Loro Piana Interiors’s new store in Milan. Among the items on display are customisable blankets made of cashmere, silk and wool blends, embroidered cashmere and wool throw pillows and a Palm Duet chaise longue designed by Raphael Navot and upholstered in Cashfur, a blend of cashmere and silk. Photography by Allegra Martin.
The imposing palazzo that sits at Via della Moscova 33 in Milan’s well-heeled Brera district was once a nexus of the local silk trade. Industrialists and artisans would travel from across Italy to the building, constructed in the late 19th century and known as the Cortile della Seta, to meet, trade and vote on industry matters. During World War II, the structure was destroyed by bombs; it was later rebuilt and used as a bank. As of this year, though, when it became the headquarters for Loro Piana, as well as the site of the 98-year-old brand’s second store devoted to interiors, the palazzo is once again home to high-end textiles.
Originally from Trivero, in the northern Italian region of Piedmont, the Loro Piana family has been working in wool, an economic staple of the mountainous province, since the early 1800s. Building on what he’d learned from his relatives, Pietro Loro Piana founded the namesake brand, which quickly became known for producing some of the finest fabrics in Italy, in 1924. During the postwar years, the label developed a robust business selling to upscale tailors across Europe, the United States and Japan, but it wasn’t until the 1970s, when two of Pietro’s great-nephews, brothers Pier Luigi and Sergio Loro Piana, followed in the footsteps of their father, Franco, and took the helm that it began to resemble its current shape.
The pair introduced garments and accessories — simple fringed scarves and stoles at first — and looked beyond Piedmont for materials, including baby cashmere from Mongolia, obtained from the under-fleece of a baby Capra hircus goat that can only be combed out once in the kid’s lifetime, before it turns one, and vicuña (first sourced for the brand by Franco), which is derived from a relative of the llama from the Andes. By the late 1990s, Loro Piana was selling smart tailored jackets, wool overcoats and finely woven cashmere sweaters in its shops in Milan and New York. In 2013, LVMH purchased an 80 percent stake in the brand (it purchased another 5 percent a few years later), though Pier Luigi remains as vice president (Sergio died in 2013). And it’s retained its reputation for exceptional and often exclusive materials, as well as for its dedication to craftsmanship: All stages of production, from the processing of fibres to the weaving of textiles to the sewing and finishing of garments and other goods, take place entirely in-house between nine factories or mills, all in Italy and most in Piedmont.
With its new location, Loro Piana seems to be turning the page to yet another new chapter. Previously, its offices were scattered throughout the city, but as the brand continued to grow, the decision was made to bring its design, marketing, administrative and other teams together to facilitate communication between them. When Via della Moscova 33 became available following a lengthy structural renovation led by the local firm Asti Architetti, its central location, size (26,000 square metres) and rich past made it an obvious choice. Then came another decision: who should handle the interior design of the offices? The company commissioned Vincent Van Duysen, the Belgian architect known for such clean-lined projects as Casa M, his own minimalist concrete retreat that sits among the dunes in the seaside town of Comporta, Portugal, and Antwerp’s elegant August hotel, set in a former convent. “He has very pure taste,” says Francesco Pergamo, the director of Loro Piana Interiors. Indeed, both the architect and the brand trade in a disarming sort of simplicity, whether in the form of a spare travertine-lined home or that of an unembellished merino knit.
Via della Moscova 33’s sun-drenched, glass-roofed internal courtyard, where tens of thousands of bundles of precious silkworm cocoons were once stored, now serves as a kind of town square for the brand. Standing at its centre, one can peer skyward through the wide stacked windows and into various showrooms, where racks of garments stand against pale cream walls, and into airy offices.
