Clay Talks Episode #4: FRANCESCO GASPERINI + GIACOMO DOMENICONI
Guido Musante: where do we start from?
Giacomo Domeniconi: from 1946, the year my paternal grandparents left the countryside to arrive in Cesenatico, where they started the inn. They used the ground floor as a fish tavern, while the first floor was their home. It was called Osteria Ponte del Gatto (Cat's Bridge Tavern) - da Nino ('Nino' written in block letters because the innkeeper's name was more important than the inn's). The grandparents were the pioneers of catering on the Porto Canale Leonardesco.
Guido Musante: and now you...
Giacomo Domeniconi: Yes, together with my partner, Alessandra. I decided to take up the family tradition after graduating in Interior Design at the IED in Milan: we both felt the need to breathe sea air again. In a year of work, we completely overhauled the place, transforming the Osteria into the Locanda Remare (TN: “remare” means “rowing”): a fish restaurant with rooms on the upper floor, which we rent out as a room&breakfast. The name we chose has a double meaning: it is linked to our main product, fish (the king -of-the-sea), but also to 'manoeuvring the oars to make the boat move': a metaphor symbolising the act of carrying on family traditions. Francesco, who in addition to being my best friend is also a very good architect, has been instrumental along the way.
Guido Musante: How did you experience working together?
Giacomo Domeniconi: Having defined the concept and the internal layout of the spaces, I realised that although there were the foundations to do a good job, it was necessary to grow the project and raise its quality: the next step of calling Francesco was almost natural.
Francesco Gasperini: When Giacomo and Alessandra contacted me, I had been working for a few months at Fiorenzo Valbonesi's asv3 Officina di Architettura studio, and I was completely absorbed by that commitment. Moreover, the Locanda project was already underway, and I didn't want to get too involved in the development of the concept: both of them had trained as interior designers and it was important to me that they first build an idea of the space and what it could become. So, we started having numerous dinners during which we imagined what the space should become: their dream, rather than the technical 'what to do'. After about three months, we found ourselves with the project practically done. I had made a lot of freehand sketches, my favourite way of expressing myself: there are no renderings of the project, only sketches. We managed to complete the renderings in a very short time, using every available hour, even weekends.
Giacomo Domeniconi: The construction site was very challenging, so much so that when we opened the place I thought: 'Oh, now I'm starting to breathe!
Guido Musante: What was the basis for the project?
Francesco Gasperini: We focused first of all on materiality: a character through which we could give the space its own experience, its own memory. The building is developed around a central body, to which a wooden and glass veranda is connected, which had been closed for years. On the short side, facing Porto Canale, we decided to make a flush window and move the entrance where the veranda used to be, designing a small green patio with a bench. A place where people could stop and chat, welcomed like real hosts by Giacomo and Alessandra, who attached great importance to this aspect. From the reception to the entrance there is a perspective view that reaches the open kitchen, fronted by a small shelf on which you can eat, facing the courses.
Giacomo Domeniconi: We wanted every element, from the interior design to the catering to the manner of reception, to develop around the idea of 'informal luxury'. In the furnishings, this concept is realised through qualitative and refined materials, which do not flaunt their value. Simplicity is, in a way, also our way of interpreting environmental sustainability. We have tried to realise a high quality project, both in the gastronomic offer as well as in the furnishings and the hospitality service, but without making everything come from above. In our kitchen we use no more than two or three ingredients per dish, but the results are surprising (sometimes I tell customers that the scarpetta is obligatory...): in design it is the same
Guido Musante: hence the choice of raw earth: a sustainable and 'informally luxurious' 'ingredient'...
Francesco Gasperini: yes, we were fascinated by the refined simplicity of this material. I had already been interested in raw earth by Matteo because of a previous project for PSLab, a lighting design company in Beirut, for which I was looking for a material that would give a particular texture to the walls: it was a kind of plaster, applied with a metal spatula. I remember that someone advised me to contact Matteo Brioni, and I fell in love with his terrain as soon as I saw the samples. In the restaurant, we did the first metre in a matching shade, to counteract the problems of humidity (in this area, all the historical walls are immersed two metres in brackish water, so stains always tend to form, whatever dehumidifying plaster you might use).
