Meet Italian ‘furniture sculptor’ Vincenzo de Cotiis
Timeless’, as an adjective, is often casually thrown around in writing about design, but how else do you describe the work of Italian architect, furniture designer and gallerist Vincenzo de Cotiis? His Milanbased practice combines old and new in pieces that redefine the ‘timeless’ by carefully crafting a new design language that celebrates every stage of a material’s life. ‘The objects are a new iconographic and morphological alphabet composed of signs that take hold of the past, just as they do the future,’ says De Cotiis. In September, he will open an exhibition, En Plein Air (Outdoors), at Carpenters Workshop Gallery in London, where 20 ‘furniture-sculptures’, all of which are handmade by Italian artisans, will be displayed in the same space that has showcased work by greats such as Rick Owens, Yinka Shonibare and Studio Job. The collection of seating, lighting, tables, cabinets and bookshelves combines semiprecious stones, Murano glass, recycled resin and cast brass to celebrate the 19th-century art movement – also named Plein Air – that the show is named after. Plein Air painters, including impressionists such as Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Edgar Degas, all took their studio easels and canvases outdoors, breaking the academy’s studio rules to capture natural light, shade, and colour. More modern art movements also inspired part of De Cotiis’ vision. ‘[The En Plein Air exhibition] is a manifesto of pure naturalistic inspiration, a quintessence of everything that the movements of the early 20th century had established. The chromaticism of the materials derives from pointillism, while pre-Cubist geometries and organic expressionist schemes alternate in perpetual rhythm, de-structuring the classical canons [and] forging them into the contemporary world,’ he says. De Cotiis’ unique approach to the design process allows each project the space to develop, and be completed, at its own pace. Rather than demanding a realised design, he organically adjusts his original plans to evolve as they are made. ‘In reality, my pieces are never finished,’ he says. ‘The materials I work with change over time, reacting to the atmosphere, and they continue to evolve. But I love things that have suffered through time. Time corrodes. It makes everything different. Any material, any object; I like it having been weathered by time.’
Italian classicism permeates the process as well, with a distinctly futuristic glimmer – much like Milan, where De Cotiis is based. In the midst of all the iconic Italian city’s centuries-old architecture and sculpture, bold contemporary work springs forward with the same brave spirit as the old masterpieces they live alongside.
De Cotiis’ apartment, which he shares with his wife and business partner Claudia Rose, takes this blend of old and new into the domestic space, softening the futuristic edges of his furniture into something surprisingly friendly and liveable. The couple completely overhauled a sprawling space in an 18th-century, late baroque building where 200-yearold parquet floors now form a backdrop for Vincenzo’s space-age creations. Walls have been stripped of years of paint to reveal their bare surfaces – the perfect balance to the high shine of brass fittings by De Cotiis, as well as plush peach velvet loungers. Marble gleams in the bathroom alongside trompe l’oeil marble paint effects on the walls, which were created by the original 18th-century owners.
‘True beauty is found in the parts you cannot see,’ says De Cotiis, and it’s through work like his that we get to appreciate the parts we may have missed, or didn’t find the time to imagine. En Plein Air runs at Carpenters Workshop Gallery in London from 15 September to 23 November. carpentersworkshopgallery.com