Piero Lissoni can’t stop reinventing his Milan apartment
PIERO LISSONI IS absolutely precise. The 65-year-old Italian architect-designer has micromanaged everything in his new Milan apartment, from the austere steel window frames to the irregular puzzle pattern of the master bathroom’s Carrara marble floors. He’s quick to point out that the walls of the apartment, which is on the ground floor of a 1950s high-rise building, are not just white, but something known as 9010, or pure white, according to a Weimar-era design industry color chart Germany. However, when asked how he managed to make the 2,500-square-foot, two-bedroom home — characterized by formal tableaus of austere objects and a color palette that can best be described as cool — somehow cozy, he relents equivocally before he eventually devotes himself to his wife, 47-year-old Italian photographer Veronica Gaido.
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Really, “she’s the architect,” he says, although Lissoni works as the creative director of several Italian furniture brands, including B&B Italia and Living Divani, as well as Boffi, the kitchen and bathroom company, and runs his own multidisciplinary design studio with offices in Milan and New York . A tall, reserved native of Milan, he cites Italy’s mid-century modern masters, Achille Castiglioni and Vico Magistretti, as mentors. But his newest home demonstrates a passion for the postmodern work of his friend Ettore Sottsass, founder of the Memphis Group, whose 20th-century experiments – like the multicolored, Christmas-tree-like Clesitera vase of ca. 1986 – are surprisingly discreet when placed together sharing a space with Lissoni’s collection of somber, timeless, centuries-old East Asian ceramics. The designer also collects mid-century modern Danish vintage pieces, including Poul Kjaerholm’s black leather lounger in the living room and Hans Wegner wooden wishbone chairs around the new glass dining table of his own design.
He and Gaido – whose oversized long exposures of a human torso and Chinese terracotta sculptures are the main sources of color in the living room – married in December 2020, a few months before moving in. “We fought a lot over the floors,” says Gaido, a feisty brunette from Tuscany, where the couple have a summer home near Forte dei Marmi. “He wanted white concrete. But in the end I won,” she says, pointing to the long oak tree. Treated with a traditional combination of oil and wax, the floors have a “sculptural” quality, says Lissoni, who meticulously planned their pattern.
But it’s her soft, soothing hue that really sets her apart. For his previous apartment, in a 1950s building just over a mile away and completed before he met Gaido, Lissoni chose crisp white cast resin floors. Many of the pieces in the new apartment are remnants of that life, including the Le Corbusier and Kjaerholm armchairs in the living room, pieces typically seen in an office. But the oak floors, offset by a Moroccan rug, give the sober furniture a warm residential feel — “and it’s comfortable to walk on barefoot,” adds Gaido.
IN A MINIMALIST home characterized by subtle combinations of different pieces, Lissoni strives above all for striking repetition. “I don’t like having an isolated object,” he says. The living room’s iconic armchairs are each sold in pairs, along with two nearly identical Donald Judd side chairs. Even the apartment itself is arguably two apartments: one inside, divided into a bedroom wing and an open plan common area that includes the living room, dining room and kitchen; and another room, outside on the 3,000-square-foot terrace, which has two areas separated by a perimeter of star jasmine vines and avenues lined with hornbeams. Modern Milan apartment buildings typically have garden-filled courtyards shared by residents, in homage to the city’s historic fortress-like palaces, while the apartments themselves often block the outdoors. Such a private green area, which can be seen from large parts of the apartment, is a rare luxury.
Both the apartment and the terrace needed a thorough makeover, says Lissoni, who knows little about the previous owners except that they seem to have abandoned it: the last incarnation of the terrace — which now resembles a small park even on a rainy autumn day — was a concrete ledge; The interior was divided into a tangle of small rooms. Lissoni tore down all but the load-bearing walls, then added sliding glass walls between the kitchen and dining room and a network of doors in the bedroom wing. The couple uses the second bedroom as their home office and can use the new doors to open up the private areas like a loft or to seal them off completely.
The building itself is a curiosity: an 18-story brick-clad high-rise designed in the early 1950s by Alessandro Pasquali, an Italian modernist architect who flourished in Italy during Fascist times. These days, with its massive brickwork façade and streamlined balconies, it vaguely recalls a Brutalist experiment from a decade or two later, but Orsina Simona Pierini, professor of architecture at the Politecnico di Milano, Lissoni’s alma mater, says it’s rooted in the past – Second World War, adding that the building’s placement, set back from the street, creates a kind of island in the very heart of the city. The unusual architecture of the building reminds Lissoni of the work of Le Corbusier from the 1940s and 1950s; indeed, modernism in all its forms has been a beacon for him since he began collecting cutting-edge design in the 1970s.
In the apartment’s office, pride of place is given to a late 1940’s white plastic Charles and Ray Eames La Chaise. As everywhere, there are surprising combinations. Just outside the main door, in the apartment’s private entrance, is a rare blue version of Sottsass’ Ultrafragola mirror; Beyond the threshold stands a 300-year-old Chinese pot in gray ceramic on a raw steel stand designed by Lissoni. The master bedroom’s seating area is outfitted with a 1980s neo-modernist armchair by Japanese designer Shiro Kuramata and a 1950s marble-topped table by Eero Saarinen, but the bed itself – just a mattress for now – is made with precision on a rich blue Chinese Carpet placed around 1900.
This accuracy belies the fact that Lissoni is happy to change his mind. The apartment has two anchor pieces — a late 19th-century monochromatic Japanese folding screen, now in the hallway, and an 18th-century Japanese armoire currently in the living room — which the architect says he keeps thinking about moved from room to room. When asked what he would change about the apartment, he now says, “Everything.”
However, he unreservedly praises one new acquisition: white ceramics cougar, an apple-like embellishment given to the couple as a housewarming gift. Pumi are considered good luck charms in southern Italy and are usually placed in pairs on either side of the front gate of a home. Here there is only one that is used as a centerpiece on the dining table. Although Lissoni has had to ditch the idea of all-white floors, and even compromised with his wife on their new Living Divani sofa, which is cream at best, he has gotten his wish with the Pumo, which is 9010, if there is anything at all.
But who knows how long it will remain on the table. One can imagine that the homeowners are constantly re-evaluating and re-adjusting these artifacts until the immaculate dwelling is a little worn. Milan has been hit hard by the pandemic, causing delays in completing the home – which in turn gave Lissoni more time to experiment and remodel. “Luckily,” he recalls, “someone said, ‘Piero, that’s that!'” And so the house and its occupants are standing still, at least for the time being.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/24/t-magazine/piero-lissoni-milan-apartment.html Piero Lissoni can’t stop reinventing his Milan apartment