A Russian in Umbria
A historic 12th century castle receives a thoughtful renovation courtesy of a Russian businessman.
Text: Jeffrey Ying Photos: Martyn Lawrence Bullard
The Castelo Santa Eurasia was a labor of love for Martyn Lawrence Bullard. His client Evgeny Lebedev, a prominent Russian business man who along with his father oligarch, Alexander Lebedev owns and runs a media empire including the Evening Standard and Independent newspapers. Evgeny found the castle in complete ruins, romantically positioned on a hill in Umbria overlooking the city of Arezzo and across the Umbrian hills to Florence and Tuscany.
Lebedev fell in love with the romantic notion of restoring this beautiful and historic 12th Century site and restoring all of its 30,000 sq feet to its former glory. To aid in the task he employed his long-time friend and fellow lover of all things Italian, the interior designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard, to design the décor of the castle and help in its restoration – ensuring all adjustments were historically correct – along with Rome based architect Domenico Minichilli. Domenico helped define the original walls and layout of the castle and was instrumental in the rebuild to resemble the original 12th Century structure, including that of a charming small chapel, while Martyn and Evgeny toured Umbrian and Tuscan castles and palazzos to study original details and regional designs.
“We shopped all over the world to find the correct period art, architectural fragments, furnishings and fabrics to give the castle an original feeling. It had to feel like generations of the same family had lived there for centuries and collected all the beautiful objects, passing them from generation to generation, rather than a sweep of shopping trips around dusty antique stores!” This was achieved by Martyn’s careful and edited choices from shopping in distinctive places like the Parma antiques fairs, dealers like Victoria Harvey and Guinevere in London, auction houses in Paris, New York and Los Angeles along with selections from the local antique shops in Florence and reputable dealers in Rome.
For the 16th and 17th Century fireplaces Martyn shopped in Belgium, finding original Italian pieces indigenous to the region. The stone floors were hand selected from local quarries and carefully aged while the boiserie and cabinetry were lovingly designed and made by local craftsmen according to original details found by Martyn and Evgeny during their castle tours. Even the iron work was carefully reproduced according to 17th century Umbrian designs and hand forged by a local artist to complete the restoration and retain an authentic sense of age. Martyn reproduced whatever furnishings proved too difficult to find, using the finest original examples as a guide and artfully mixing them with original pieces and period accessories.
With the addition of a swimming pool hidden in the rolling hills and a gym and Hamam designed by the architect, presence and grandeur has once again returned to this regal Umbrian estate, and more importantly, as Martyn says, “it is a true testament to Evgeny’s passion and love of Umbria.”