Pairing Ancient Walls and Modern Decor in "The Underground City"

Inside Matera's Ai Maestri hotel, Billiani's wood-and-rope appointments pair perfectly with the weathered stone.

Inside Matera's Ai Maestri hotel, Billiani's wood-and-rope appointments pair perfectly with the weathered stone.

The List’s Project Spotlight column features unparalleled projects created by our forward-thinking List members. By going straight to the source—and having the designers demystify the methods behind their designs—we hope to enlighten and inspire our creative audience to further push the boundaries of what is possible in the realm of design.

North of the arch in the boot that is Italy lies the ancient, still bustlingand achingly gorgeouscity of Matera. Called la città sotterranea (“the underground city”), its central Sassi di Matera districts are a beehive of caves, cisterns, and dwellings carved right out of the rocky mount that forms the city.

Using some of the stone chambers that have served as homes for the locals for three millennia is Ai Maestri Rooms&Cafè, a suite of spaces opened in 2015 that turns worn, weathered walls and new build-ons into a warm, welcoming hotel and boîte. Spare and minimal to take full advantage of the rare materials that form the hotel, Ai Maestri’s decor demands much of the pieces that make it up: simplicity, timelessness, luxuriousness, and an appreciation of ancient craft. Meeting these demands was Northern Italian furniture brand Billiani, which provided the sleek and smart rope-back chairs and barstools for the hotel’s rooms and café.

Below, the staff of Billiani explain how the firm responded to this unique space with pieces we want in our homes just as much as we want to visit la città sotterranea.

Billiani is a member of The List, the destination for all things Surface-approved. Want to join The List? Contact our team to find out how to apply.


Description: Designed by Emilio Nanni, the Billiani Load chairs and barstools in the rope-weave version reflect the concepts in contemporary living put forth by the architectural practice Mancastudio and Marina Di Pace’s design for Ai Maestri’s Café di Matera bistro and bedrooms.

Materials: The Ai Maestri rooms and Café di Matera, designed by Mancastudio, are a striking construction of breeze blocks alongside unearthed local limestone. The materials and colors we used for the furniture—solid beechwood and black rope—reflect the tradition of the ancient town: wood, iron, and stone.

Challenges: The meticulous restoration project brought back to light the texture of the ancient walls and refurbished the original old stairs. Everything was made in full respect of the original architectural composition of the place—the furniture had to mirror that.

Uniqueness: At the heart of the project is an underlying desire to show off and interpret local craftsmanship. Ai Maestri seeks to express know-how by combining various objects adapted under a single theme of the past with contemporary living. Everything here is hand-made and the various rooms are full of objects and furnishings that testify to the great artistry of skilled artisans.


(Photos Courtesy of Billiani)

All Stories