Matteo made several variations between the Polvere and Panna shades, until we found the perfect colour point: an off-white with a warm tone. The project is very tailor-made and all details are custom-designed: from the handles to the doors to the stainless steel beer dispenser. For this, it was essential to find the right shade of bonding. In each of the four rooms on the upper floor, we created a bas-relief wall at the head of the bed by applying a different coloured Matteo earth, which also gives the room its name. Senape (mustard) and Cannella (cinnamon) are the two double rooms that overlook the Canal Harbour; the Fango (mud) shade became the Origano (oregano) room, to maintain the association with the kitchen; Pepe Nero (black pepper), on the other hand, would have had the same name as a famous nightclub in the area, so (despite being one of my favourite spices) it became Liquirizia (liquorice).
Guido Musante: How does Matteo's raw earth integrate with the other materials?
Francesco Gasperini: In the restaurant, we used Canaletto walnut, a very elegant material, almost ethereal, but at the same time warm: characteristics that make it interact deeply with the raw earth surfaces. In the restaurant, this wood is applied practically everywhere: in the benches, in the chairs, in the woodwork. I am interested in generating situations in space, I do not seek repetition. That is why in the restaurant, tables three and a half metres long coexist with other circular tables for six people, with a diameter of one metre eighty, while the raw earth plasterwork defines the underlying theme: one is fundamental to the other, and vice versa.
Giacomo Domeniconi: Matteo's choice of raw earth, the different materials that go with it and the interior design in general is also due to the desire for the restaurant not to be monotonous. I hate flat premises, with the same finishes and furnishings throughout. I think it is more interesting to return to a place where you can sit once on a bench, another time at a round table and yet another time at a table for two, perhaps facing the canal. To seek this dynamism, in the renovation project we removed everything - walls, counter walls, cladding, right down to the skeleton of the building - to make the restaurant space dialogue with the veranda, originally separated by glass doors.
Giacomo Domeniconi: During the demolition work, while dismantling a counter-wall at the entrance, we discovered a splayed brick wall of about thirty centimetres. Giacomo and Alessandra decided to leave it in its natural state, with all the screws and the wear and tear of time, despite the knowledge that it will require constant maintenance, because it will throw out salt, as it is completely submerged in port soil. But in that wall you can see all the natural flow of time: a 'living' quality that we also sought in the choice of raw earth.
Guido Musante: Sheet metal is also very important in the project...
Francesco Gasperini: for me, when we talk about catering, we talk about fire. The flamed blue sheet metal of the reception and bar counters is an essential element; they could not be in any other material.
Giacomo Domeniconi: For me, it was not immediately easy to accept the idea of incorporating a material that would have deteriorated over time into a new restaurant. But then I realised that its beauty would be precisely this: to change with time, as if it were alive. We also used sheet metal in the restaurant's main wall, the first one you see when you arrive at the restaurant, which is also the first one you visually encounter when entering the town: the 'Welcome to Cesenatico' visible from outside. In this case we collaborated with De Castelli of Treviso, a company that works with brass and gilded metals, customising a cladding consisting of a series of overlapping circles that resemble the scales of a large metal fish. Here too, the flamed metal plays very interestingly with the raw earth, which forms the finish of the back wall. Many customers are impressed, and some have even confessed to us that they entered the restaurant precisely for that wall. Exactly what we hoped for when we realised it with Matteo.
Guido Musante: Many times in the city, 'orientation signs' are not created for this purpose: they are architectural elements with particular characteristics, sometimes belonging to interior spaces, even the most domestic and private ones. It seems to me that this is also the case here...
Francesco Gasperini: In the whole design of the inn, there is this perceptive exchange with the city. Even the dirty coffee-coloured plaster on the outside echoes the colour of the sails on the historical boats at the entrance to the port. At first we received a lot of criticism for this choice, but over time it has become more and more understood, until it has become completely 'familiar' to the place. Every part of the project is rooted in memory and customs: from the building to the crockery. The plates and glasses, for example, were made by Debora Carlini, a ceramist whose workshop is a few kilometres from Cesenatico: we liked them because they show the rougher side of the material, the dirty and real side.
Guido Musante: In general, I think it is interesting to try to re-imagine design in a traditional way; I don't mean 'traditional' in the classical sense, but as a language that renews itself step by step. Like the art of cooking, for example, but also the wisdom of craftsmen: carpenters, layers, painters...
Francesco Gasperini: it's an image that strikes me a lot. After all, memory is expressed first and foremost in technique. In designing the restaurant, I turned to craftsmen more experienced than myself, applying their knowledge in the realisation of the various elements: from a certain point of view, I did not invent anything.
Giacomo Domeniconi: quite a climb! Re-proposing tradition without changing its guise but adapting its concepts in a contemporary key: on the surface of a wall as well as in the flavours of a dish... beautiful!