As the long rays of light drift in from an elongated window, gently illuminating a range of bespoke furniture, sculptures and paintings, the surreal sounds of gondaliers, beckoning out to one another in a bid to direct away from the nearby motorboats, fill the air. The sound of lapping waves and church bells adds to the magical cacophony of a morning in Venice. All of this I experienced from amidst the grand main salon of Palazzetto Salute on Venice’s Grand Canal. Having spent nearly every summer in Venice since I was a child, scenes such as this immediately conjure up familiar feelings of peace. With views overlooking the Santa Maria della Salute Church and the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, and but a short 10-minute walk to St. Mark’s Square, the apartment is perfectly situated. It offers the metaphorical keys to Venice on your own terms – a chance to relish in the historical grandeur of the city and return to a space where centuries of Italian design meet. Palazzetto Salute beautifully marries tradition with the minimalistic aesthetic of contemporary design.
A view of Santa Maria della Salute Church from Palazzetto Salute
A calming stillness permeates the main salon. It emanates not only from the fairytale ambiance of the Venetian landscape, but also from the design elements that Sydney-based owner Nikki McCullagh used to decorate the apartment. Immediately seduced by the light and the views, which she likens to a Caravaggio painting, McCullagh, a design lover who buys and renovates historical properties and then rents them, decided to dress the 2,500-square-foot apartment in a typical Venetian style of wooden paneling and rich fabrics from storied local manufacturers such as Rubelli and Fortuny.
These were then complemented with creamy Marmorino walls (fresco plaster made with finely crushed marble), bronze windows and impressive floor-to-ceiling marble slab bathrooms – all details that derive their inspiration from the work of Carlo Scarpa. The late Italian architect’s work centered on the importance of materials and Venetian culture, and at the Palazzetto Salute it’s precisely the richness of such materials that comes to the fore.
McCullagh also enlisted French decorator Jacques Grange and architects Alberto Tosello and Barbara de Stefano of Venice’s TA Architettura to help her achieve the apartment’s minimalist aesthetic. One will uncover a wondrous curated selection of 1950s and 60s furniture from iconic Italian designers such as Gio’ Ponti, Gardella, Franco Albini, Caccia Dominioni, Angelo Mangiarotti, Ico Parisi, Fontana Arte, Bruno Gambone and Marcello Fantoni. On the walls are delicately placed Post-War art – their expressionistic brushstrokes evoke a welcome chaos to the otherwise structured lines of the mid-century furniture.
Dining room in Venice Prestige's Palazzetto Salute Grand Canal apartment
Each morning I would make my espresso in the open kitchen. A light and airy space, it is punctuated by simple bronze cabinets and sleek black limestone counters, a table by Swiss midcentury modernist Jürg Bally and Superleggera chairs by Gio Ponti. Windows feed the kitchen once again with light – a characteristic of the apartment that I realised during my stay had become a design element itself. I would then carry my coffee to a smaller room flanking the main salon and dining room. Called Salon Salute for its view onto Santa Maria della Salute, there I would sit back in the Cassina Gio Ponti armchair with my books on the table and sip my espresso as I gazed out on the canal via the Gothic mullioned windows.
In the smaller living room, called the Salon Salute for its view of the domed baroque Santa Maria della Salute church, Mr. Grange preserved the Gothic mullioned window and coffered ceiling, original to the apartment, and laid terrazzo floor. Again, windows opening on the panoramas are left bare. To create harmony between time-honoured Venetian finishes and the 20th-century furniture, Mr. Grange upholstered pieces—like the Cassina Gio Ponti armchair—in traditional Venetian shades of teal, ocher and chestnut, steering clear of patterned textiles. A hammered-brass Arredoluce suspension lamp by Angelo Lelli echoes the yellow and brown metals used throughout the apartment. Moments like these are priceless. This charming sitting room soon became one of my favourite places at the Palazzetto.
A view of the Grand Canal from Palazzetto Salute
Days spent meandering through Venice’s many calle (streets), visiting friends over a refreshing Spritz, and uncovering the many venues of the 57th Venice Biennale, the David Hockney exhibition at Ca’ Pesaro, Damian Hirst at Palazzo Grassi and the fifth edition of Glasstress at the Palazzo Cavalli Franchetti, would see me arrive to the Palazzetto Salute greatly fulfilled but weary. One evening, as I poured myself a glass of water in the kitchen, I uncovered one of the apartment’s removing walls. It blended so perfectly with the surroundings that it seemed unlikely another door existed. A gentle push and another corridor opened before me with doors to two additional guest rooms, each with their own marble clad bathrooms. The principle one, where a Fulvio Raboni canopy from the 1950s framed the bed in simple iron bars, was reached by a few steps down to a lower level.
There, within the enclosed sanctity of this study-like space, were two prints by Andy Warhol adding a touch of colour to the space juxtaposed by midcentury velvet armchairs and a 1950s writing desk by Franco Albini for Poggi. One window opened up onto the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni. I felt as if I had stumbled upon a secret room. Yet it’s finds in an old Venetian palazzo such as this that make one’s stay in Venice – Queen of the Adriatic – all the more special.
The Palazzo Salute can be your temporary home in Venice along with a slew of other equally historic apartments via private rental company Venice Prestige. “Venice has been a constant source of fascination to me for over 30 years - and it has been my aim to always present it, its wonderful property and culture, in the best possible way,” says London-based founder Anne-Marie Doyle, who established the company for high-end property rentals as well as purchases in 1988. “Venice is a miracle city, a delicate balance of history and progress, art and commerce, of wonderful buildings rising miraculously out of water.”
A view of Santa Maria della Salute Church from Palazzetto Salute
It all started when Doyle rented out a family friend’s small palazzetto of eight beautiful apartments for fun. “I felt it was a great and authentic alternative to hotels, never imagining that 30 years later I would be handling the best properties in the city, both to let and for sale,” she adds. In addition to Venice Prestige, Doyle is also the director and proprietor of Venice Sotheby’s International Realty, assisting clients with every aspect of buying, owning and managing a home in Venice. “Being a foreigner in Venice myself I understand their needs and also see things in Venice that perhaps locals miss or overlook: I see it with the eye of a curator.”
At a time when an increasing amount of travellers desire privacy and a space that offers them comfort and respite from a hectic schedule, a stay in an apartment such as Palazzetto Salute endows one with a new life experience – guests momentarily become Venetian’s themselves in the pristine city along the Adriatic. “Staying in an apartment in Venice takes you into a private world. You are no longer a tourist, and you are contributing to the ongoing upkeep of the many beautiful palazzo apartments we handle,” adds Doyle. “Venice has everything - art, culture, history, architecture, beaches, water and speed boats, great food and an amazing outdoor lifestyle, all in one small place. It is truly an amazing city.”
As I gave away my keys to the Palazzetto Salute and sped away in a taxi boat that picked me up from the private dock just outside the palazzo, I said goodbye to another world. Speeding away on the glistening waters of Venice, I contemplated the marriage of past and present that is so uniquely tangible in a city such as this. All eras seamlessly and timelessly blend into one.
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A view of Santa Maria della Salute Church from Venice Prestige's Palazzetto Salute Grand Canal apartment