In Celebration of 150 Years, Grand Hotel Minerva Prepares For The Next Century With a Complete Renovation
Italian family-owned and operated Grand Hotel Minerva, a luxury hotel which sits in the heart of Florence on the expansive Piazza Santa Maria Novella overlooking the historic church of the same name and the iconic Duomo, has just completed a multi-million dollar renovation of all 97 rooms and suites, as well as public areas, in celebration of the property’s 150th Anniversary that takes guests on a design-led visual journey through the hotel’s historic past, while readying it for the next generation.
What began as housing for the Monks of Santa Maria Novella and afterwards home to various noble Florentine families, later became an “Inn” for travelers to Florence in 1869 known as the Locanda della Minerva. In the early 1900s the Inn transformed into a hotel and by the 1950s transformed yet again to the Grand Hotel Minerva at the hands of two important Italian architects — Edoardo Detti and “Maestro” Carlo Scarpa.
At a time when “modern” innovation was materialized by the destruction of the past, the Minerva was lucky to be put in the hands of an artist such as Carlo Scarpa who is best known for his instinctive approach to materials, combining time-honored crafts with modern manufacturing processes. Scarpa was a pioneer in his ability to balance new and old, revealing the history of the original building where appropriate — something the owners have again achieved today.
The Maestro, as he was known, deconstructed and transformed the hotel structure, leaving unaltered only a few rooms, with beautiful frescoes and original hand-painted ancient wooden beams — which still exist today. While transforming the hotel, Scarpa created spaces and design details that would become a symbol of Italian modernist architecture for years to come.
In anticipation of the hotel’s 150th anniversary, the family hired local architect Piera Tempesti Benelli to enhance the heritage of the hotel by transforming the historic building utilizing an existing trove of art, iconic furniture and landmarked structures Scarpa had built to last. As with most renovations of an existing property, the goal was to create perfect harmony between the innovative design and the operational requirements needed for a luxury hotel.
The main goal throughout the renovation was to restore and enhance every piece discovered to have a historic value and to seamlessly blend it with the new spaces being created. In many cases, the hotel’s history is indeed the focal point of a room’s design. Over a century’s worth of “scars” are visible throughout the hotel resulting from various redesigns over the years. For example, in the reception area, various ceiling markings detectable by the wooden beams, lintels and anatomy of the ceiling denote separate rooms built over different eras. Instead of hiding them, Benelli chose to highlight the imperfections using strategically placed lighting, framing them to become decorations unto themselves.
Much of Benelli’s salute to the past comes in the way of restoring and paying homage to Scarpa’s work. Original elements created by Scarpa and repurposed today include:
- The Breakfast Room: The room’s structure divided by columns has a natural geometric rhythm, which Scarpa further highlighted with a geometric black and white marble floor. After restoring the floor, Benelli chose a venetian polished plaster in pale blue to contrast the black and white floors and restored Scarpa’s original chairs. The walls are adorned by art from another enigmatic and renowned Italian artist, Giuseppe Chiari, which come from the family’s personal art collection.
- The Bar: Benelli transformed the old front desk counter, a long marble slab emblazoned with the hotel’s logo on it it, into the lobby bar, while restoring Scarpa’s original bar stools
- An original coffee table designed by Scarpa now acts as the centerpiece of a sitting area in the lobby next to the grand piano joined by newly added sand colored velvet couches
- The Staircase to the infamous rooftop swimming pool was restored, both of which Scarpa and Detti built in the 50s
- An original fireplace from an old room upstairs was moved into one of the lobby living rooms with two big Frau armchairs placed in front of it.
- An important statue by Emilio Greco formerly in the hotel’s garden was moved front and center in the lobby
The oldest pieces found were already present as part of the hotel’s decoration, but now could shine as standouts among a more modern context. Most of the repurposed antiques, bought at auction in the late 70s, come from Prince Demidoff’s mansion in Florence where they symbolized the family’s opulence at the time. Today, the hotel displays them as an expression of a bygone era and to convey a different sense of luxury from that of the surrounding modern furniture.
The rest of the furniture, designed by Benelli and built by local craftsman, was conceived to be a bridge from one generation of objects to the next. Light colors and linear shapes allow the environment to “rest,” leaving space for the “strongest” personalities of other design objects to shine.
Besides restoring much of Scarpa’s work from the 50s, Benelli created new space obtained through the demolition of suspended ceilings and plastered walls created in the 90s. As a starting point, she reopened the connection between the grand Piazza and the hotel by creating a spacious front desk area at the entrance of the hotel with big windows facing the pedestrian-laden Piazza Santa Maria Novella. In creating the new spaces and furniture, Benelli used all natural materials, such as stone, marble, steel, copper, bronze, brass and wood, complimented by warm and soothing fabrics, velvet and leather. Specifically changes include:
- The front desk once set in the middle of the main floor was moved to one side creating an open and inviting lobby
- The kitchen was moved to another part of the hotel, not facing the square, in a much more strategic location. A part of the kitchen, facing one of the interior courtyards, was built with beautiful glass walls for guests in the breakfast room to witness the action of preparing fresh pastries in the morning
- The Restaurant and Bar were moved to the front of the hotel featuring big beautiful windows overlooking the square. This allows a natural connection between the scene inside the hotel and out on the square as locals and tourists alike pass through.
When asked about her inspiration for the project, Benelli eloquently explained it in saying, “When you go to a house of a family who has owned it for a long time, each room has its own history, which follows the evolution of the family, stratifying the story. We can not destroy this common thread with a restoration, but at the same time, we can’t even impose the past, create something that is anchored to the past, we must create something that reflects OUR time, but bringing with us the time of those who came before us.”