The idea of the forever home is a romanticised concept when it comes to finding the perfect property. But what if the perfect property wasn’t the forever home? Would you really want to transform it with all your interiors passion, mining the clippings collected on Pinterest and from magazines for years for inspiration? Would you travel to Europe’s art fairs and flea markets to find the perfect pieces of furniture for it, and employ a lighting director to get the ambience just right, even though you didn’t own it?
In the case of Karoline Dilitz, the answer is yes, yes and yes. Looking around her palatial apartment in Merano, northern Italy, it’s not hard to see why her family agreed to lavish all their interiors affection on it for a contractual 20 years.
Karoline – the CEO and creative director of the four-star Küglerhof Hotel established by her late father – and her husband, Simon, a doctor, were living in the centre of Merano with dreams of building their own house when they were introduced to the property by a friend in 2016. Its owner, who was moving out, has adult children who will one day inherit it, but they don’t want to live there now, hence the long-term rental agreement. From the moment they set foot in the apartment, the couple decided that they and their children, Lawrence, nine, and Lily, seven, would live there.
“We had never seen something like that, with the extremely high ceilings it was just mind-blowing. I knew we would stay for quite a while and I just want it to be beautiful around me,” says Karoline. “In 15 years or so, we will probably move, although now I don’t know how with all the stuff that’s in here.”
If overhauling a rental home seems a foreign concept, it might just be that. In Italy’s big cities, it is common to rent and refurbish an apartment – new kitchen, new bathrooms, new wallwork, the lot – as a tenant as opposed to being its owner.
In early 2017, a six-month refurb commenced to turn the 600 sq metres, two-storey space into the family’s home. There was, she says “a lot of work to do to make it ours”. They designed and managed the project themselves with the kids in tow, employing only a lighting specialist to help them flood the dark space with heaps of light.
“It was very dark at the beginning, because there are only small windows and they’re all painted,” she says, pointing to the cleverly positioned uplighters sitting atop the column plinths in the entrance and the large architectural light installations that adorn each room.“Now we can change the lightning for every occasion, from being very light to [more intimate] when we have friends over for dinner.”
While Simon designed the open-plan, stainless steel kitchen with quirky pieces, like the 70s Gelateria sign, Karoline – Karo to her friends – is the cook. When we speak one morning in November, she’s just dropped the kids off at school and is making jam from a quince windfall in her grandmother’s garden, and planning a turkey dinner for that evening.
“I wanted to make it as easy as possible, because we will be a group of seven and I like to be present with our guests,” she says. “I can put the turkey in the oven and he cooks on his own.”
The Dilitz house lends itself naturally to entertaining. Inside the entrance that doubles as the dining room is the table they had custom-designed for the space, surrounded by chairs bought from the shop her mother, the interior designer Edith Kapferer, owns locally. It was on her reassurance that they painted the room a warm petrol green and Bordeaux red.
“The place never really felt cosy, as if something was missing,” she says. “One night, I realised we needed to do something with the walls because everything was white. I always double check with my mum and I called her and she agreed, so I did it immediately!”
Elsewhere, the fluorescent Flamingo light from Penelope Interiors, rainbow rugs from cc-tapis (both in Milan), a vintage Murano chandelier (one of seven in the world) hanging casually from a rail, and a plastic bust from Simon’s aunt’s jewellery shop bring a quirky touch. “I love it, you get a warm feeling when you come in here.”
The couple’s playful approach has also materialised in a billiards room where they play tournaments with friends. Their living room has an eclectic collection of art from Mario Dall to Michel Horski and a huge sofa from Maison & Objet in Paris and a vintage-inspired drinks trolley.
It is an inviting set-up that Karoline says is “beautiful in every season”. Currently, the two big wood ovens are getting fired up. “We really need them as the ceilings are so high, it’s difficult to keep the whole house warm.” as turn shades of teal and burnt umber It’s here, an open-atrium space, that the family sits out year-round, taking in the fresh South Tirolean air.
The property was originally built in 1899 by Baron Armand Freiherr von Dumreicher, an Austrian nobleman who chose Merano following a lung-disease diagnosis on account of it having the cleanest air in Italy at the time. More than a century later, it’s providing Karoline and her family with the breathing space they need.
“It really feels like a place where we feel warm and safe and has given us the possibility to express ourselves – both our taste and our past,” says Dilitz, who makes a very good case for living in the now.