Hans Jaeger is a German doctor from Munich who fell in love with the Lazio coastline, near the Gulfs of Gaeta and Naples in southern Italy. With his wife, he bought an unfinished house — a cemento armato, a concrete structure lost at the top of a hill. Thanks to a talented Italian architect, this grey skeleton became an elegant and deconstructed white villa, a palace of penetrating angles in the kingdom of curves where hills look like breasts. This is maybe one of the most beautiful parts of Italy and, at the same time, one of the least famous (even though it’s near Rome and only one hour from Naples). Which is a good reason to visit Itri Villa and its sister Villa Capri, two balconies of light, desire and dreams.
Hans Jaeger, how did you choose an house here, in this part of Italy?
HJ: “Six years ago, I discovered the Gulf of Gaeta with my wife, and we immediately fell in love with this part of Lazio. It is very special because it is off the beaten track, not so touristic, but very Italian. The countryside is full of charm, with hills and fields of olive trees, which still are an important part of the local economy. When we by chance found and bought the house, it was a rough cemento armato, a concrete structure open to the wind and the light. For my wife, my daughter Anne Celine and me, it was the best spot, thanks to the views of the hills and the coastline of Gaeta. From where you are seated, you can see Mount Vesuvius and islands like Ischia. For me, this is the most beautiful view in Italy.”
The original cemento armato was a challenge for your architect?
HJ: “Yes, indeed, and it was not easy to convince an architect. The structure was here, and the challenge was to deal with it. We were looking for an Italian architect, which was important to us because a local architect knows how to work with the materials, he knows how to play with the light, how to deal with the color. We met different architects who declined our project. Finally, Cherubino Gambardella from Naples said, ‘OK, I’m gonna try.’ He was famous for building some amazing villas in Capri, and he’s also famous for using this kind of cemento armato. However, in the beginning, he did not like this concrete structure. He was worried about it because it was more than a technical constraint for him. But finally he did a great job, using Italian ceramic everywhere on the walls. Thanks to his work, this house was at the Venice Biennale! Let me tell you something –this concrete structure was a challenge but also a chance for him, like for us.”
Your house is very unusual and creative. Did you need a special permit to build it?
HJ: “Fewer permits than in Germany! Everything was much quicker here. My permit was OK-ed in only three months! Of course, you have to respect some rules but, you know, those rules were the opportunity to build a much more imaginative and elegant house. Sometimes, with a good artist, the frame does the masterpiece…”
According to you, what is the spirit of this house?
HJ: “We wanted a very modern and functional architecture. It was our only goal. We wanted a simple, clear and fine layout, not post-modern. This house created a debate in Italy. For some people, this white house with its deconstructed angles in an ancient olive field is blasphemy. For others, it’s a masterpiece. For me this house is an architectural statement.
“Cherubino Gambardella also built our second house here [Villa Capri]. This house is a conversation between a very creative architecture and a large, functional family house. But in both, the view, the quality of architecture, the materials, the way you walk through rooms and balconies… it’s a kind of luxury! For me, luxury means quality of architecture and construction. We did it.”