Lorenzo Mongiardino, more than being one of Italy’s most celebrated architects, is best thought of as someone who creates environments, more so than creating buildings. From his early work in theatre, the Genoan’s decadent and sumptuous brand of design is still well respected and sought after today.
Although we have seen a move towards minimalism and modernism over the last few decades - not necessarily progress as much as a philosophical cycle - Mangiardino’s luscious interiors have managed never to go out of style. As dramatic as the sets he designed, Mongiardino’s interiors built upon the notion of the stage, the idea of a cohesive illusion. One that, if handled correctly and never compromised, can be lived in wholly.
Despite never being a particularly famous designer outside of this realm, he’s widely regarded as one of the best ever. Scarcity was one of his defining characteristics. He didn’t want to become a pop culture icon or a media personality, nor did he want to work for anybody who would offer a large enough paycheque. He was a scholar of design and each of his works had an overarching concept. What he made straddled the line between theory and practice.
His clientele were aristocrats, the super-rich, those to whom price is an afterthought, but also people to whom he shared a vision. You weren’t really paying for a designer at all, in many ways, but an artist. This meant that the whole was of more value than the constituent parts. Floors were made to look marble, walls to look like classical scenery, but all together, in its entirety, it was grand.
His house for visionary designer Gianni Versace perfectly embodied the Italian pomp that the two shared, a way of seeing the world that was steeped in their country’s rich past. This particular project resulted in a palatial space that could easily pass as one of the halls of the Louvre, or a room in one of Italy’s many hallowed palazzos.
He considered his work to be ‘decorative architecture’, employing many of the same craftsmen that worked with him in theatre, as detailed in his Roomscapes book. Many of the processes were the same too. Cornicing would be plastic moulds, wall panels could be well-painted plywood. He was, in architectural and interior design terms, the master of illusion.
What was no illusion though, was the feelings he could conjure. They were majestic, melancholic, seductive and flamboyant, an escape from the contemporary world, a portal to the past, a place where - for the right price - you could live like a king or a queen.
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