The architect’s overall goal, he says, was to give the company’s employees a fresh environment while also referencing the brand’s DNA. The fluted walls on the second floor, for instance, are swathed in a cream-coloured fabric made of Trevira, a flame-resistant technical material, while within the otherwise open-plan offices he devised a system of Trevira-covered partitions. The same fabric in Kummel, or the brownish burgundy that features on the company’s logo, was used for the pared-back desk chairs — not-quite-straight-backed seats with simple white steel bases on wheels — designed by Van Duysen for the Belgian company Bulo. They sit tucked into custom desks, with bone-coloured aluminium frames, pale oak drawers and dove grey felt privacy screens, that Van Duysen designed for Unifor. The flooring is made of recycled fishing nets. Van Duysen agrees that “there’s a synergy between my aesthetics and theirs,” adding, “It’s all about having an eye for the details.”
It’s noteworthy that the new space is being inaugurated just as the company itself is beefing up its interiors division, which launched with decorative textiles, accessories and rugs in 2006. “They created a box with different fabrics that was sent to the most important decorators in the world,” Pergamo says of its start. Next, the brand opened textile showrooms for design professionals in Milan, New York, Paris and Los Angeles. But when Pergamo moved into interiors in 2019 — he had previously been the director of women’s and leather goods product development — he did so with the goal of making Loro Piana fabrics, and much else, more visible and accessible. “I wanted to go into furniture, finished products and design projects,” he says.
In 2019, he and the rest of the Loro Piana Interiors team redecorated one of the private pavilions located in the park of the storied Lake Como hotel Villa d’Este, dressing its rooms in complementary shades of coral and robin’s-egg blue that appear on velvet headboards, cashmere sofas, wool carpets and silk drapes. They followed that with several limited-edition furniture collaborations, including a chaise longue in Cashfur done with Raphael Navot and a series of mahogany director’s chairs designed by Paola Navone and crafted by Exteta, before producing their own customisable furniture, such as that of the recently launched Ginza line, whose pieces are defined by high, squared armrests and, if desired, piping in contrasting colours. In 2020, the Paris showroom was converted into an interiors shop open to the public, though the new Milan store will be the flagship.
Set behind four grand arched windows on the building’s street level, it was designed by the in-house team, and while the offices fully embrace Van Duysen’s strain of minimalism, the shop feels more like someone’s warm and well-appointed home. The brand’s cashmere-upholstered furniture is arranged in several domestic mise-en-scènes (a dining and sitting area, a spa-like bathroom) accented with products ranging from woven horsehair place mats to silk-cashmere dressing gowns. Also on offer are carpets and wall-coverings, and in a small alcove at the store’s rear, fabric samples hang on pegs in what is known as the textile library. They’re organised according to colour and include Chesa, a blend of cashmere and yarn-dyed wool in a muted grey and amber madras pattern, and Ice, a pure cashmere whose undyed fibres coalesce in a natural mélange. Customers can simply select their favourite, or work with the in-house design team, located on the store’s second floor, to decorate their house (or yacht).
Come June, which is when the city’s annual Salone del Mobile design fair will next take place, the building’s courtyard will be the site of an installation displaying a new furniture collaboration. Details are still under wraps, but Pergamo isn’t shy about his enthusiasm for the space. “With this new building we have a real home in Milan,” he says. “And having a home without the home business would have been a bit strange, no?”
In the chef Soufiane Lezaar’s living room, plates of Spanish, Moroccan, Italian and Slavic design and collections of masks, fans, tools and toys. A quilted leather pouf sits atop a boucherouite rug in shades of pink and violet. (Guido Taroni)
The Italian Horticulturist and writer Umberto Pasti has always been a collector, not merely of things and plants — his homes in Milan, Tangier and the Moroccan village of Rohuna are chockablock with Neolithic pottery, antique textiles and Berber pots; his gardens hold roughly 2,000 species of native and exotic flora — but also of people: the more creative and eccentric, the better.
For example, in Rohuna, a rural outpost over 40 miles south of Tangier where Pasti, 63, built his house two decades ago, he met a teenager named Najim Imran, who would likely have become a shepherd had Pasti not sent him to Tangier to study carpentry. Now 30, Imran and his cousin Othman, also 30, use branches of the flowering strawberry tree to build brightly colored painted chairs and tables evocative of 18th-century English garden furniture.
