Giuseppe, Mario: could you introduce yourselves, please?
I’m a 35-year-old architect and designer from Campania, Milanese by adoption.
I was born in Puglia 36 years ago, and this year I’m celebrating my 18th year in Milan: I have already spent half my life here! I love Milan. It has been my haven for all these years, and at the centre of my adult life and my professional development. Nevertheless, I am still very attached to my roots, and I dream of being able to return to my region more often – not just for the holidays! One day, I would like to carry out a project in Puglia. I am an architect, and with my company Kick/Office, I develop projects on various scales, with a particular focus on interiors for residential, commercial and hospitality properties.
What is your background?
I’ve always been naturally creative, ever since I was a child. When I was a youngster, I used to say I wanted to be a fashion designer; I was fascinated by fashion. Then, my interest in architecture and design became more and more pronounced and, when I was 16, I decided to move to Milan to study industrial design. But after school, I enrolled myself in architecture at the Polytechnic. I found that type of training was more varied, more complete. Besides, most of the great Italian design masters were architects first and foremost! When I finished my studies, the job market didn’t have very much to offer because of the financial crisis. So I started out in a small interior design firm, and ended up working on a large construction project where I was in charge of construction management and quality control. It was a dreadful experience, but it was also very informative. Then, seven years ago, I joined the team at a highly reputable Interior Design company. There, I finally felt that I belonged, and I learned a lot, quickly progressing to my current position as Art and Design Director.
I always wanted to be an architect! As a child, all I needed was a pencil and a sheet of paper, and I could sit alone for hours drawing – a fairly ordinary activity for children – except that I drew plans for houses… Once, at school, the teacher asked us to draw where we lived. So I drew the floor plan of our apartment and the front of our building! After high school, I decided to move to Milan. I wanted to attend the Polytechnic, and above all, to experience this city which had – and still has – a huge attraction for me. In Italy, Milan has always been a city associated with the avant-garde, at the cutting-edge of progress, the place where trends arrive first, but which also has huge respect for the past, not a museum-style past, locked up in glass cases, but one that you can still live in. The years after university were a period of continual evolution. Just after university, I began working in the offices of Aldo Cibic. That is where my passion for interior design was born. After seven years of working with him and a brief experience in Massimiliano Locatelli’s company, I decided to start out on my own. In actual fact, Kick.Office had been in existence for some years. I had just finished university and, from that moment onwards, its activities grew in parallel with my professional life. As time went by, the projects I was involved in outside the office became more and more numerous and significant. There came a certain point when I felt my career in the firm was running out of steam, and I decided to start out on my own. I was 30, and I thought if it didn’t go well, I would have time to fix it. And then the projects came, one after another, and without me really noticing, it never stopped.
Tell us about your education in “beauty”. How did your tastes develop?
Beautiful things and beauty have always fascinated me. I think it is innate, but it was certainly amplified by the example of my mother, who was always busy creating bags, jewellery and handmade accessories. I certainly inherited my creative side from her and added to that, I used to travel with my parents, exploring new places. I always liked visiting museums anyway: I was one of those children who was a bit of a “loser”, and I stayed glued to the guidebook finding out what was behind a painting rather than being off having fun with the others. Art has always stimulated my imagination and shaped my tastes. I think cinema has also played an important role. Particular kinds of framing, costumes, staging, combined with a soundtrack, have the power to arouse emotions and stimulate the imagination by inspiring us.
Taste is one of those things that is constantly evolving; it is enriched by our experiences, by the places we visit, the music we hear and the films that we see. I think that each of us has our own idea of beauty and taste, which comes about as a result of the layering of things we have experienced. For me, observation is fundamental. I also think I have a very good visual memory. I pay attention to my surroundings, and that allows me to store suggestions and details in my mind. Inspiration may even come from an element that seemed insignificant at first sight. That is why I think it is essential to “collect” experiences, to surround yourself with beautiful things and with positive and stimulating people, too. And then, of course, to travel.
What do you like most about decorating?
Offhand, I would say the fabrics, combining and layering them. More generally, I would say the mixture of styles and influences. Layering.
