A trip to Rome
I'm so excited to introduce you to a wonderful couple, Stefano Fassone and Elisabeth De Coster, who followed their passions, defied convention and are lucky enough to call Le Mole Sul Farfa, an Italian agroturismo, their home.
Stefano purchased his first plot of land in Mompeo, in the majestic Sabine Hills just outside Rome almost twenty years ago. Determined to forge his own version of life, Stefano defied expectation that he would join the family law firm and instead, began to build a life on the land. Elisabeth arrived in 2006, the pair fell in love and well, the rest is history.
Keen to elevate their offering and take their business to the next level, Elisabeth got in touch late last year and at the beginning of February I found myself flying to Rome to visit this incredible place. When you're working on a project that is so very rooted in its setting, seeing, experiencing and understanding exactly what's there is essential. And so this trip was absolutely fundamental to the project.
elevating the experience
With all of my clients, my job is to notice the magic, to pull together a unique aesthetic and draw out precisely what makes a brand brilliant. Sometimes, when you're so close to something, it can be hard to discern precisely what that is. With a fresh and experienced pair of eyes, I can see the big picture and work out how that'll translate through to the detail.
This project was about pulling all the pieces together. It was about editing, curating and elevating. It was about clarifying precisely what made Le Mole Sul Farfa uniquely brilliant and showcasing that in a way that appealed to the right market.
a sense of place
For me, this meant looking much more closely at elevating the interior and exterior spaces and exploring a new and exciting set of muses (ideal clients) which would enable the couple to take their business to the next level. It was also important to me, and my clients, that we honoured what they had built so brilliantly.
A quick glance at the website showed me that there was plenty of potential, particularly within the interiors to up level things. I could see from the pictures that the style was pretty rustic. The sort of design details you see across Italy: ornate bedspreads, a mix of highly traditional and imposing pieces combined with plenty of objects from a certain Swedish flatpack behemoth which for me, detracted from the potential of the place. I sensed we could create something that honoured the spirit of the place whilst creating a real haven for guests.
The instant we arrived I was bowled over by the breathtaking views across the valley to the Farfa gorge below. I was struck in particular, by Elizabeth's very strong sense of personal style: so thoughtful, considered, ethical and simple. It seemed so perfect for her and their children and quite at odds with what I could see of the interiors.
We toured the estate, with its silver-green olive trees, perfectly formed pool and donkeys at every turn. I was utterly charmed! This place isn't about manicured gardens. It's not about World of Interiors style formality. There is no line of cypress trees leading up the immaculate driveway. Le Mole Sul Farfa is messy, charming, homely and all the better for it. It's simple, rooted in nature and full of passion.
creating a sustainable brand
And that's the trick isn't it? Creating a brand that's sustainable. That works for the owners and best presents what's already there. My work is about finding the magic within a brand. It's about chasing clarity, cutting out the noise. It's about showcasing the things that make a place or a brand brilliant and removing anything that causes a distraction.
This wasn't about creating a formal, villa-style brand that would attract the wrong types of guest, put Stefano and Elisabeth under undue pressure and mis-manage expectations. It was about perfectly packaging up what they do so brilliantly.
We returned to the dining room with a handful of wildflowers and the seed of an idea. I wanted to let things percolate over lunch, just to be sure I was on the right track. And what I saw just confirmed my thoughts.
Lunch was sublime. Homemade pasta with a tomato and olive sauce served with a fennel and orange salad. Pudding was a choice of four, yes, four! I went with the chocolate and salted caramel tart and it was exquisite. Throughout my stay, the care that Elisabeth puts into her food was noticeable, and it's important that's celebrated. Le Mole Sul Farfa serve simple, honest, delicious and seasonal vegetarian food. It's nourishing, nurturing and something that should be savoured.
After lunch, whilst Stefano headed off to the local town for paint charts, Elisabeth took me down to the gorge and the medieval watermills. The experience of this whole place was so special, and the vision for the brand was to create something that really honours the magic and history of what Elisabeth and Stefano have created.
