Renovations done well can be elegant, and they can be luxurious, but it’s not often that they are magical. As children, we all wished that we could live in castles or secret lairs hidden behind waterfalls, a fantasy that many of us keep till our dying days. Studio F has resurrected a house with its own grotto that would bring out the child in even the biggest sourpuss.

Domus Civita is in the Italian town of Civita de Bagnoregio. The town precariously covers a plateau of friable volcanic tuff overlooking the Tiber River. It looks like the whole place was hewn out of the soft rock. The house was bought in a dilapidated state by architect Patrizio Fradiani. While it was in a state of decay, the original stone walls, fireplace, wooden beams and terracotta floors had kept their beauty. But what makes this house so special is the tunnels and caves dug into the rock below. The underground world was cleaned and renovated to make a meditation room, art galleries, a wine cellar, and best of all, an underground pool. Cave living can easily become dark and dank, but Studio F made it feel light and airy through smart use of up lights that show the rich textures of the cave walls. The caves lead to a classical Italian garden that sits on a cliff looking out to the valley below. The order of the garden juxtaposes the roughness of the caves. Upstairs the house is more contemporary with white walls setting off the original terracotta tiles and wooden beams of the roof. The light hand of architects who know when to let a space speak for itself.

What makes Domus Civita such a success is that despite so much being underground it feels bright and spacious. It is a modern house that has retained all that history and romance of the original structure.