If you are a person who travels a lot it can be difficult to find accommodation that is inspiring. Quite often hotels or B&Bs are pleasant and clean, but not very special, so it is a pleasure to come across a place to stay that also offers you a type of environment or experience you have not encountered before.
The Church B&B in Naples, Italy, has a very different ambience to the average budget hostelry. Naming it The Church was inspired by the fact that it is housed in an attic on top of San Gennaro all’Olmo church, which is part of the complex of buildings connected to Palazzo Marigliano, a stunning Renaissance building dating from 1512. The founder of the B&B decided to employ a minimal approach to the design of the space in order to respect the fabric of the renaissance architecture, but imprinted it with an artistic sensibility that gives it a feeling of warmth and inventiveness.
Location-wise Palazzo Marigliano is hidden within the labyrinthine streets of the Centro Storico, an area where the long narrow alleyways seem to go on forever, and is entered via a magnificent courtyard, where you are immediately transported away from the chaotic street life into the private realm of the palazzo. You progress up the majestic stone staircase to the top floor, quite a climb, until you enter the B&B, where you are greeted by friendly staff at reception.
From that point you are in a realm which, perhaps especially by comparison to the dense and gothic-feeling cityscape, seems wonderfully spacious and minimal. When most people think of minimalism the thought is usually accompanied by visions of bare, white, Scandinavian style space, but the alternative version at The Church is one where warm colours, vintage, second hand or recycled furniture, and art have been arranged so that the rooms have the sense of being uncluttered, but at the same time creative and individual. The communal spaces, the reception and breakfast areas, and the large, open-air terrace, contain a selection of imposing, characterful pieces of furniture, which should clash, but somehow manage to stand alone and work together to create atmosphere.
Though the bedrooms are sparsely furnished there is elegance, humour and wit in the selection of each item that brings a lively spirit into the space. My room was in the attic, and had a sloping ceiling made of old, gnarly, exposed timber beams. It was luxuriously huge and the few things in it, the beds, a hanging rail, a dressing table, were very spread out, but it was perfectly balanced. More decoration would have been somehow disrespectful to the inherent beauty of the building, or distracting to the peace of mind of the occupant. I enjoyed having less, because it seemed more important that the items were meaningful rather than plentiful, and it was refreshing to have mostly bare walls and floor. It was another of those almost monastic experiences that I have come to covet because having less clutter around seems to free your mind, and remove the strange pressure of material things. The result is that you have space in your head to appreciate each object one by one, and to asymilate sensory stimuli that is usually unacknowledged. The floors were bare terracotta tiles, which felt soft and warm underfoot, the bed was exceptionally comfortable and sleep-inducing, the towels crisp, white and fresh, and the scattering of light fittings and art works provided points of visual intrigue.
Accessed via a door next to the bed, my room also had a sizable terrace, an extra space for relaxing in the fine weather you can experience in Naples most of the year. The tiled deck was punctuated by straggling hanging planters, and shrubs growing out of an upended builder’s pallet, creating a dishevelled ambience and charm. This worked as a casual counterpoint to the interior.
The Church B&B is a wonder of less is more, and presents the concept of Minimalism in a format I have not encountered before. Quality takes precedence over quantity, and the careful curation gives a resonance and depth to the environment that is highly personal, while at the same time leaving the sense of spaciousness intact. Not only did the The Church provide me with comfortable accommodation in Naples, it also taught me this thought-provoking lesson, and gave me an opportunity to rethink my understanding of what Minimalism can be.
All photos by Ju Underwood taken at The Church B&B in Naples, Italy
Ju paid £53 for 1 night in November 2016
[NB. The one minor point, which may be a downside for some people, is that the bathrooms are not ensuite. Normally I would not book a room without an ensuite bathroom, but in this case it wasn’t a problem because there are only 4 rooms in the B&B. The 2 smaller rooms share a bathroom, one of the larger rooms has it’s own private bathroom, though not ensuite, and the larger room in the attic, which was my room, shares a bathroom with the owners of the B&B, who are so clean and discreet that you are not aware they use it too]