“Moving things around is just as powerful as good styling”, says Martino di Napoli Rampolla. “It refreshes the energy in a room.” On a temperamental late summer morning in Florence, the founder of artist residency-cum-boutique hotel Numeroventi is himself in the process of moving things around: lugging hefty white sculptural slabs resembling puzzle pieces across on a top floor loft of the 16th century Palazzo Galli Tassi, that houses his spatial project in the heart of Florence. The objects are part of work by Florence-based Angus Ogilvie, a friend of Martino’s who had given him a curatorial carte blanche to display the works within Numeroventi’s walls.
This is the third consecutive day that di Napoli Rampolla, in a curatorial role, has been moving Ogilvie’s slabs around the loft so as to settle on an ideal constellation. “You can arrange them in a thousand ways”, he comments, bending forward to complete a gleaming grid. “It’s like a musical piece—each object represents a note. Angus was reflecting on what he’s felt over the past months. He could finally see, and feel, Florence. And he felt like it had more rhythm than before, when it was really chaotic.”
Free of the usual summer gush of tourists and their accompanying flurry of energy, the “jewel of the Renaissance” has finally had the chance to breathe again. For di Napoli Rampolla, the enforced slowdown of lockdown, and the emerging post-lockdown landscape, has allowed him to rediscover the identity of the city he has called home for 15 years—yet regularly left and returned to—from a fresh perspective. Finding this experience to be common amidst his local artistic milieu, he decided to turn focus of Numeroventi’s curatorial summer program inwards, inviting artists working in Florence and Tuscany—including Justin Randolph Thompson, Anna Rose, and Pietro Franceschini—to exhibit their works in the group show So Close So Good, which focuses on “the community that already exists here—that’s right in front of us.”
Much like the undulating rhythms of the city it calls home, Numeroventi is a shapeshifting project; its evolution organic—a layering of continual exchange between the diverse creative minds it attracts. 30-year-old di Napoli Rampolla has himself built his career across various creative industries. Having studied fashion marketing and communications, he eventually pivoted to graphic design, working for a studio in Belgium for a few years before returning to Italy at age 23 and settling in Florence, where his family was in the process of renovating Palazzo Galli Tassi.
A grand property with a layered history of myriad purposes—ranging a syrup factory to governmental headquarters—the Palazzo now presented the opportunity for Martino to make something of the free rooms. Guided by the expert eye of architectural designer and co-founder of Openhouse Magazine, Andrew Trotter, his response was to imbue the space with the kind of artistic energy he himself sought out when visiting other cities. “I wanted it to be different, inclusive, and cultural”, he says. “I bought a Japanese book for inspiration, and opened it to a page which it said, ‘How can a space influence an artist, and how can an artist influence a space?’ We wanted to see if there we could create a new synergy in hospitality with an artist residency.”
The two elements of Numeroventi’s offering complement the other: while artists are offered physical and mental space to focus on their dearest projects, design-oriented guests, whose room fees are reinvested into the residency program, are drawn in by the cachet of the residency, not to mention the generous, light-flooded spaces: five studio apartments across three floors, individually styled with art pieces and design objects. The intriguing contrast between grand renaissance splendor and contemporary restraint has become Numeroventi’s trademark aesthetic. Instinct and courage have largely guided the process of its interior configuration—as well as influences from Martino’s time in Belgium, where attributes Belgian interior designer Axel Vervoordt with teaching him not to be afraid of letting time show. Against his architects’ advice, he and his in-house creative team pushed to scrape back the pristine white surfaces in search of what lay behind them. In several rooms, the answer revealed itself in the form of centuries-old frescoes. “In most renovations, you don’t go with that, as it’s not perfect”, Martino says. “But it’s really time itself. Between the new art and the old art, it clicks. The history validates the living artists.”
Over the years, these living artists have come to include a wide cross-section of the international creative jetset, counting musician and composer Dev Hynes, architect and sculptor Yoon-Young Hur, and photographer and co-founder of Cereal Magazine, Rich Stapleton. The diversity of cultures and disciplines, and the rich coalescence of ideas they bring, is the major motivation for di Napoli Rampolla. “If you have different artists in same building, talking to each other, that’s more than enough. Or you create a sort of landscape where more experienced artists are in the same place as emerging ones, and an exchange occurs. You make it clear that the curatorial team here are working on projects at the same level as artists, and somehow that naturally creates a sense of commonality—that we’re all working in the same direction”, he says.
In his role as art director at Numeroventi, he also takes on the role of photographer, assistant, stylist, and consultant—though he wouldn’t claim to be any of those things: “By necessity”, he smiles, though given the number of brands and creators that approach Numeroventi for consulting or collaborations, his strategy of learning by doing is paying off. Even in a year that’s been stunted, to say the least, the Numeroventi universe has become so prismatic that choosing what to focus on remains the key challenge. From the dynamism of exchange, an abundance of potential developments have emerged. A membership program, a co-working space, and a natural wine bar count among the myriad ideas that have been tossed around amongst the small team. The barrier for what makes the cut is high, however. “We have a rule that if we’re not all clicking with something, we don’t do it”, Martino reflects.
Turning a loft into holistic wellness space with Reiki and massage therapy ended up fitting that criteria, as did the establishment of an advisory board comprised of artist residency alumni to oversee the selection of residency applications, and shape the general direction of Numeroventi’s artist program. Working with artist and board member Justin Randolph Thompson—also the founder of Black History Month Florence—Numeroventi will be funding five Afro-Italian artist residencies from February 2021 onwards. Whatever the coming year throws di Napoli Rampolla’s way, the fluidity embedded into Numeroventi will serve him well to navigate it; to consider the pieces at hand and lay them out in an entirely new constellation—then mix them up and shuffle them around again.