MY EXPERIENCE, FROM THE HOTEL INDUSTRY TO PRODUCT BRANDING
Spatially speaking, my career in design ideally connects Florence and Milan. I began working on hotel design and restyling on behalf of the Florence-based Starhotels Group, and expanded my expertise through multiple projects in major world cities such as Paris, London, New York, Rome, Monte Carlo and Miami. These were projects in hospitality as well as homes, offices and retail spaces, spanning over 20 years, with successes and challenges I always face and address with enthusiasm and a positive spirit. Eventually, I returned to set up shop in Milan, my home town, where I’m still currently based.
ENCOUNTERS, PEOPLE, PROJECTS
I studied at the European Institute of Design (IED), where I graduated in Interior Design in 1997. Studying there provided a cosmopolitan context that inspired me greatly. In my two years working at Andrea Branzi’s Studio, I was part of a proper familia in the true Renaissance sense. I can still remember and still miss the atmosphere, the bonds we created and the amazing inspirations we shared, with treasured ideas that still define my design approach. To me, Florence is best represented by my experience with Starhotels, a family-owned hotel group founded 40 years ago by Ferruccio Fabri. He started as an ordinary construction builder and boldly worked his way up to the first hotel he bought in Florence, which he renovated rather than demolish, as many had recommended. Starhotels presently owns and manages 29 hotels worldwide. Ferruccio initiated my journey with Starhotels with an extremely grounded and concrete approach to a common stylistic thread that all the hotels share. With his daughter Elisabetta, the adventure continued and evolved, marking the start of an intense, decades-long collaboration. Ferruccio’s pragmatic approach consistent with an idea of hospitality typical of the 90s was later integrated with Elisabetta’s more progressive and visionary style, which resulted in a comprehensive and gradual renovation and restyling programme where each hotel becomes a story in itself, innovative and full of charm, in tune with the contemporary perception of 4 and 5-star hotels.
For Starhotels, I designed both the guest rooms and the public spaces such as the halls, restaurants, bars and fitness areas as well as the façades and external detailing. My personal favourite is one we recently finished, the Tourist Hotel in via Fulvio Testi, in Milan. A bit of a quirky project, with a pixelated facade that turned a gloomy and outdated site into a fun statement building. Through my work, I interpret the overall vision of Starhotels where each hotel is an individual and distinct story, with different characteristics, type of clientele and level of service. Each hotel is also in a different city, and we all know how Venice is a world apart from Florence, Milan or Rome. Budgeting is also an aspect I oversee as it is so closely linked to the design and construction process.
FROM FLORENCE TO MILAN
Over the past few years, my activity with the Starhotels Group has been a constant commitment alongside a series of different other jobs that led me to open my own studio, first in Florence and later in Milan. My collaboration with Starhotels was later enriched with further projects of hotels, art galleries, homes and office and retail spaces.
In my projects there’s a lot of product design involved. For both hotels and homes, I design the furniture and all the textiles, wallpapers, rugs and curtains. It’s genuine tailor-made work where the project, the client and the site determine a specific type of approach. Each project starts as a blank canvas and a new challenge, which I feel confident I can face and manage using my prior experience, while never repeating myself.
I mainly trust my intuition for inspiration. I am endlessly curious and often get ideas for solutions while just having a walk or digesting whatever’s around me. I drink it all in and then translate my inspiration into objects and systems which are then made by trusted carpenters, upholsterers, makers and crafters who have worked with me for many years. They are mostly based in Italy only because I seek specific excellence and skills that you wouldn’t find elsewhere.
RESTYLING AS A VALUE
In my exploration of style, I range from a fresh and classic style to a warmer and more contemporary one that never feels cold or too minimalistic. I operate in a very wide range of styles and also materials. I particularly enjoy restyling projects, especially for hotels. And even the so-called ‘soft styling’, whenever the client has to be particularly budget conscious. Restyling is about reusing and upcycling existing objects to give them an interesting new life. Restyling adds great value. I like to create the new, but also to repair and recover the old whilst it’s still valuable. That’s a truly exciting challenge to me. A few years ago I designed and furnished a few suites of a hotel in Venice where we recovered and upcycled a few historical drawings by Venini and Seguso and enhanced them with classic gilded frames that we recovered from old pictures. We paired the classic and the modern together and got an exciting result. We managed to achieve a lot with very little and still represent our culture and sense of locality.
SUSTAINABLE APPROACH AND CHOICE OF MATERIALS
I see each hotel I design as a living creature, therefore sustainability in its design and management 24/7 and 365 days a year is absolutely key. In Milan I designed the Echo Hotel for Starhotels, which won the 2012 European Hotel Design Awards in London as Best Sustainable Hotel in Europe. I take the energy footprint into consideration from the get-go and use recycled materials wherever possible, depending on the type of project and on how central sustainability is to the client. I also design each piece in order for it to be easy to clean and maintain once in use. I’m also often involved in evaluating the room staff’s working shifts as they significantly affect the running costs.
In terms of materials, I’m open to many different possibilities. I’m not particularly excited about materials per se and each project has its own range. I love to experiment and take risks, but I’m also flexible. Fun solutions created from humble materials create a strong emotional response, but are just as valid as a synthetic reproduction of teak wood, which gives a spectacular effect within a small budget. I also love materials that speak of their locality, such as sandstone, terracotta and leather in Tuscany, for example. Or marble, brocade and hand blown glass in Venice. This is an era where we look carefully to use natural materials. We can’t rule out the use of synthetic materials altogether, but we can make sure we do it in a tasteful and appropriate way.
A NEW ADVENTURE
The most recent chapter of my career and personal creative pursuit is Silorian, a brand and showcase of home products featuring a series of stylised motifs of butterflies, monkeys, beetles, parrots and more from a collection of original hand-painted pictures. Silorian’s quirky menagerie always looks stylish on a variety of objects and materials to create fun and function in any space.