But Pasti’s most unusual aesthetic collaboration has been with his cook, Soufiane Lezaar, 37. The two met five years ago in Tangier, and while Pasti was impressed by the chef’s skills in the kitchen, especially his fluency in European standards such as bouillabaisse and paella, he also encouraged his new employee to pursue his interest in sculpting with galvanized stainless-steel wire. Since then, Lezaar’s graceful tabletop trees, which appear whipsawed by the North African wind, have been sold at London’s Tristan Hoare gallery.
However, it’s the pair’s obsession with collecting that truly binds them. While other homeowners might prefer their live-in cook keep an antiseptic apartment, Pasti celebrates Lezaar’s magpie urge to acquire, a compulsion facilitated by Tangier’s famous flea markets. Virtually every crevice and curve of his 500-square-foot, three-room quarters at the rear of the 4,300-square-foot Tangerine-style house that Pasti shares with his partner, the 63-year-old French fashion designer Stephan Janson, is crammed with vintage finds.
Layered with both story and history, the Mediterranean-style flat makes the main home — a whale’s vertebrae sit atop a 17th-century northern German wardrobe, above which hangs the border of a 17th-century Isfahan rug — feel airy by comparison. But Pasti’s belief is that Lezaar’s environment is less a cabinet de curiosité than “a living Cornell box,” the dioramas redolent with found objects by the 20th-century American artist Joseph Cornell. “It’s like entering someone’s inner world — their mind,” Pasti says.
It would be impossible to accurately catalog Lezaar’s items, though the men estimate there are at least 10,000. The 200-square-foot living room alone holds about 80 pieces of furniture — wingback chairs upholstered in an Art Deco print, a 1940s octagonal end table, settees covered in kilims and boujaads — that provide display space for assemblages of smaller objects. To some people, such a space would feel claustrophobic, “but I find it comfortable,” says Lezaar, gesturing toward the dozens of tiny tin cars, alabaster eggs, porcelain dolls, archaic medical instruments, miniature airplanes, beaded necklaces and carved gourds.
Several walls are hung with his agglomeration of international plates, ranging from Dutch Delft to Japanese Imari; above his bed is a series of thrift-shop watercolors. A collection of owls in china, glass and wood fill the bottom of the kitchen’s Moroccan wall shelf, known as a morfa. On top of it, Lezaar keeps at least 60 pairs of vintage shears.
That Lezaar’s collecting seems to be escalating is a source of shared joy between the men. No one seems to worry that the space will get too crowded. In fact, Pasti feels energized by his chef’s expanding vision: He believes it contributes to Lezaar’s aesthetic journey, which ultimately is more important to him than being served the perfect soufflé. “After dinner, he leaves on his motorbike and goes to the night market to buy and buy,” Pasti says. “And then in the morning, he shows me everything. It’s heaven.”
The approach to the Caovillas’ ancient 20-bedroom hilltop villa, surrounded by cypress trees in the Tuscan countryside. Photography by Alexis Armanet.
When René Caovilla, the 82-year-old Venetian shoe designer, was first shown the Tuscan villa he bought in 1977, he fell in love with it instantly. He wasn’t only taken with the house, a 15th-century red brick monastery that had undergone a slow transformation into an austere 20-bedroom private home in the 17th century, but the Chianti landscape as well — the whole of classical history evoked in a flash. Even now, the approach to the 1,200-acre property is just as it must have been centuries ago: a long, winding ride through pale, undulating fields, leading to a dignified hilltop retreat. The three-story ivy-wrapped building is ringed by 20-foot obelisk-like cypress trees — a private citadel entered through a wrought-iron gate. Beyond the vista of olive groves, another fortresslike outcropping is visible in the distance: the mottled russet city of Siena, three miles away.
“All the great Italian painters of the 14th and 15th centuries — Leonardo, Michelangelo — were born near here,” says Caovilla’s wife of 49 years, Paola Buratto Caovilla, on a warm September day. “When you come to this area, you breathe in everything they left behind. There’s a special light.” When her husband first saw the house, she says, “It made him dream of the paintings he’d seen since he was a little boy.”