The big vision was to pull together the brand around the wildflowers and plants found on and around the farm. Each room could take a different tone, but would be held together by natural textures, pale walls and soft layers. Lots of linen (to echo Elizabeth's very strong sense of style) and pale walls to create a restful contrast to the happy, informal exteriors.
Alongside the very lucky walkers and families who make up much of the agroturismo's guests, I could see the possibility for a new type of client. One who really values the life that Elisabeth and Stefano have created for their family. One who'll embrace everything Le Mole Sul Farfa has to offer. And they were my guiding light in creating the new, elevated vision.
Here, you'll see several beautiful mood boards that I find such a powerful part of my process. They're a great way to organise my thoughts and communicate visually with my clients. What you can't see here, is the level of detail we went through in each room to ensure that each creates the right impact for guests.
Through a new lens: one with a clear concept for what's possible and the eyes of our inspirational muses, I could see how to showcase the brilliance within this brand.
We literally walked around each room, notebook in hand and discussed what was working, what could be adapted and what was detracting from the vision. We looked at the exteriors, the garden, the dining room and the six bedrooms.
edit to amplify
This is about elevating and curating. It's about bringing out the best in what's there, stripping out those elements that are getting in the way and creating a clear vision for a cohesive brand. Edit to amplify, as the wonderful Cath Kidston once said.
Excitingly, there is much to change and much to keep. The bones of the place: the exterior walls, the floors, the building itself, the views, they are all just perfect. And the bits that are easy to change: interior walls, bedspreads, bathrooms, will be tackled over the next year. The important thing is that Stefano and Elisabeth have a vision and a plan.
Working with you has given us such a boost of energy. And insight and clarity and more! Elizabeth De Coster
I wanted to show them just how effective the most simple changes could be. The dining room, like many Italian rooms, was dark and oppressive when I first entered. Dozens of agricultural tools hung from the walls like torture instruments and that, combined with an overwhelming number of framed pictures and certificates created a cluttered and distracting feel. We counted seven (really) colours of wood within the space and I wanted to help them streamline that to create an experience befitting of Elisabeth's food.
We stripped back the walls of the dining room and restyled a couple of areas. And the difference that made was immense. Less on the walls meant that there could be more attention on the table. Stefano has already begun to paint some of the elements within the room to pull them together and create the perfect, calming backdrop to the stories that will be shared. In fact, this morning, they sent me through a picture of their front door, now painted in Railings (Farrow and Ball) which just creates a stunning, calm and confident entrance to the dining room.
Stefano will be painting the shutters a beautiful soft green-grey which echo the olive trees: the oil trees which are a huge part of the estate, both physically and emotionally. Both the Roman Villa on a separate part of the property and those that flank the fences. The soft greens and greys provide the perfect jumping off point and pull this whole thing together.
The rooms will be undergoing simple but transformative changes in the Autumn, at the end of the busy season ahead and I cannot wait to see how they come together. There's a lot to do but I have absolute confidence that this resourceful and hard-working couple will pull it off.
finding the magic
Yesterday I opened my Instagram to discover a picture that made my heart sing. A beautiful collection of Stefano's late mothers' botanical books the couple were looking through for inspiration for the new room designs. And that's when it hit me, again. Branding isn't about packaging things up. It's not about creating something from nothing.
It's about listening. It's about seeing, really seeing. It's about being discerning, visionary and empathetic. It's about presenting, beautifully and stylishly, what's already there. It's about creating a brand that's authentic, sustainable and exciting. One that inspires both the entrepreneur and their clients.
Of course, along the way there are elements that need to be tweaked, refined, stripped out and moved forwards. But when the bones are there, those are just formalities.
The renovations will take Stefano and Elisabeth a good year to put in to place. And that's ok. Le Mole Sul Farfa is already a thriving business with a very happy client base. It's in a magical location and all the things you can't change: the view (oh, those views), the architecture, the history and sense of place are just gorgeous. My role was simply to bring all of that together and celebrate what they are already doing brilliantly.
I cannot wait to head back out there with the family, they are in for an absolute treat. And do follow along on their stories so that you can see what's happening.