Casa Alchimia’s elegant Colonial exterior suggests a classic Maine inn experience, but everything inside defies expectations, save for the plastic Bean boots on the room-key chains. Vividly upholstered sofas swoop and swoosh, abstract artworks intrigue with bold colors and forms, and living areas flow freely from one bright, streamlined space to the next. “We cannot compete with old New England style because we don’t know it,” innkeeper Giampiero Bonacini says. “But if you want to find something very Italian in Maine, this is it.”
Bonacini, a retired oil executive, and his wife, retired veterinarian Monica Beri, hail from Modena, Italy. In 2009, they bought the circa 1789 Captain Josiah Mitchell House on Freeport’s Main Street. Then, they gutted all of it except the original brick fireplace and a few posts and beams, and rebuilt the interior in the image of their favorite Italian boutique hotels, complete with gallery-white walls, recessed lighting, massive windows, and loads of art. “We call it alchimia, which means ‘alchemy,’” Bonacini says. “You mix together the art, the food, the culture, the Italian style, the guests’ style, and something magical happens.”
The couple first traveled to Freeport as tourists, in 2000, and returned every summer after that to visit the friends they’d made. When their son enrolled at Bates College, in Lewiston, with plans to stay stateside, they decided to realize their dream of opening a bed-and-breakfast that showcases Italian cuisine, their voluminous collection of contemporary Italian art, and furnishings by mid-century icons like Gae Aulenti, Achille Castiglioni, Vico Magistretti, and Tobia Scarpa. The Mitchell House appealed for its downtown location and one-acre lot, but it “was like a scary movie,” says Beri, who, like Bonacini, had never renovated a home before.
The roof leaked, the rooms were dark, cramped, and water-damaged, and the wiring, heating, and plumbing was antiquated. Still, the property was “a good deal,” Bonacini says, so they dove in, figuring they could design the space and oversee its construction from Modena. They imported nearly everything from Italy, including white-oak flooring, efficient tilt-and-turn windows, monolithic steel radiators, stainless-steel kitchen cabinetry and countertops, sculptural light fixtures, and even wall-mounted toilets. But local contractors struggled to install some of their selections and the six-hour time difference made communication difficult. The renovation had dragged on for eight years when the couple decided, in 2017, to relocate to an apartment in the house’s addition. They wrapped up the work largely on their own, googling DIY websites for help laying flooring and hanging drywall. In 2019, they opened Casa Alchimia with three guest rooms and a penthouse apartment, only to close it the following year because of the pandemic.
Bonacini and Beri reopened Casa Alchimia in 2021. The following year, they opened Alchimia Gallery in the basement, where they display pieces from contemporary Italian photographers, including Milan-based surrealist Franco Donaggio, whom the couple commissioned to photograph the Maine coast for a book called Silences. Now, most guests who stay at the inn seem, unsurprisingly, to be art lovers, which the couple says was all part of the plan.