Buying a piece of Italy’s storied artistic past was, for Caovilla, a sign that he had arrived at last. His family came from modest origins in the Riviera del Brenta, an area 20 miles west of central Venice known both for its vast Renaissance-era villas and, since the beginning of the 20th century, its production of high-end footwear. His father, Edoardo, began his own company in 1934 in the hamlet of Fiesso d’Artico, making loafers and elegant pumps for the Italian bourgeoisie. In the 1950s, René took over, cultivating the emerging jet set and producing whimsical evening shoes for the designer Valentino Garavani and, later, Christian Dior’s John Galliano and Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel. In 1969, Caovilla designed what has become the label’s signature: the Cleo, a bejeweled high-heeled sandal with a strap that snakes its way up the ankle like a Roman serpent bracelet. Since 2011, René Caovilla’s son, also named Edoardo, 43, has been the company’s creative director and chief operating officer. He focused the brand on developing its own designs and visibility, cultivating relationships with stars like Rihanna and Bella Hadid.
Like the company, the house, which Edoardo Caovilla visits as much as he can with his own wife and children (their primary residence is four hours north, in Milan), has also evolved with time. It was originally built for an order of monks based in Siena known as the Jesuati (not to be confused with the Jesuits), whose patron was Giovanni Colombini, a patrician businessman who renounced his wealth and spent the rest of his life ministering to the infirm. The sect, known for its strict self-mortification practices, was referred to as the “aquavitae fathers” because of the alcoholic medicinal waters they brewed and distributed to heal villagers.
The property has a private chapel, as well as fields for grazing sheep and a large pond over which herons fly in the early morning. The family believes that in the ’40s it was bought by an Italian-Russian aristocrat named Anita Stross. Over the course of World War II, she enlisted the help of the radical landscape designer Pietro Porcinai, who had been a chief contributor to Domus magazine, founded by the architect Gio Ponti, and had designed the gardens of the Brion family cemetery in Treviso for the Venetian Modernist Carlo Scarpa. Porcinai made some small interventions to the interior — adding an exaggerated white stucco fireplace to the living room, for example — but mostly concentrated on the gardens. Near the house, there are discrete beds of irises, dahlias and camellias along paved paths, but as the hill descends, the vegetation disappears into the fields, a marked contrast to the Italian tradition of high-clipped, hedged mazes and topiaries. “The garden is wild,” says Paola, who has added a vegetable patch and a bed for medicinal plants like those the monks likely grew: valerian, thyme, mint. “It is not a violation.”
Inside, the family prefers to live surrounded by a well-burnished past. The antiques and furnishings have no fidelity to a particular time: In an entryway, which has floors made of local green-and-white diamond travertine laid by the monks, hangs a 17th-century tapestry by the Flemish artist David Teniers II, whose pastoral influence can be seen in the Rococo work of the French painter Antoine Watteau. Nearby sits a curvy Art Nouveau-inflected wooden rocking chair, its seat covered with mustard linen appliquéd with white fabric swirls. In a parlor, an 18th-century painting depicts the Battle of Montaperti, the 1260 clash between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines in which Siena defeated Florence, as described by Dante in his “Inferno.” In the hunting lodge, a one-room outbuilding several hundred yards from the main house (the family hunts pheasant twice a year, and keeps a kennel of trained dogs for that purpose), there are vintage campaign chairs, coffee-table books about antique pistols, wall-mounted rams’ horns and 19th-century dioramas of taxidermied pheasants.
