The story behind Panna raw earth is linked to James through a life experience that also led me to the world of Anglo-Saxon design and pure minimalism. When, together with James, we took on the space for the Studio Irvine (which is still located today on the first floor of an inner space around the courtyard of a historic building in the Navigli area) we decided to finish the renovations with a pure white plaster, (RAL 9016 “Traffic white”), which was a slightly dirty white, not that absolute minimal shot of pure white. Years later in 2005, when I needed to renovate the studio again (James had just passed away), I had recently met Matteo and started working with him on the identity of the company. So one day, I told him:
“Bit by bit I think that for the Studio, I’m going to use Panna as plaster ...”
But then we did a test on a wall and I was almost shocked; there was white 9016, along with all the multi-coloured objects that populated the studio, and that overly structured Panna had nothing to do with it, it dirtied things; it was almost like entering a cave. I was probably not yet ready for what I would later call “three-dimensional material minimalism” and which could be traced through a long design path in which I would discover the attraction for environments that are always clear, still minimal, but capable of being material and structured at the same time.
Today, as a result of this impression I use the new Panna tone in almost all the interiors I design. I will also use it on the next assignment.
The last interior that we have just finished is an apartment in Naples on the attic floor of a historic building right in the centre of the Spanish quarter; an area that may seem dangerous, but where I can move around in complete freedom. When I saw it for the first time, I didn't know where to start, it was so full of improbable objects scattered everywhere that it almost felt like living in the countryside. It had an outstanding view over the entire city, which inspired our whole project. Today those almost unrecognizable spaces define a highly complex, almost surreal environment which makes the apartment, which is not huge, seem much larger than it actually is.
The large window of the upstairs room offers a truly rare perspective, capturing the dome of San Francesco di Paola in Piazza del Plebiscito and at the same time Vesuvius, also visible from a small round window in the living room (the circle element usually appears in all my design projects).
The owner was a Neapolitan lady who had a very popular fashion shop in the city; an alternative-bourgeois shop, a bit snobbish and a bit pop, with interiors jazzed up by highly striking colours, lights and so on. By contrast, she wanted us to create an almost “Zen” home for her, using local materials in a dry and relaxing language. For this reason we started with Piperno, a local stone quarried directly from Vesuvius and historically used in the Spanish neighbourhoods and which in this case was used as a base for the fireplace, around which raw earth finishes were applied in soft but warm colours like Vinaccia and Ginger. In this case, the clay was applied as a paint, not with a spatula. This was a simpler procedure but one which still gave an idea of three-dimensionality.
The mood is defined by the pitch black flooring and the Panna plaster painted on all the walls, including those in the bathrooms, where however the clay was applied using a spatula so as to be much more resistant to humidity. The furniture was made to measure, often in the same colour as the Panna and with many items, such as the concrete table, still to be made.
To pave the large outdoor terrace however, we used brick tiles with the access step in Piperno stone, which seems to have fallen there directly from Vesuvius. The stairs are also all black; it seems to have been used in every part of the work. In all, the house also incorporates three staircases which are completely separated from each other. The last, on the terrace and completely suspended, was built from scratch to access the glass cage of the elevator systems since this was a condominium space that had to remain accessible to all. Every day the owner leaves her pop world, crosses the light-filled greenhouse that constitutes the passageway to the apartment and lets herself be captured by her personal space, in which she relaxes completely. The house is almost empty at the moment, it has very little in the way of furnishings but she already lives there and is very happy.
The transition from white to Panna raw earth also meant the material becoming a bit more mine. It was an experiment both for Matteo and me; a journey in search of an identity that took time, also because of the fact that some of the most important encounters in my life were overlapping. First there was my introduction to the bourgeois, precise, clearly defined Milanese world, then there was that of Enzo Mari and finally the Anglo-Saxon world, which is yet another school, featuring the industrial product that is pure but open and without prejudice, just like James and Jasper Morrison, both wonderful people. During these encounters I learned what timeless was, something designed and studied not as product over design, but as something to last forever. At that time I was emerging from having studied with Dalisi, which was pure poetry and I had to somehow “castrate” myself, quell the initial creativity and discover what was concealed in those new, much more structured worlds. Dalisi had taught me to be free in my gestures, in generating curves; there was no limit.
I remember when as an exercise in architectural design he invited me to make two trees fall in love; a pine and a willow - two completely different trees. The first has a sturdy trunk and grows upwards towards the light while the other is more like a woman, a little agitated with its “hair” hanging down towards the ground. From their reciprocal movement, studied through metal models, a shape emerged which through consulting the technical tables (because architecture must always stand upright), turned out to be a church.
When you are young you already possesses your own identity, but as time passes you need to give it a meaning, a reason: this means giving it a structure and working with Panna was my first real step in this sense.
If today I had to repaint the studio, I would have no such concerns or doubts like before: it would be entirely Panna. I want a slightly muffled environment, in which to feel more protected, and where even the light seems more three-dimensional.