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The Romance Of The Building

Need some time away from it all to get creative? Call on the DIY artist currently converting an Italian monastery into a unique residency space for artists

Venetia Sacret graduated from Parsons School of Design before working as an apprentice for a restorer in a century old house. Hooked on restoration, she moved to Athens, learned Greek, and was quickly hired to fix up a 500-year-old building on a nearby island. Now, the 26-year-old New Yorker is working alongside an architect to convert a former monastery in Italy into a unique residency space for artists, she just hopes Nick Cave is interested...

Dazed Digital: What inspired you to get into restoration?
Venetia Sacret: I think people are really psychologically affected by the level of beauty in their space, by the environment they are living/working in. I don’t think you really notice that until you’re in one extreme or another, and if you’re in this incredibly depressing environment that’s not stimulating, it really changes your creative process, your personality, and how you interact with people. Your environment directly affects your productivity levels… I wanted to save these beautiful old spaces. You have to rescue old buildings from people who clumsily over restore them.

DD: Where did you learn the DIY skills you’ve applied to the former monastery?
Venetia Sacret: I started when I went to a boarding school on a farm. The school was run by the students and supervised by a small number of staff. We did everything from chopping wood to building stone walls to milking cows and cooking for all 200 people. It was a really self-sustaining community. I think the way the whole DIY thing came about (in my work) was that the budget for the house in Greece was really low. It wasn’t really a choice. There were a lot of things I wanted to do but if I had hired someone to do them, or contracted that work out, then I wouldn’t have control, and it would cost more. With this 500-year-old house in Greece, it was really hands on, from the manual labor side to the final decorating. I was scraping paint off the walls, lacquering old brass beds, repairing antiques, sanding floors, bringing mirrors from flea markets in Athens… I also visited locals’ homes so I knew how to decorate the house in the traditional style.

DD: Tell us about the project in Italy…
Venetia Sacret: The building’s history is really exciting. It was built in 1522; it functioned as a monastery until 1907 when the attached church was struck by lightning and the roof caved in. At one point the monastery was taken over by Count Orsini and he ran the monks out and held orgies in the church. It’s been deserted for about a hundred years so there’s loads of work to do.

DD: You’re going to restore the old monastery to a functioning level and invite artists in?
Venetia Sacret: Well, part of the year we’re going to rent it for events and as a home, to try to cover our costs for the residence program. We want to have artists working in all mediums and there will be a small functioning farm so we can grow our own food. Artists will come and work there and there will be workshops.

DD: Are there any specific artists you’d like to come?
Venetia Sacret: I’ve always imagined Nick Cave being really into this area. It’s an atmospheric place, a prehistoric setting with all this medieval architecture. There are all these ravines and Etruscan ruins. When I’m working on the building I’m thinking about the kind of people I’d like to have there. I could see Joel-Peter Witken here. He does black and white photography – they’re pretty dark images.

Venetia Sacret is looking for interns and farmhands to work at the art colony next summer. Email her at