In addition to shooting parties, the family’s social life has long revolved around the Palio, a historic horse race held in Siena since medieval times on July 2 and Aug. 16. Ten jockeys ride bareback, attired in the colors of the city’s contrade, or wards. The Caovillas have become an integral part of this local celebration, in which each of the old families in the area — the Frescobaldis, the Antinoris — throws a huge party. Their event takes place on the day of the race, with Paola decorating the tables in the colors of the winning team. As if to preserve these fleeting moments of summer, Paola converted the former monks’ cells along a lengthy hall into a series of guest bedrooms, each decorated with antique velvet banners — embroidered with animals like unicorns, eagles or owls — associated with a particular riding team. The banners, in dusky shades of umber and olive, reflect the warm and vivid landscape outside, as well as a deep sense of familial pride. That relative newcomers like the Caovillas have become part of the ancient region’s landscape and history is certainly a testament to their infectious joie de vivre, but also to their dedication in adopting Tuscan traditions into their home as well as their hearts. “Over the years, people here have become very respectful of our family,” says Edoardo, “and of what we have done.” And so, the lush emotional terroir of an age-old European aristocracy continues on in a small but meaningful way: A piece of the land belongs to you, but you also belong to it.
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The nave of the church in Malden-on-Hudson, N.Y., that Angel Otero transformed into his studio. Photography by Emiliano Granado.
The first time the artist Angel Otero fell asleep in his new studio, on a slightly battered chaise longue given to him by a neighbour, he was awoken an hour later by the thrumming of bats’ wings. He had bought the building, a whitewashed 19th-century brick church with a shingled spire in the hamlet of Malden-on-Hudson, in New York State’s south-east, in February of last year. Later that month, he removed the 36 wooden pews that filled the 160-square-metre nave, which, together with a similarly sized basement, make up the structure. Leaving the raised wooden altar and functional pipe organ in place at one end, he set up trestle tables for supplies and arranged, between the three-metre-tall arched windows, a few half-finished canvases that he had driven up from his main studio in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
His broker had shown him this property as a last-ditch attempt to end the artist’s long hunt for more storage space. And though it was draughty and had no plumbing, Otero, 39, immediately coveted it. The year before he’d worked intensely, presenting a new series of large-scale abstract oil works in a solo exhibition at New York’s Lehmann Maupin gallery, and he was longing for a place outside of the city to paint in solitude. But, as the bats seemed to remind him that night, and each time they returned over the summer, it’s impossible to feel entirely alone inside a church.
Places of worship are typically built to outlast their parishioners. The steepled Protestant churches in upstate New York are often the oldest buildings in their towns — repositories of local memory, even as their congregations have dwindled. Malden’s was completed in 1867, when it served the families of the workers at the town’s since-closed bluestone factory. The building was deconsecrated in 2016, but many of the hamlet’s 300 or so residents have told Otero about the weddings and baptisms that took place there. Some have also expressed their relief about his preservation plans: he hopes to convert the basement — once the site of a Sunday school — into living quarters with a pair of bedrooms for visiting family and friends, but intends to leave the exterior and main floor mostly unchanged.
There is now a small seating area in front of the altar steps — a spindle-legged 1950s Martin Eisler couch with tufted cream upholstery, and a pair of angular ’60s-era caviuna wood Lina Bo Bardi armchairs — but the empty outlines left by the pews remain on the floor. The large orange, blue and white stained-glass rose window will stay in place, as will the three brass globe chandeliers that illuminate the five-metre-high space as he works.
“I embrace all this history,” says Otero. “I have always tried to mold my creativity and my lifestyle around moments like this.” Indeed, the more time he spends in the studio, the more traces of past occupants he discovers: 19th-century wrought-iron candlesticks in the attic; a forgotten hand fan stashed in the bench of an upright piano; a concealed mural behind the organ. As he uncovers the building’s past, he has found himself increasingly revisiting his own. Otero’s practice is rooted in the idea of layering, a concept that informs both his innovative technique of creating craggy canvases from cut-up strips of dried oil paint and also his subject matter, which is derived from repeated examinations of his memories.
“Being here has put me in a place where I’ve been thinking a lot about back home,” he says, referring to Puerto Rico, where he was born and lived until he left in 2004 to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The paintings he has made since taking over this space, many of which are on display in a new exhibition at Lehmann Maupin, are less abstract than his previous work. They depict pieces of furniture — a sofa, a bathtub, a dining table — that act as gravitational centers for larger clusters of what he describes as “glimpses of feelings or composited moments” from his childhood.
