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Many ideas and mythologies surround Tuscany, and Villa Lena is, perhaps, the materialization of both the expectations and surprises that define this Italian region. Conceived as a hotel and art foundation, the place is, above all, a meeting point for creative souls and people with the need of escaping from the madding crowd.

About a year ago, art consultant Lena Evstafieva, musician Jerome Hadey and Le Baron’s mastermind Lionel Bensemoun joined forces to create this utopic space, of endless possibilities. Ana Kraš, Shaun McDowell, Lola Schnabel or Adan Jodorowsky are some of the artists who have had a residency here, but its doors are opened for anyone in search for the quietest loneliness or the funniest meetings.

Briefly, what is Villa Lena? Which word defines it better?

Villa Lena is a hotel and art foundation in Tuscany. It is a place where artists and clients all meet and spend time together. Love, art, creativity and sharing are the words that would define it best.

How did it all happen? Was it the materialization of a shared dream,​ or is it more of a business project?

Jerome and Lena, the owners of the property, asked Lionel Bensemoun to help them work on the concept. Together they created a model that although ​does seem ​ like a dream, ​it has also become profitable too, so it’s an ideal situation!

The concept behind Villa Lena reminded me of the old 70’s jet set, with its parties and ​luxury sanctuaries. Where you nostalgic of that feeling as well or ​do you consider ​your approach ​to be​ much more contemporary?

In fact, that's not actually what we had in mind, we are neither jet set nor luxury. To us, luxury today is bringing together different people from different backgrounds​ and to ​meet, ​be creative ​ ​and spend time together. This is what Villa Lena is trying to do.

There are many existing clichés regarding Tuscany. What is th​e​ area actually like? Which advantages ​have​ you f​ound​ here?

Villa Lena is on a 500 acres property surrounded by forest, which changes beautifully each season. With the olive and cypress trees, the sun’s lights and the hilly landscapes... It reminds many people of Van Gogh’s paintings. But, at the same time, it is very easily accessible, as it’s located only forty minutes away from Pisa, so it turns out to be a pretty​ good balance in the end.

You’ve worked with Clarisse Demory to design the spaces. Did you have any specific references in mind while working, or ​did ​things start ​ ​to take shape day by day? And, in terms of space, design and furniture, how do you balance exclusivity and comfort? Making people feel like home but, at the same time, in an incredible place…

We wanted to make apartments in which every​ ​​one could feel at home, not too personalized that is. ​Besides, we​ didn’t want to buy or build too much, for both environmental and budget reasons. So we used a lot of what was there already, we did what we ​referred to as​ ‘home–staging’. The spaces were already so strong, the 6 meters high ceilings, the huge fireplaces, the apparent beams... So it just needed some painting and nice furnishing. Clarisse Demory took care of that aspect, going to second hand stores all around Italy, where she actually did some lucky finds of designer pieces.

You’re also working on eco–friendly concepts. Is it possible to balance it with luxury and comfort? How are people responding to it?

Our vision of luxury is to be free from anything that is not useful. Therefore, basic and simple comfort speaks to us. It’s easy to be eco–friendly if you think that way! Our kitchen is almost self–sufficient thanks to our garden and chicken, it is a luxury as the products are tasty, fresh and organic at the same time. As mentioned above, most of the furniture in the apartments comes from second hand shops; so it is also an eco–friendly way of decorating. ​There are so many examples in which luxury and eco–friendly can meet, one shouldn’t exclude an​y of them!​

So, when selecting the artists to ​have in​ residence, what’s the focus point of the board of curators? Do you look for a cohesive aesthetic or for diversity?

There is no focus point, it depends on the project they have in mind and its sensibility. It doesn’t really ​matter whether they are confirmed ​artists ​or novice.

Villa Lena is “the place to be”. ​Does this aspect favor the suitability for artists or ​is there a danger ​it might end up being a burden for those who want to relax?

The art foundation leaves the artists free and independent. They may choose to relax and escape or engage in the more social life of Villa Lena. The place is so big: for those who want to spend time alone, there are the artists studios; for those who prefer to spend time cooking, partying or socializing, ​there is the villa, where there is always something going on! Villa Lena is ​a bit ​like a refuge, yes, ​as ​this isolation is sometimes necessary to concentrate and create. But then​,​ ​ for many​​ it is the encounters they make here that inspire their work. That’s why Villa Lena is a good balance for them, it can be a quiet place but there are always things happening and new people to meet.

They probably feel like they’re in some sort of other–worldly oasis, how do you make sure it’s the proper space for them to create their art?

We don't have to do much, it arises by itself from the magic of the place. The people they meet, the beauty of the place and, of course, the facilities and amenities we offer them are helpful so they can be at their best.

One of the things many guests mention is the familiarity and good relationship that exists within all the people there. Does this complicity come out naturally or is it part of your efforts as hosts?

The crazy thing is that, we have noticed ​that since the moment it became active​ and it has happened without us having to do anything ​ whatsoever​! Villa Lena must naturally bring in people that are open to each other and willing to make new encounters.

What can you tell us about Villa Lena’s plans for the autumn? I believe it’s the perfect tim to visit Tuscany…

F​all at Villa Lena will ​come​ with culture, olives, gastronomy, far niente, music, truffles, hot tub, friends, art and beautiful landscapes! As you say, some people think it’s the best time of the year to come visit​!​

WORDS
ANDREA SERVERT
PHOTOS
COKE BARTRINA

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