The houses that line the leafy streets of the Malarhojden suburb of Stockholm are mostly traditional wooden single-family homes in muted Nordic hues: grey, cream, white. But when Luca Nichetto, an Italian-born, Sweden-based designer, visited the area during a snowstorm at the tail end of 2020 he was drawn to a 1930s villa in a washed-out shade of pink. “In a country that’s always dark and cold,” he says, “it’s nice to have an environment that’s a little more colourful.”
Nichetto, 46, was in search of a new studio and had ventured into the suburb, which is a 20-minute walk from his home in the more urban Hagersten district, in desperation after office rental rates in central Stockholm spiked during the pandemic. He decided to buy a commercial space instead, but everything he saw was either unappealing or overpriced. Seeking a solution, he consulted his lawyer and hit upon the idea of purchasing a home on the outskirts of the city and converting it into a live-work space — a legal, if not common, practice in Sweden. He took the villa’s pale rosy hue as a sign and bought the 2,368-square-foot two-story structure at auction at the beginning of 2021. Almost immediately, he painted it bubble gum pink.
Born on the island of Murano into a family of glassmakers, Nichetto honed his instincts for bold colours and organic forms as a designer for Salviati, the Venetian glassmaking firm. His current work — which involves dreaming up everything from plump armchairs for the Swedish design manufacturer Hem to bust-shaped home-fragrance diffusers for the Florentine porcelain producer Ginori 1735 to whimsical window schemes for the French luxury house Hermès — is defined by its open-mindedness and a certain Mediterranean exuberance. And his chromatic sense has become even more refined since he relocated from Venice to Stockholm in 2011 with his Swedish wife, Asa Carlstedt Nichetto, when she got a job as a costume maker and tailor for the Royal Swedish Opera. Though he’s found Sweden’s close-knit design community welcoming, he believes the country at large subscribes to “a sort of uniform and the same kind of lifestyle. If you’re outside of that, you’re weird.”
Which is where the candy pink comes in. “I decided to give the place more of a Barragán touch,” he says, with a laugh, referring to the Mexican architect Luis Barragán, whose affinity for vivid hues helped define his modernist spaces. Other Malarhojden residents were skeptical, Nichetto recalls: “One of the neighbours stopped me on the street and said, ‘It’s too pink!’ I said, ‘Don’t worry, with the sun, it will fade.’” He also made changes to the building’s interior, transforming the three-bedroom house into a studio with an area for guests. “Because I’m not from here, I wanted to do something that represents myself and makes me feel good,” he says. “From the outside it looks like a classical Swedish villa — OK, in pink. But when you open the door, it’s another universe.”
Stepping through the narrow cream front door, a visitor is struck first by the bonbon-like colours: cotton candy pink walls, turquoise cabinetry, spearmint shelving. A hallway with an unusual glazed-brick screen of the kind typically reserved for outdoor terraces, and bringing to mind a Moroccan garden, leads to a 525-square-foot kitchen-living area that doubles as a showroom for Nichetto’s extrovert designs. A large mirror with a puffy matcha green chrome frame leans against one wall, adjacent to a swooping comma-shaped cobalt blue sofa. On the sill of a far window, a glass lamp with a milky white globe balanced on a red jelly bean-like pedestal creates a visual counterpoint to the room’s canary yellow coffee table: an inverted lacquered steel cone that appears to float on its circular mirrored base.
More surprises await up the original pine staircase, now painted putty pink, where the second-floor bedrooms have been knocked together to create an open-plan office with tiled yellow walls for Nichetto’s team of four (he has a second studio in Venice, with four more employees, and a creative director based mostly in Paris). And downstairs, what was formerly the basement garage has been entirely clad in Douglas fir — hence its nickname, the Chalet — and converted into a cozy, self-contained guest suite with a living room and bedroom. Onetime storage rooms now comprise an archive for samples as well as a large bathroom lined in silvery grey Emperador marble, which was installed alongside the existing traditional spruce-wood sauna.
The villa has imposed on Nichetto a work-life rhythm that feels almost Swedish in its rigour, cementing a shift that began when he first arrived in Stockholm. “Before I moved, working Saturday and Sunday, eating pizza in the studio and going home at 4 in the morning — that was very normal,” he says. “Here, I started to be more balanced.” Having a permanent headquarters for his growing business has also allowed him to more confidently embrace his Italian heritage. “In Sweden, everything needs to function. Coming from Italy, where the Renaissance teaches you completely the opposite — that sometimes, it’s better that a product is beautiful but maybe not so comfortable — I was disorientated,” Nichetto says, referring to his first decade in Stockholm. “But I’m 100 percent Italian. So I built my bubble, and I’m finding a sort of maturity. More than inspiring me as a creative person, this place is really pushing me to grow up.”
Nichetto cycles to the villa most weekday mornings and works on his sprawling roster of projects with his team, stopping midday for a studio lunch prepared by an in-house chef at one of the black Nero Marquina marble tables he designed for the Danish furniture company Wendelbo. Some evenings, he hosts dinners for clients, collaborators and friends, such as Ben Gorham, the founder of the Swedish fragrance brand Byredo, and Beatrice Leanza, the incoming director of the Museum of Contemporary Design and Applied Arts in Lausanne, Switzerland; anyone who is in town is welcome to stay in the Chalet. In the summer, when the sun sets as late as 10 p.m. in Stockholm, Nichetto fires up the Big Green Egg grill every weekend and cooks for friends, while his two children, who are 7 and 4, splash around in an inflatable pool.
The building has also encouraged Nichetto to consider his furniture and lighting design proposals within a more authentically domestic context. “Having a place where I can really see if what I design can work is a good trial,” he says. But his experiments aren’t limited to the world of home goods; more than a designer, Nichetto sees himself as a proggettista, an Italian word with no equivalent in English that describes a person working on a range of multidisciplinary projects. In addition to consulting for several global brands — he is the art director of the Austrian furniture company Wittmann, for instance — this fall alone Nichetto has released an apple-leather tote bag made in collaboration with the New York-based vegan accessories designer Angela Roi and a limited-edition grand piano for Steinway & Sons whose slender curves and brass and stainless steel accents reference the glossy hull of a gondola.
The playful side of his designs can be contagious. When Nichetto opens one of the four tall windows in his office, formerly the villa’s primary bedroom, and gazes out over the city, he feels like he could be in a perfume advertisement. “Do you remember the ad for Égoïste?” he says, recalling the 1990 campaign for the Chanel fragrance conceived by the graphic designer and photographer Jean-Paul Goude, in which a glamorous cast of spurned women wearing evening dresses throw open the windows of the Carlton hotel in Cannes howling resentment at a selfish lover. “Égoïste! Égoïste!” He chuckles. “When I open the windows, I feel a little bit important.”