Otero still remembers the experience of going to church with his Catholic grandmother each Sunday when he was young, first in San Juan and later, when the family moved, in the northern town of Bayamón. Though he doesn’t consider himself religious, the aesthetics of those buildings have left a permanent imprint on his imagination. “It was their high ceilings, the windows, the light,” he says, “but there was also a certain creativity in the way they were curated: the stained glass, the sculptures, the pews, the ornaments.” So, while he admits that “as an artist, there’s always a romanticized idea of making work in an old factory or loft,” one can also sense that, no matter how long and necessary the search, he would have chosen a church over a warehouse — the baroque and impractical over the utilitarian — every time.
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Last year Sydney designer Matt Woods took his business carbon neutral. (Photography courtesy of Killing Matt Woods)
Sustainability has been a buzzword in architectural circles for the last decade or so, but for many architects and designers it is still a work in progress – a theory, rather than a reality. The fear being that using only sustainable materials will result in aesthetics suffering, but that’s an argument award-winning Sydney designer Matt Woods (of Killing Matt Woods) rejects. “There are so many options out there now; there isn’t much of a compromise,” he says.
Newtown-based Woods has been lauded for his beautiful and considered designs for commercial spaces, including restaurants and cafes – all with a sustainable and eco edge. It’s an edge he takes seriously enough to commit to in a broader sense as well; recently, he switched his business to be carbon neutral, and in each of his new projects he considers the supply chain, uses 100% green power and sustainable materials. Sustainability is so inherent to his design process; he doesn’t consider it a selling point.
“Sustainability is not something I necessarily try to ram down people’s throats,” he explains. “I just do it. I don’t give people options. I’m just subtly trying to change people to my way of thinking.”
Woods pays particular attention to the “chain of custody” associated with all the materials he uses in his work, as well as using reclaimed and repurposed materials when appropriate. Each substrate has different accreditation systems, such as FSE-accredited timber, and he works with relevant industry bodies to ensure that all materials are sourced sustainably and are carbon neutral.
Woods began his career over 10 years ago with his design for Newtown’s iconic Bloodwood restaurant, which featured repurposed building materials, such as copper piping and old doors to create a rustic, aged look, while also providing an underlying sophistication far removed from other restaurants in the area at the time. It was a more considered, less haphazard use of repurposed materials than previously seen in hospitality.
For his project redesigning the Rooftop at the Quarrymans hotel in Pyrmont, he focused on optimising sheet sizes of all the materials to minimise waste, and included a lime-based mortar that would allow the fitout to be pulled apart and reused at the end of its lifespan. A similar strategy was employed with his fitout of the Messenger Café in Pyrmont, where the terrazzo tiles were used in their entirety instead of being trimmed and having excess waste.
Most recently his first residential project, Perfect Storm, a Brutalist-style concrete bunker in inner Sydney, won numerous awards, including Best Residential Project in the 2020 Dulux Colour Awards. Featuring dramatic concrete curves throughout, it won accolades from the judging panel “for its simplicity and singularity” and “minimalism and clean, clutter-free aesthetic”.
While the success of Perfect Storm has generated more residential work, most of Woods’ projects remain commercial fitouts; he has no plans to specialise in either market, instead using his eco-conscious designs as the key driver. “My business isn’t focused on anything other than sustainability,” he says.
His latest passion is creating what he calls “design for deconstruction” in his projects, which involves addressing the issue of waste within the world of hospitality, in particular.
“The problem I have with hospitality projects is that they are at the whim of trends,” he says. “I can do a great job, win a design award or get lots of media and it can still only be there for six months, because something else more exciting opened up down the road. So, something I’m becoming more and more focused on is putting things in [the design] that can be taken apart, removed and repurposed at the end of the project’s life.”
However, with 2020 being an annus horribilis for hospitality, he says he was prepared for sustainability to fall off the radar as the sector focused on surviving the year rather than worrying about the long-term environment issues. Instead, he says he has been surprised that it has remained a key driver in new projects.
“The new clients who are coming to me at the moment are very much sustainably focused,” he says. “It’s a conversation that I probably had more in the last 12 months than I had in the 10 years leading up to it.”