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The Trapdoor & Underground Pool at Umamma

A Closer Look
Written by
Charlotte Beach
February 2, 2021

There’s an old rule of design everyone must follow: if you have an opportunity for a trapdoor, you take it! Take Giovanni Settesoldi of Umamma in Tuscany for example. When designing this unique escape in the Italian hills, he couldn’t help but incorporate a hidden gem into the house, and a trapdoor leading to the underground pool was just the thing.

“I liked the idea that Umamma wasn’t a classic apartment, and I always liked the idea of the secret trapdoor,” he says. “But it wasn’t easy to realize. I didn’t want the experience of going to the cellar to be trivial. I was looking for something that people could remember, and I also wanted it to be organic with the environment, the region, and traditions.”


But how do you incorporate regional traditions into a trapdoor in Italy? Give it a handle made out of a prosciutto slicer, of course. “Tuscany is famous for its meat and for a deep butchery tradition,” says Giovanni, “so in the small villages it is still possible to find old slicers from different eras in restaurants.” While sharing a bottle of Chianti with his friend Aldo at one of these restaurants, Giovanni noticed an old prosciutto slicer. “I was fascinated by that slow but precise and manual movement,” he recalls. “That was the moment when I saw the manual wheel connected to my hatch.”


As luck would have it, Aldo was a collector of this sort of industrial machinery, and offered to give an old Berkel slicer to Giovanni for his trapdoor handle. His other pal, Roberto, who Giovanni considers a “mechanical genius,” was able to figure out a way to execute Giovanni’s bold vision, so now the trapdoor opens and closes by twisting the wheel of the prosciutto slicer. It doesn’t get much more Italian than that!

Opening the trapdoor leads to an underground pool that’s a design feat in and of itself. “I was desperately looking for something to make the property unique,” says Giovanni, so during the restoration process he purchased the cellar underneath the apartment in the hopes that this would unlock the special feature he was looking for. With the help of the architect Evangelisti, the surveyor Donnini, and the engineer Boldrini, they managed to connect the two spaces, and completely transform the experience of the home. But the mission wasn’t complete.


“The simplest and most natural thing we could do would have been to keep it as a cellar, perhaps as a storage for some wine.” says Giovanni. “But it wasn’t what I was looking for. I wanted it to have a different experience. To be lived in on a daily basis. A place all for you, where you could relax, think and chat in an unusual context, more intimate, where finally the use of the phone would not be allowed, for the simple fact that the signal does not work down there.” The idea of converting the cellar into a pool came from Roman history and hot springs, like a caldarium frigidarium tepidarium. “So, this special swimming pool was born with 34 degree water, all in a real travertine,” Giovanni says. The pool was constructed by Claudio from Indalo Pool and features double hydromassage as well as different types of seats so people can lie down completely or sit at different heights. Meanwhile, the room is illuminated by a soft chromotherapeutic light for added relaxation.

In addition, there is a small room just before the pool after entering through the trapdoor. “It’s a kind of rain room,” explains Giovanni, “and you can decide the temperature to warm up or cool down. You sit on the resin bench, and there’s a feeling of being in a place lost in time under a warm and gentle rain.”

The trapdoor, prosciutto slicer handle, and the underground pool, all come together in a unexpected and unique fashion. And Giovanni isn’t the only one who approves of the finished product. It received the 2019 Italian Pool Award for Best Indoor Pool, but most importantly guests love it too! “The guests are simply amazed,” Giovanni says. “They don’t expect it. You think the house is all there upstairs, and when you open the trapdoor, the surprise is great. People also enjoy turning the wheel to open the hatch.”

For more information on the Umamma house, click here.

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