I like to bring together pieces of disparate origins and styles to create a unique and sometimes quite unusual balance. I like to see furniture with a history in a space, possibly inserted into a custom-made context. I favour the juxtaposition of heterogeneous materials in terms of their finishes, their values and their natures. I like to alternate vibrant surfaces, rough, smooth and even reflective surfaces, soft fabrics and structured textures, and to combine old-fashioned materials with contemporary shapes.
Designers, artists: whose work has influenced you and your work?
There are so many, but I’ll try to summarise. In terms of designers: Piero Portaluppi, Osvaldo Borsani, Gio Ponti, Carlo Scarpa, Gabriella Crespi, Willy Rizzo, Madeleine Castaing, Jacques Grange, Tony Duquette. Côté artistes : Nanda Vigo, Josef Albers, Enrico Castellani, Agostino Bonalumi, Edgar Degas, Giovanni Boldini, Donald Judd, Dan Flavin and Robert Polidori.
The great Milanese masters, Luigi Caccia Dominioni, Gio Ponti, Piero Portaluppi or Osvaldo Borsani are a constant source of inspiration. Here, in Milan, it is impossible to avoid coming across one of their works every day. The geometries, the combinations of materials, the obsessive sense of detail: these are all still perfectly valid and contemporary elements. But there are plenty of others. Carlo Scarpa for his elegant and balanced details and combinations of materials, Franco Albini, Le Corbusier and Jean Prouvé, Luis Barragán for his use of colour and vibrant textures, Carlo Mollino with his intimate and sensual interiors. And then there are artists too, such as Nanda Vigo, Dan Flavin and Donald Judd.
How would you define your style?
Rich and excessive, but always balanced. Sometimes a bit “granny”, but also featuring stark contrasts. The aim is to surprise, create an atmosphere and bring back memories!
I don’t know if it is really a style. More of an approach. A method based on the balance between context, functionality and taste. I like to search out and bring together different materials; I pay a great deal of attention to detail, mix elements with different histories and give spaces a strong aesthetic imprint.
What do you notice immediately when you arrive somewhere?
In general, the light, which always plays a fundamental role in an interior. I don’t like artificial light, but I also don’t like it when natural light is too strong. It’s an element that obsesses most people. They want light, bright apartments; they want to see everything clearly. I, on the contrary, think that sometimes you need sunglasses. I prefer chiaroscuro, penumbra, the cones of light that lamps create, candle flames. All this creates an atmosphere, and atmosphere is what makes the place memorable.
Light. Natural light and artificial light, in open spaces, as well as indoors. The way shadows define open spaces and how they change according to latitude. The way light is modulated indoors, whether it is strong or subdued, soft or harsh, warm or cold. All these characteristics can completely change the perception and experience of a space. When you think about it, light is one of the only elements by which any space is defined; even in a dark space, the very absence of light underlines its importance.
How do you use colours in a house?
I like clean colours. If a house is small, I usually prefer to have one colour for the walls. I think it helps to make the rooms seem bigger. It is easy to diversify the palette in larger spaces, but even then, I prefer to accentuate slightly different shades or colours, and possibly create strong and unexpected contrasts in certain places. But when it comes to fabrics and finishes, I would say there is no such thing is enough! Although I do like to make sure that particular tones recur in different areas in a house to create a sort of common thread running through, a story.
Colour is an instrument I used to define spaces, to emphasise the specific qualities of a place, to modify the perception of its proportions, or to make a house unique for those who live in it. It’s a fundamental element in the design of the space. I like to combine different colours and materials in a mix that creates tension and dynamism.
Tell us about your apartment. How did it come about?
We decided to move in together because at one point we both needed a new apartment, and we thought we could have a bigger and more comfortable one together! Let’s just say that our needs coincided, and then everything happened very quickly and naturally. We’ve been friends for years, and even before we started living together, we spent most of our time together. So it wasn’t a leap in the dark. We searched for two or three months but without success. And then, in the end, when time was pressing, we found it. We liked it immediately! In particular, the typical Milanese period features, such as the doors, the plasterwork and, in both rooms, the wood flooring. The only negative point was the new floors in some of the rooms and the finishes in the bathroom, added during a recent renovation. The neighbourhood also played an important role.
