A creative factory

After hitting it off during their tenure at Piero Lissoni’s studio, David Lopez Quincoces (Madrid, 1980) and Fanny Bauer Grung (Norwegian, born in Paris and raised in Rome) became partners both at home and at work, setting up their own architecture and interior design firm in 2007 although David still collaborates with Lissoni Associati on one-off projects.

Their Milan studio (they also have a branch in Madrid) recently moved to Via Scaldasole 7, in the Darsena neighbourhood, in the surprising setting of Six. After crossing a traditional Milanese courtyard full of unexpected tropical palms we go through a large black entrance door set in a facade with enigmatic blind openings to meet Fanny.

This hybrid space, originally a monastery before becoming a post-production film studio in its most recent reincarnation, houses the couple’s studio along with three other businesses. Opening behind the large arches in the other three sides of the courtyard are a design gallery, a bistro that is also open to the public and a florist’s shop run by garden designer Irene Cuzzaniti (founder of the Fioreria in the Cascina Cuccagna), all brought together under a single roof in a building that was overhauled by the Nordic-Spanish duo.

“We participated in the overall project and created a continuous open space for ourselves containing the meeting room – this box of light and transparency with its slender metal structure where we are now” says Fanny Bauer Grung, “but the original idea belongs to Mauro Orlandelli, the deus ex machina of Six, who offers tailor-made services to artisans and professionals thanks to the experience with materials acquired with his Forest Design company.

He had been thinking about a factory to live in and share for some time and when he found this building, he immediately saw its potential even though it had been sub-divided and was very run-down.

The intention was to transform the space into a “custom-living” situation made up of continuous open spaces where ideas and communication would flow between the separate, complementary parts making it up, inspired by a holistic vision based on creativity, exchange and cross-pollination.

A kind of shared laboratory. This place also expresses itself through the coordinated image developed by art director while the bistro was the brainchild of musician  Sergio Carnevale (together with partner Nic Cester).”

So let’s start with this slightly secret factory containing this new visually open studio that is part of a dialogue with other forms of expression, a building full of traces evoking the past that give it an unfinished vibe. What was the guiding principle of your refurbishment and conversion project?
“Our aim was to recover the authenticity of the pre-existing volumes, in the first place,” she explains. “Like all of our renovations, which are the antithesis to the tabula rasa approach, this renovation was guided by a desire to discover the genius loci.
We were looking for a ‘raw’ almost brutalist feel expressed by clean lines and natural timeless materials. We stripped off the layers of plaster from the walls to expose the bare brickwork, now painted a dark smoky grey (less intrusive than the usual red), and restored the old doorways and arches.
The most radical intervention took place in the space intended to house the design gallery where we created a new arched entrance and fitted a vast skylight dotted with LEDs that modulate the changes in light during the course of the day, creating a daylight effect in the evening.
The bistro area was created ex novo with a bar counter, open kitchen, dining room and bathrooms at the back to form a single continuous space that would bring staff and clients into direct contact, giving rise to new relations.”

Did you do everything by yourselves?
“Mauro supplied all the materials, from the lovely parquet laid in a herringbone pattern to the marble tops of the bespoke furniture. He also provided the cobblestones that were used to pave the courtyard, which is filled with palms and plants selected by Irene.
Every aspect of the different islands making up Six was carefully curated by us: from the Gio Ponti armchairs to the Gabriella Crespi tables, from the armchairs created by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret for Chandigarh in India to the light sculptures designed by Isamu Noguchi, from the Studio BBPR wall lights to the vintage Danish armchairs, from the Vietnamese vases to the carpets made by nomads.
And much much more, in a mix and match of pieces that are high and low, design and anonymous, vintage and upcycled, quality but accessible in price. There are enough elitist galleries in Milan. We wanted to offer something different here: the experience of a lifestyle that can adapt to different settings and situations.”

What do you like most about your profession?
“The research, which is an intrinsic spontaneous activity that is also life-enhancing. It is that desire to seek out new sources of inspiration, to test new ideas and go that bit further, constantly referring to other realities, tastes, cultures and forms of behaviour.”

In this daily challenge, what difference do your training and background make in terms of sensitivity and vocation?
“Well, to begin with David is more introverted than me. And this is reflected in the type of research we do. We have different ways of gathering information from the outside because we observe things in a different way. We tend to meet mid-way to compare the things we have processed, which becomes the occasion for a shared experience.”

What paradigms do you refer to in your journey and which masters inspire you?
“We both studied art history before studying architecture and this remains an important passage in our lives as well as an interest that we continue to cultivate. We also begin every project with our own artistic references and inspirational figures, like Eduardo Chillida for David and Donald Judd for me. I realize that having studied at Mendrisio I am also strongly influenced by Peter Zumthor but above all by Aires Mateus, who were both my teachers, for their approach to space and their interpretation of the values of full and empty, light and shade. Without the need for meaningless dramatic gestures and effects”.

How important are human relations in design?
“They are fundamental. Especially empathy and connection with your client. After listening to their requests, you always draw up the brief together. These relationships grow stronger as you go on, often leading to new word-of-mouth connections. The possibility of not repeating ourselves in the new jobs we take on is very stimulating.”

Tell me about your team and the way you work together?
“There are eight of us in the team, all young with different backgrounds and international origins. We have a very hands-on approach to our interior and product design projects, which are all developed on site. Every member of the team has a personal relationship with the artisans working with us, especially the core group from Brianza. We always try out the various craft techniques on site to understand their characteristics and differences. We all take something away from this type of on-site dialogue. Our dream is to create a laboratory in this space where we could develop samples and experiments with handcrafted materials. Artisan skills are a vital resource that needs protection in as open-minded and sensitive a manner as possible.”

What are your preferred materials and how are they treated?
“We work a lot with wood, including fine woods, combining them with unrefined materials like concrete. Or with marbles and stones. We always try to ensure that our projects have a tactile feel, that they are not too highly polished. The aim is to bring out the soul of every type of material and bringing them together in an assemblage of contrasting materials helps do this.”

Can you give me a list of key words defining your priorities in a project?
“We begin with an idea that we analyse in terms of light and space and context and then seek to enhance through the materials that we bring to the implementation of the project. Regardless of the scale of intervention or type of product, whether it is an architectural space or designer object.”

Computer or pencil: what do you prefer to use as a designer?
“I definitely prefer to use a pencil. But in today’s frenetic world, you have to transfer your designs to the computer if you don’t want to be left behind. The deadlines for developing ideas and solutions have become increasingly tight. It’s almost a race against time. Research and studies take longer to develop. That’s what makes the exchange of ideas favoured by this work space in terms of direct relations even more important.”

What are you currently working on?
“We’ve got a series of ongoing projects in Italy and in the States: private homes, retail spaces, a boutique hotel and a recently completed private club house in Capalbio. We’re also working on a town house in Notting Hill, London, which is coming along very nicely.”

What about your new “old Milanese house” with its high ceilings, white stuccoes and herringbone parquet?
“Well, it’s a bit like the Six Gallery: romantic, bright, a mix and match of tall and low pieces, anonymous vintage and historic and contemporary design. And not forgetting the lovely plants that thrive thanks to David’s green fingers.

Photos Mattia Aquila – Article Antonella Boisi