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Alpine living

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Apart from the alpine views and the odd chess tournament, the region surrounding the town of Merano is a fairly unremarkable part of the north Italian countryside. Or it would be if you discounted architect Stephen Unger’s semi-elliptical Villa San Valentino.

With its larch-wood panelling, small windows and stone wall running down the garden, it may look like any other large family house clinging to the foothills of the Italian Alps. But walk through to the back of the building and you’ll notice the building curves in either direction — while both ends of the structure have been replaced by wall-to-ceiling glass. A homely, rustic dwelling this most certainly is not.

The arc, Unger says, was deliberately designed to follow the movement of the sun, with one wing receiving the morning light and the other catching the afternoon and evening rays — and it’s intended to keep the house cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

And inside, there are even more nods to 21st-century living. With an open-plan layout divided into two distinct living quarters spread out over three floors, and features including underground heating and solar panels, it’s a country pile fit for any loft-loving city dweller. However, there’s one thing we’re not so sure about: Unger has insisted the house be occupied by three generations of a family. If we were to up sticks and move to a cutting-edge home in the Italian countryside, we wouldn’t be taking Gran with us.

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