Liv­ing leg­end

New Zealand de­sign­ers col­lab­o­rate on the re­open­ing of a 1940s master­piece

HOME Magazine NZ - - Contents - Text Tom Mor­ris Pho­tog­ra­phy Mary Gaudin

For a fes­ti­val that prides it­self on show­ing the very best con­tem­po­rary de­sign, it was an in­ter­est­ing slight that the word on ev­ery­one’s lips at this April’s edi­tion of the an­nual Salone del Mo­bile in Mi­lan was a 70-year-old house that has been empty for a decade. Villa Bor­sani is a res­i­dence de­signed by Os­valdo Bor­sani – an Ital­ian ar­chi­tect, de­signer and founder of fur­ni­ture man­u­fac­turer Tecno – and built be­tween 1939 and 1945. It was a labour of love, with Bor­sani rop­ing in nu­mer­ous peers (Lu­cio Fon­tana on a fire­place, Ar­naldo Po­modoro on a brass head­board, Adri­ano Spil­im­bergo on a bath­room mo­saic) to cre­ate a home for his brother’s fam­ily. It was lo­cated next to the work­shop first set up by Bor­sani’s fa­ther, which even­tu­ally be­came the Tecno fac­tory. Three gen­er­a­tions lived there un­til 2008, when it was closed up. A decade later, the villa tem­po­rar­ily re-opened as Casa Lib­era – a liv­ing, breath­ing open house cu­rated by Lon­don-based de­sign con­sul­tant Am­bra Medda. “The house was pure per­fec­tion, so there wasn’t re­ally a lot for me to do,” she says. Medda worked closely with Auck­land-based stylist Katie Lock­hart on jump­start­ing the space. This was no sim­ple mat­ter of dust­ing off old cur­tains, nor just restor­ing fur­ni­ture, al­though both hap­pened. Santa Maria Novella soap was placed in the bath­rooms next

Right The stair­case is a re­mark­able state­ment and achieve­ment in white mar­ble and Mu­rano glass.

to new, hand­wo­ven tow­els, and a sound­track of lounge mu­sic was played through­out the home. “I didn’t want to med­dle with per­fec­tion. The idea was to just breathe a bit of life into it and make sure peo­ple felt wel­come,” says Medda. Medda and Lock­hart flew over New Zealan­ders So­phie Wolan­ski, founder of florist Muck Flo­ral in Auck­land, and de­signer Harry Were, to help in­vig­o­rate the space. “I reg­u­larly col­lab­o­rate with both So­phie and Harry for my work; it was a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion that they help with this project and fill it with their won­der­ful en­ergy,” says Lock­hart. The link with New Zealand was more co­in­ci­den­tal than con­cep­tual, but in­vig­o­rat­ing nonethe­less. “I had never stepped into a place like it – the in­ge­nu­ity and at­ten­tion to de­tail,” says Wolan­ski. “It was like a time cap­sule, good and bad.” The first sign of her hand was re­vealed on en­ter­ing the mil­i­tantly ar­chi­tec­tural arches that frame the log­gia. There, two up­turned and sus­pended ‘Arnold Cir­cus’ stools by Martino Gam­per were filled with blooms. “It was the first hint of a new en­ergy in the house,” says Wolan­ski. Ar­range­ments were placed through­out the two-storey home – a huge dis­play un­der the mar­ble and Mu­rano glass stair­case; more rus­tic flo­ral bunches next to beds and on table­tops. Wolan­ski also com­mis­sioned Auck­land’s Mon­mouth Glass Stu­dio to cre­ate vases for her dis­plays, ar­riv­ing ahead of Salone del Mo­bile to source and or­der flow­ers. The col­lab­o­ra­tors’ joy at the chance to rein­vig­o­rate this ar­chi­tec­turally sig­nif­i­cant space was pal­pa­ble – and cer­tainly timely. Bor­sani died in 1985 and de­spite his peers be­ing all the ma­jor Mi­lanese mod­ern masters, such as Gio Ponti and Carlo Scarpa, Bor­sani’s name is not as prom­i­nent in the his­tory books. This ex­hibit and a ret­ro­spec­tive at La Tri­en­nale di Mi­lano over the sum­mer, cu­rated by Nor­man Foster, aims to cor­rect that. All those learn­ing about Bor­sani’s work are set to be as­tounded – whether from near or far. As Lock­hart says: “It’s amaz­ing for us as New Zealan­ders to work within such a space as Villa Bor­sani – there re­ally isn’t any ar­chi­tec­tural equiv­a­lent from this era here to ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Above ‘Arnold Cir­cus’ stools by Martino Gam­per are up­turned and filled with blooms in the log­gia.

Top A loose dis­play of tulips by So­phie Wolan­ski.

Above Hand­wo­ven tow­els hang against a mo­saic bath­room wall.

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