Giuseppe and I have known each other for years. For a long time, we lived a few hundred metres apart in the Porta Venezia area, and then a few years ago, Giuseppe had to leave his apartment, and I decided to let mine. So I suggested we look for an apartment together and find a larger and nicer one. When you think about it, at our age, it’s quite a gamble to go and live with someone who is not your spouse, but we decided to take the risk, and I must say, we don’t regret it. We had visited lots of apartments before this one, but none of them had won us over. Then Giuseppe found the advertisement for this apartment, and we immediately saw the potential of the vast early 20th-century spaces, the elegance of the period finishes, the stucco work and the original doors, not to mention the quiet, central location of the neighbourhood. Of course, the place is unrecognisable now; we worked a lot on the spaces, rearranging them when they didn’t reflect our requirements, and we added decorative partitions, curtains to create a decompression zone between the outside and our privacy. And then we gave it a makeover with colours, carpets and fabrics.
How do the two of you live together here?
We are different – in our personalities and our characters – but we complement each other. We have similar values and are members of a family that has chosen itself. We know that we can always count on each other. Choices concerning the house, like everything else when two people live together, are also the result of mediation and dialogue. Even if, sometimes, I think I have won on certain things, like the wear and tear (I think Mario would have preferred a little more lightness).
It all came together very naturally, to be honest, we have different but compatible tastes. We build our home little by little with elements that reflect our respective personalities and that, once blended, make up a unique mosaic which I find very special, because it ours.
We worked a lot on the spaces, added decorative partitions, curtains to create a decompression zone between the outside and our privacy (...) Then we gave it a makeover with colours, carpets and fabrics
How did you furnish and decorate your home?
We didn’t try to create any particular atmosphere. It is more a composition of pieces we brought from our previous apartments, combined with others that we purchased specially. We both have a passion for vintage, and we often go around the flea markets. As a result, we filled each space up quite quickly, rearranging everything whenever a new piece arrived.
The idea was to create an intimate environment that would be a refuge for us, our two partners and our friends. So we surrounded ourselves with loads of objects, vintage furniture we have picked up over the years, and plants too. We chose strong colours that would give the place a unique character, and we created lots of different little corners that allow us to live in our apartment more flexibly.
What does it say about you?
It’s a very warm and welcoming place. I think what it says about us is that we like to entertain friends and create a pleasant atmosphere with them, dining at the table by candlelight or sitting in the living room chatting, having a drink or watching a film.
We like to feel that our apartment is a space for relaxation, with the opportunity to find a private corner, but also convivial, all in a natural balance, which you can see in the way we have organised the spaces. The kitchen and dining room are separate but close together. At the centre of the apartment is a large table made from salvaged timber, where we have dinner with our friends and family, play cards and work. And then there’s the living room, a beautiful blue space where you cannot help but relax. It always gives me a feeling of peace and quiet. And then we each have our own private world, which allows us to live together but with a great deal of autonomy, even though, in reality, when we are at home, we spend most of our time together.
You live in Milan. What are your favourite places here?
Fioraio Bianchi, for a drink after work, Giacomo Rosticceria, for lunch in the courtyard in the summer, the flower market in Via Lobroso, to buy a beautiful bouquet at the weekend, but there is also the vintage shop Tra noi e voi, where you can find inexpensive old treasures, and the Prada Foundation, a lovely cultural space for the city.
There are some places that I particularly like and that I never tire of returning to. LaVilla Necchi, a masterpiece by Piero Portaluppi, where you just have to take a walk in the garden to find peace amid all this beauty. Casa Boschi di Stefano is also a real gem, with its succession of majestic rooms filled with works of art from the private collection. It is a delight to get lost in there. Nilufar Depot, the large space in the Lancetti area, where Nina Yashar houses an extensive collection of historical and contemporary design; Hangar Bicocca, a fascinating and stimulating place, very democratic, open to all, quite generous to the Milanese and always managing to channel the attention of a large and heterogeneous public towards well-known artists. And then, as I like to eat and drink well, I like to visit my friend Eugenio Boer, whose first restaurant Bu:r I designed two years ago, an intimate space dedicated to the chef’s non-conformist cuisine. I also really like Moebius, Enrico Croatti’s new informal and sophisticated restaurant, but I also often go to Kampai, a contemporary izakaya where I feel at home.
Where will we find you during this year?
Unfortunately, I can’t talk about the future projects of the firm I work for.
Photographies : Constance Gennari – Texte : Caroline Balvay @thesocialitefamily