Nestled on the Caracan hilltop of El Cerrito, Villa Planchart stands as a testament to the masterwork of Italian design maestro Gio Ponti.


In June 1953, Armando and Ana Luisa (a.k.a. Anala) Planchart set off for Italy with one objective: to persuade the world-renowned architect, designer and editor Gio Ponti to create their dream home. The story of Villa Planchart is a beautiful, well documented tale of one of Ponti's most impressive works. When the couple bought the four-acre plot of land atop highest hilltop in Caracas—El Cerrito—boasting an enviable 360° view of the city and its surroundings, they immediately realized that such a spectacular spot deserved a truly extraordinary structure. Votaries of the famous design publication Domus and ardent admirers of the work of the title's founder and editor, Gio Ponti, the couple were unyielding in their choice; he was the architect for them.

When Armando and Anala arrived at Ponti's office, a short wait offered the perfect opportunity to peruse the master's atelier, where they saw ceramics, models, even the editorial department of Domus, all created under his visionary guidance.

The Italian architect was initially reluctant to take on the project, but their unfaltering enthusiasm and determination soon won him over. "Caracas is a valley surrounded by mountains, Avila is beautiful. They told Ponti they wanted a house without walls, so that they could have a lovely view of the mountain. Then my uncle told him, 'We have a beautiful collection of orchids. I want my house to be full of orchids,'" explains the Plancharts' nephew, Carlos Armando Figueredo-Planchart. "He came up with a sketch and said, 'Do you like it?' to which Anala replied, 'No.' He asked why, and she replied, 'Because it is too colonial, too Spanish. I want a modern house.'" Ponti's second sketch was to become a blueprint of the house that stands today.

Overlooking Venezuela's verdant valley, Villa Planchart stands as a beacon of modern design. The unique home has remained unaltered since Ponti applied the finishing touches 50 years ago. From the most modish examples of Italian design, many of which were produced by Gio Ponti, to the ceramic tiles and marble, all shipped from Italy, each item was carefully chosen and considered by the architect, right down to the servants' quarters, also decorated and furnished by Ponti. His personal touch even extended to tableware—a custom-made design, created for the couple by Gio Ponti—and the art on display throughout the home. The Plancharts were influential figures within the Caracas art community, counting artists Jesús Soto, Armando Reverón and Armando Barrios as close personal friends. Anala Planchart, an art aficionada since her youth, and her husband held annual art shows, promoting the country's talent. However, it was at the architect's behest that the Plancharts' home was filled with works by Morandi, Campgigli, Melotti and Rui. Well-preserved correspondence between Ponti and his clients brought to light that the only disagreement between the two parties was not regarding Ponti's choice, but the placing of one of the works, as the foundation's curator and author, Hannia Gomez recalls. "There was a disagreement about hanging a big Calder sculptural mobile. The Plancharts wanted it in the main dining room, while Ponti wanted it in the entrance, but in the end he did what he felt, and so the Calder stands in the entrance." However, while Ponti triumphed over the sculpture's location, his proposition to design the four-acre garden surrounding the Plancharts' home was rejected; the couple was adamant that the landscaping of the grounds would remain in their hands.

The Plancharts' second passion—orchids—stemmed from Anala's mother, who was an orchid collector in the late 19th century. Within the property's five greenhouses, no less than 2,000 breathtaking species flourish. The exotic floral specimens, some of which date back as far as 1951, are carefully tended to by the Planchart Foundation, under the auspices of Armando and Anala's nephew, Carlos Armando Figueredo-Planchart. He recounts, "Ponti knew what orchids were, but he didn't have the slightest idea of what the plant was, whether it was a tree or hanging, so they had to explain what it was." An additional feature of the Planchart Property is Ponti's incredible use of exterior lighting. Neon lights give off colorful hues at night, emphasizing the exterior structure.

During the construction of Villa Planchart, the architect became an advocate of Venezuela's modern vision. Inspired by Carlos Raul Villanueva's Ciudad Universitaria de Caracas, the architect devoted space to it in Domus's revered pages and lectured in the flourishing South American capital, garnering a legion of fans to his unique Italianate modern style. By the time Villa Planchart was completed, Ponti had been enlisted to complete no less than four projects within the city. However, Armando and Anala's home is the only masterpiece that stands, in its entirety, as a true testament to the talent of the Italian maestro. In fact, so perfectly preserved is Ponti's architectural oeuvre, that the strong residence has become an unofficial Casa Italia—an ambassadorial example of Italy's esteemed cultural heritage and the impact it has had on Latin America over the past century. This December, the Planchart home will celebrate 50 years since the couple's innovative vision was realized: half a century as Caracas's breathtaking beacon of culture.