A Night In The Pope's Apartment: Q&A with Stefano Barbini, CEO of San Lorenzo Lodges
At the heart of Rome, Piazza Navona has for nearly two thousand years been an important center for life’s dramas in the city. Sant'Agnese in Agone, one of Rome’s many stunning Baroque churches, presides over the piazza and was once the love nest of Rome’s most scandalous lovers, Pope Innocent X and his mistress, Olimpia Maidalchini.
Many years have passed since Pope Innocent’s not-so-innocent-secret. Recently the apartment was brought back to life with a spectacular renovation by the leaders in Italian culture and style—Giorgia and Stefano Barbini, a couple at the forefront of some of Italy’s most internationally known brands.
The renovation is absolutely stunning. The original Francesco Allegrini frescoes and red Verona marble doorways have been restored by local artisans, while handblown Murano chandeliers, cashmere textiles, and contemporary furniture in velvet, leather, and silk add touches of modern luxury to the space. Above the bed, Allegrini’s museum-worthy bas-reliefs depict biblical scenes. There is also a chef’s kitchen, a hot tub, a music room, spacious closet with nods to Gaetano Savini, founder of Brioni and grandfather to Giorgia, and a second bedroom.
After visiting Holy Deer Lodge in April, I had the chance to talk to Stefano about Holy Deer, the intensive renovation efforts, and their hopes for guests visiting Rome.
Tell me about the Holy Deer--How did you discover the property? What inspired you to purchase and turn it into a luxury apartment?
Well, my wife Giorgia and I, after having been inspired by so many clients, and driven by our passion for Italian excellence and hospitality at its best, decided to look for a property in the Eternal City, where – for private and professional reasons - our hearts beat faster and stronger.
Of course, it couldn’t be just any run-of-the-mill property. It had to be an outstanding yet unique retreat, never seen before! We were looking and searching for months, visited apartments, houses and palazzi. None of them convinced us. Too conventional, too cliché-ridden for some reasons or, if beautiful, situated in the wrong corner of the city. We wanted something spectacular where our highly discerning, international guests would really experience unforgettable moments.
Then came Piazza Navona! In the heart of Rome we first saw a little balcony. We talked with real estate brokers who told us that the palazzo inside was abandoned for years, that it was a story of legacy, of a former rich family who was losing its fortune. We stepped into what should become the Holy Deer, saw the 350-square-meter apartment, we admired the stunning Baroque frescoes, we went on the tiny little balcony overlooking Piazza Navona and we immediately felt in love. The rest is history.
How did your work in your previous life inspire Holy Deer?
Giorgia and I, already in our previous life in the haute couture, were obsessed by doing the very best and even more. Our mission always has been to be ambassadors of true style, to give 1000 percent in everything we did. As you can imagine, the international fashion scene was and is still a sector that demands strict discipline and unmitigated commitment. What mostly has guided me and Giorgia was our passion for beauty and style, our dedication for the creative side of things, our love for fabrics, for elegance.
Giorgia has passed many years next to her grandfather, Gaetano Savini, founder of Brioni, a man who dedicated his life to family and work, a very precious person. A man who was able to export in the world the unicity of the Italian craftsmanship and who was able to transmit to his niece how important was the attention to details and the focus on the excellence. For these reasons, inspiring by our experience and passion, we decided to involve only Italian artisans because luxury is also unicity.
Do you have a favorite memory or person that you met while completing the renovation? Why?
Well, there is not only one favorite memory or person. Renovating a papal apartment dating from the Baroque period is obviously an enormous undertaking.
Giorgia and I enjoy challenges, especially aesthetic ones. We believe in the excellence of Italian craftsmanship. That’s why we carried out intensive research and subsequently entrusted the creation of the furniture to local master craftsmen. I was overwhelmed by some of those Italian artisans. Some of them were working in little storeroom, in an unimpressive studio behind a garage. But, what they created was simply unbelievable.
Sincerely speaking is difficult for me to remember just a person. I would prefer to remember the dream team we were able to create. People from all around Italy joined us and felt to have the honor to be involved in a very special project. And they gave us the top of their professional knowledge. I would like to remember two fantastic girls from Ancona, Maria Silvia and Francesca, founders on FM Architettura d'interni. With their discrete and understatement behavior and professionalism, they helped us to build the dream team. They did an incredible back stage job helping us to transmit and explain our philosophy to all our suppliers.
What do you hope guests leave feeling after a stay with you?
We are driven by one mission: Giorgia and I want to bring discerning guests closer to the Italy’s beauty. Through culture and tradition, through the extraordinary beauty of places, through our special human approach, through shared values like friendship, authenticity, quality, respect. We personally care about our guest. We try to show them new aspects, introducing them to very special experiences. For us, luxury is not measured in quantity, it is synonymous with authenticity, with the intensity of our experiences.
We want our guests to come back in our lodges, again and again. We want them to feel at home. We want them to experience the beauty of details, to find hidden places, to discover long forgotten moments, the taste of real food, we want them to look after our lodge(s) like a child looks at the stars. They arrive as guests, leave as friends and have closed our lodges in their hearts. Forever.