Interior Design

Grand designs

Issue 2 · Summer 2015
Words by Allegra Donn

When Palazzo Papadopoli became the Aman Venice, it retained not only its frescoes but its aristocratic residents too – and hosted the Clooneys’ glittering wedding

Issue 2 · Summer 2015
By Allegra Donn

When Palazzo Papadopoli became the Aman Venice, it retained not only its frescoes but its aristocratic residents too – and hosted the Clooneys’ glittering wedding

The Palazzo Papadopoli has adorned the Grand Canal in Venice since the 16th century, and has been the home of the Arrivabenes since the late 19th century, when Vera Papadopoli Aldobrandini received the palace as dowry for her marriage to Count Giberto Arrivabene. When renowned Indonesian hotelier Adrian Zecha approached the current Count Giberto Arrivabene Valenti Gonzaga in 2007 to acquire the palazzo to create the Aman Canal Grande Venice, the family turned him down.

“My husband got a call from a friend asking him to meet Adrian,” explains Bianca Arrivabene. “He was adamant about not selling but eventually agreed to show him around. Before the end of the tour, Adrian said to him, ‘Look, I know you don’t want to sell, so let me rent it for 25 years’.” Having lived and brought up their five children in the penthouse since their marriage in 1988, the Arrivabenes still needed persuading. “My husband said, ‘There’s another problem – we don’t want to move out.’ At that Zecha replied, ‘That’s fine. You stay. My guests will love you’.”

The idea of keeping the renowned penthouse residents “in house” was very insightful of Zecha, because Bianca Arrivabene is one of the best-loved women in Venice. There are few tradesmen who don’t call out “Ciao Bianca” with a broad smile, when they cross her path in one of the city’s busy calli.

For years the Arrivabenes had maintained the stunning palazzo and its extraordinary art treasures – including frescoes by Tiepolo and pieces acquired from all over the world – by themselves and with the help of friends and local artisans, scrubbing walls, marble floors and Murano chandeliers. They even rented it out for office space and Venice Film Festival events. Now, following two years of exhaustive restorations (“It’ll run like Swiss clockwork for the next 150 years,” enthuses Bianca) the palace has been reborn as the Aman Venice, with 24 suites, a ballroom, a spa, a roof terrace and a gym. The bar, dining rooms, salon and library all boast splendid views over the Grand Canal. Unusually for Venice, there are also two gardens, one of which fronts the canal.

“It’s made life easier. Everything to do with the palazzo is taken care of and we can now focus on other things,” says Bianca. That means consulting for Christie’s for her, and designing glassware for her husband Giberto. The Arrivabenes are still very much at home at Papadopoli. “It’s an incredibly organised extended home,” she says. “Living at the Aman is simply like having an even bigger family than the one we’ve already got.”

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