It should really come as no surprise that Gabriele Salini and Francesco Petrucci wound up being so drawn to each other. Both have a strong connection to Southern Italy: Salini, a Roman, has a family house on the sea in Puglia where he’s been spending summers since he was a boy, while the Petruccis have called Puglia home for four generations. The two were both formally educated, with an eye toward a traditional career—Salini studied business, Petrucci trained to be a lawyer. Both abandoned their conventional paths for more creative endeavors.
But perhaps most symbiotic is the strong role that art plays in each of their lives, indeed it brought the two together: Salini is a collector whose G-Rough hotel, in Rome, and now Palazzo Daniele, in Puglia, are part of his GS Collection of hotels, which are known for their outstanding works of creative expression. Petrucci, meanwhile is the creative director for the art-rich Palazzo Daniele as well as the internationally heralded Capo d’Arte festival in Puglia where the two would ultimately meet.
Francesco Petrucci: We met about 10 years ago through the very first art show I was organizing. Gabriele came, we started talking about art, and we haven’t stopped!
Gabriele Salini: Palazzo Daniele was Francesco’s family home. When he rolled up his sleeves for its complete renovation, I had the idea that we transform the palazzo into a hotel. I always want a place that comes with a story, and like G-Rough, Palazzo Daniele has the perfect story. Both properties started not as hotels but simply by each of us inviting our creative friends—photographers, designers, artist curators, musicians—to stay with us. It was like opening a door to our community. And I want to keep that creative-community feel going for my guests. I am not interested in an “art hotel” as a concept. Like Francesco, I love to work with artists!
FP: For me, everything changed in 2009 when I returned to Italy after spending 10 years abroad. I didn’t know where to live, so I decided to come to the village where my family had the palazzo. And I brought all of my interests with me, flooding my home with people from the creative industry. First, it was just hosting artist friends. Then it evolved into having exhibitions. The good thing was that all the galleries, artists, and curators lending us their works—first at the palazzo and then later for the Capo d’Arte festival—were at a very high level. The result has been really good for the village and the community.
FP: It’s interesting because when we started Capo d’Arte 10 or 11 years ago, there was literally nothing in this part of Puglia when it came to contemporary art. It was a blank canvas!
GS: Today the community knows Capo d’Arte and Palazzo Daniele, and it respects them greatly. Historically, the people here had always felt abandoned, off the map. But now there are stories about Palazzo Daniele that are appearing in The New York Times, Forbes, and other places, and they’ve given this part of Puglia and the community worldwide exposure. The locals feel central again, vibrant, famous!
FP: It has been interesting to see people’s reactions to Capo d’Arte and Palazzo Daniele evolve. In the beginning there was a kind of shock. We were just these weirdos coming in from the city doing weird stuff! Now the villagers are used to hosting and interacting with artists and creatives from New York City, from London, from Berlin. Just yesterday we were photographing an artist and the villagers invited us to join them for a coffee. They were super happy to have an artist at their bar.
GS: By bringing art, design, history, and music together in one space, we could mix the coolest sides of the international scene, which is perfect for people who travel a lot and know what is going on outside of Italy. Sure, both G-Rough and Palazzo Daniele have elements of Italian tradition—for example, the kitchen!—but I mix them with contemporary, global components. I am educated in that Italian way of receiving people, of hosting them as if they were family, but I do that in a fresh, creative, modern, and cool atmosphere. For me, the art scene brings in a sophisticated crowd that is also interested in music and design, the kind of traveler who wants to avoid five-star chains and experience new concepts of hospitality.
FP: They love it! They all know the big-city scenes. But this? It’s such a mellow and relaxed vibe. It impresses them in a way that is fresh and unexpected. That said, I think the most important reaction came from my 90-year-old uncle who grew up here and knew the palazzo back when it was a family home. After I’d reached out to Gabriele for help and the renovation had been completed, my uncle came for a visit and he said to me, “Francesco, you did great.” I was super happy!