Vincent Van Duysen’s Molteni Group Flagship Store Brings a Strong Dose of Italian Design to Madison Avenue
The Belgian architect discusses his “Italian DNA,” the New York flagship store, and designing across all scales.
Vincent Van Duysen is not an architect who believes in the hierarchy of design disciplines. For the Belgian designer, interiors and furniture belong to the same project. Though based in Belgium, Van Duysen started his career in Milan, and his relationship with Italy has remained strong ever since. He currently serves as Molteni&C’s creative director, and also designs furniture and showrooms for the company. The Molteni Group Flagship Store, which opened on Madison Avenue on Friday, May 18, marks a new era for the company’s showroom design: For the first time, the partner brands Molteni&C, Dada, Unifor, and Citterio are presented in one unified space. Metropolis’s senior editor Katie Okamoto sat down with Van Duysen in the new space to discuss the architect’s integrated approach to design.
Katie Okamoto: You’re known for ‘total design’ spaces—an intentional weaving of architecture, interiors, and furniture. Many architects cross over into furniture design, but your approach is less object-based.
Vincent Van Duysen: I never ever disconnected my interiors or my furniture from my architecture. As a young architect, I was most interested in how people were living, and the art of living, so I started working in Milan for a couple of years, and I worked briefly as a decorator to understand that work. What are people requesting? How do they want to live in their houses? I believe this made me what I am right now. I’m always talking about domestic architecture, because my architecture and interiors speak the same language.
KO: What is it like to design in an ‘Italian way’ for a classic Italian company like Molteni&C, as someone who isn’t from Italy?
VVD: As I said, I lived for two years in Milan after I earned my degree, and ever since I have had a non-stop relationship with Italy. I’m very familiar with the Italian culture, with the aesthetics, with their love for beauty, their sense of proportion, after collaborating over many years with Italian designers. I sometimes think I must be have a little Italian DNA.
KO: For this new showroom, did you consciously bring in that “Italian DNA”? We’re surrounded by Italian materials like travertine and walnut. And you planned rooms instead of an open floor.
VVD: When I first came into this building about two years ago, it was an empty box. I was surprised by its volume and spaciousness. It was dominated by these huge structural concrete columns. There was no soul, no emotion, nothing.
Once you come in, you immediately meet that really big column, which in the beginning was a challenge. How can we incorporate something like that in front of the door? But now it signals the importance of the shop.
I always wanted to show the furniture pieces in a very domestic way. Little by little we started working in a very rational way and blending in Italian heritage — the flair of Italian villas, and even a little touch of Art Deco in the materials. You go from one room to another room, which are each defined by these arcades in travertine. There are so many different types of travertine. I love the material; it’s soft, it has enough movement in it, and it has a richness, a solidity. Walking through those transitions, you feel you are entering a palazzo. You’re entering the Italian world.
KO: The showroom is hosting The Collector’s House, an exhibition curated by Caroline Corbetta, which features contemporary artists—Santo Tolone, Stephen Felton, Bedwyr Williams, Jacopo Miliani, Alek O. Did you think about the pieces in the space from the beginning? Did you design around them?
VVD: I never designed ‘around’ the pieces. Instead, in my mind when I start a project, I design enough wall space and consider what could be focal points dedicated to art, even without knowing the art piece whatsoever. We plan and select afterwards where we’re going to put the art pieces.
As an art collector myself, the space should be a constant dialogue — the art communicating with the space, and also the artworks communicating with each other. The artworks transmit messages that sometimes are in a conflict with the aesthetics of the interior, but mentally and spiritually they open your mind.
KO: It seems you like to design with an element of surprise.
VVD: I like to design for surprises. In this space, those columns are very surprising. Each time you walk through the rooms, you will be surprised by how I incorporated those structural concrete columns. And the staircase is also a surprise. Once you go downstairs and turn around in the space, and you see the staircase, you will say, ‘Wow.’ But I never want to do it in an ostentatious way.
In the end, I aim to calm the senses and create spaces that can even become sanctuaries for people who are living hectic lives. That’s my goal in all my projects, even in my furniture. It’s a matter of re-dimensioning or giving them subtle details, a personal touch. People have to feel comfortable and happy in their spaces.
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