy and color.” When it came to the practical elements of the restoration, her first move was to reconfigure the top level of the fourstory tower. Here, narrow corridors and divided rooms were opened out to form one extensive bedroom. In winter, the room’s open wood fires and palatial dimensions make it an ideal bolthole for the entire family.

For Gastel, recycling was key to the process of renewal. Any materials that were pulled down—be they stone, timber or terracotta tiles—were reused elsewhere in the house. “It was important to use what was already there to retain the unique historic atmosphere of the place,” says Gastel, who also set about creating private quarters for her children, and other guests, on the remaining upper floors. Otherwise, little else was touched. 



Few have an eye for art and antiques that’s as forensically honed as Gastel’s. While living in Rome in her 20s, the former head of the Fondo Ambiente Italiano (Italy’s equivalent of The National Trust), became Christie’s first female auctioneer.

Collecting is in her blood. Today, the Barbotine ceramics gathered by her mother, Ida, sit cheek-by-jowl on the kitchen dresser with her own irreverent assortment of Lenci china, waxed fruits and her latest obsession, ’60s and ’70s glass. “If you know what to look for you can still find a bargain,” she confides.



Much like her late mother, Gastel adores scouring the Marche aux Puces in Paris for curiosities, many of which are destined for her Lombardy home. One such find is a sculptural Eiffel Tower that’s been cannily reconfigured into a lamp base.

Elsewhere, there are bamboo and printed screens from Liberty, London, and Fornasetti in practically every room. “I love the way screens can create a silhouette within a space,” she says. “They have the power to totally change the shape of a room.”



Under Gastel’s careful watch a once abandoned outbuilding has become a warm, homely interior with a quietly aristocratic air. “It’s a place where all the family can gather together,” she says, referring to her own two children and the five siblings who also frequently inhabit homes nearby. “We really are a clan.”

In fact, Gastel’s cascina comprises one small corner of the family’s sprawling 1,800-acre agricultural estate, which over the decades her eldest brother, Marco, has developed into one of the most significant suppliers of rice, cereal, soya and milk in the region. It’s little wonder the kitchen is the hub of the house. “Much of our time is spent there. I’m always cooking with seasonal ingredients. We gather asparagus, fresh eggs and rice and sit around the big square kitchen table together.”



Surrounded by uninterrupted views of paddy fields, there’s a tranquility to this semi-aquatic terrain that particularly appeals to Gastel. “It’s very romantic,” she says of the spectacular quality of the landscape when the fields are flooded for rice cultivation.

“It feels almost as though you’re in a house boat. It’s so flat you see the light changing at every moment. From the first breaking dawn to the black silhouettes cast on the fields by the house at sunset. All you can see is the beauty of the sky. It’s magical.”


Cabana Issue 12


A version of this article was first published in Cabana Magazine Issue 12

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