In a moment of pandemic uncertainty that leads to reflections on the role of the architect as a builder of ideas, an interpretation of kintsugi (the Japanese art of repairing broken crockery with gold) as a metaphor of resilience might seem like a very useful action. In wider terms, this is what Gianni Veneziano and Luciana Di Virgilio have done in the design of their home in Milan, created by means of the careful, displayed repair of a loft from the early 20th century, first built as an office space in one of the first Cova panettone factories. They have addressed the esprit du temps by underscoring the cracks and scars of the walls of a ‘broken’ enclosure, transforming it into an artefact that becomes even more handsome and strong, inside and out. A space that gives and takes character, regenerated and recovered by listening to the original history of the industrial city.
A house that works well as a proactive habitat model, because it can open and close in keeping with needs in a dynamic way, formulating transformable, versatile and adaptable spaces capable of hosting encounters of work and study with other professionals and conceptual thinkers, installations, noisy parties with lots of children or private, personal islands of calm. “Actually, the idea of a different domestic dimension, and of slowing down the pace of everyday life, is a critical factor in the Covid era, but also an opportunity for growth,” says Luciana. “For us, it had already developed before the virus and its dramatic impact, which has undoubtedly disrupted everyone’s habits and boundaries, along with our ways of living, working, traveling, relating to others. The positive watershed came with the arrival of Virginia, in late 2015 – early 2016, which prompted us to think more deeply about certain dynamics of change, also with respect to our intense program of professional practice and everything that gravitates around it.”
Therefore the new ‘film’ about interiors and exteriors, space, time, location, city and world, unfolds around a large rectangular table, the symbolic heart of the home, between a hypertech kitchen, an accessorized wall that closes to become a cabinet, hiding all the equipment of the culinary experiments of the designers, and the very high windows that frame the city of the past, present and future. “It is not a very large interior in terms of square meters, but on the basis of our functional needs we have optimized every centimeter, creating a zone with two bedrooms, a wardrobe cabin and a bathroom, and communicating, multifunctional spaces in the daytime area, where the living room can become a work zone or a more intimate setting for reading and watching TV,” the designer continues.
Gianni and Luciana, together in life and work since 2007, have always communicated who they are and what they believe in, coherently, pencil in hand and palette of colors nearby. In the name of artistic expression understood as an extension of mental space, the matrix of reference associated with Gianni, who is also known as an authoritative curator of exhibitions and cultural events, not only in Italy. In their own way, they embrace a fluid dimension that mixes art, interior architecture, product design, graphic design and exhibition design, without rigid segmentation and without indulging in preset clichés. “Of course, our homes can never be lacking in art, because it is what makes an empty space into a place in which you can live many lives,” Luciana says.
“Like contamination, which is a strong point, also considering our slightly nomadic character, especially in Gianni’s case. We change houses every few years: we renovate them in a maniacal way, as if they were to be our home in eternity, and then we get detached, we let them go. If all goes well we remain in the same city, otherwise we make huge, exhausting moves.” In this case, the tone-deaf interventions that had accumulated over time had ruined the spirit of the loft, but the architects immediately grasped its potential, from the light to the remarkable height of the spaces – over four meters – in the charm of an elegant zone of Milan that still has a rather cozy, slightly reserved character. The project took things back to zero, removing suspended ceilings, floating floors and partitions, bringing authenticity back to light. Only the perimeter walls remain, with traces of the flaws left behind by alterations in the past that have gradually been eliminated to reach the core of the original setting, along with two bare fair-face concrete pillars.
Then the creative adventure of new graftings began. The wooden flooring has been selected in a natural, uncoated finish, and the interior decorating seen as an integral part of the design process has become a counterpart of the original site, to experiment with combinations of harmony and lightness in the perception of forms: on the one hand, stripped walls with an intentionally raw look, and on the other wood paneling, moldings, very sophisticated wallpapers and coatings, inserts of mother-of-pearl mosaic, a display fixture in polished mortar – all accents of a noble, cultured Milanese character. Every room has thus found its own material and chromatic register, and a particular atmosphere that comes alive in the pleasure of the things, the details that make the difference. “There are pieces we have designed together in the past for various brands, and other created only by Gianni, along with modern vintage items and books – the latter were inside about 100 boxes, I almost lost track of them in the last move from Apulia – as well as sculptures, vases, ceramics, a mix-and-match of styles and characteristics,” Luciana explains.
“There is no single favorite, but many of them, associated with particular moments. Like the large hand, now in our bedroom, the three-dimensional transposition of one of the A4 drawings Gianni gathered for the exhibition “Daysign” he curated at the Milan Triennale in 2013. Reminders of the lives we have had in the past, reassuring presences, also on a psychological level: they feed that ‘archaeology of emotions’ in which we believe, more firmly than ever. Because we think design has gotten a bit saturated, at this point, and it will remain a value only in terms of care, distilling and purifying our spirit. Above all in the private space of the home, which if we project it into the future will increasingly become the place where the role of the humanist architect can return to its full importance. This observation links back to the thinking of Ettore Sottsass on the difference between drinking water from a paper cup and drinking it from a crystal glass: there is life in it. It might not be a bad idea to start over again, from this life, to think about all the scales of intervention in the universe.”
Project Luciana Di Virgilio and GianNi Veneziano (Veneziano+Team) - Photos Filippo Bamberghi