At Via Londonio 29, near Parco Sempione, a former cookware factory has been converted into the headquarters of Milan-based architecture firm m2atelier. The building is both home and office to Marco Bonelli and Marijana Radovic, a couple in life and at work. The design was realized a few years ago, when the two architects acquired the building spaces and redesigned than to create an environment where their studio and residence blend seamlessly together. m2atelier’s headquarters are an optimal expression of the studio’s identity, based on a multidisciplinary approach, never-ending experimentation and meticulous attention to detail.
The building as it stands today is the culmination of a design that was built step by step through extensions and subsequent transformations, leading up to today’s configuration. The studio occupies the main portion of the building, the wing along the courtyard, an open space with areas set aside for meetings, a space for prototypes and a materials library, which lies at the heart of this architectural workshop.
m2atelier operates via an ever-evolving creative process, exploring a variety of solutions, willing and able to be contaminated by artistic inspiration. This crucible of architecture came into being in 2012, when the studio founded by Bonelli - BAMdesign, which also had offices also in New York - joined forces with the Radovic-Standby practice, based initially in Belgrade and Athens. Working within the framework of cosmopolitan Milan, by merging together these two professional outfits have been able to operate as an international studio with robust experience in a number of sectors, ranging from residences to hotels, retail, nautical and product design.
Among the various retail projects created by the studio for high-end companies such as Dolce & Gabbana and Furla, we find several signature boutiques, including for René Caovilla in Dubai and for Drumohr in Milan. The former is a refined concept that reflects the elegance of the historic Venetian luxury shoemaker. The centerpiece of the design is a golden dome resembling a hoop petticoat, the kind worn by 19th-century women to support their skirts. The walls of the store are covered in lacquered wood paneling; the floors are Calacatta marble. The color palette is a dialogue between pastel tones, crystals, and electroplated gilded surfaces.
The Drumohr boutique in Milan is located within Palazzo Borromeo. In this setting, m2atelier created an environment with a sophisticated and masculine character for the flagship store of the oldest of all men’s tailoring brands. The flooring is made of oak with an interleafed pattern; the walls are blue in color, with a velvet effect. The furnishings combine wooden elements inspired by old gym apparatus, and others made out of brass tubing.
Ongoing research into materials, the stylistic hallmark of the Bonelli and Radovic studio, is amply expressed in their design to convert a previous hotel into the Four Points by Sheraton hotel in Mestre (Venice). m2atelier oversaw redevelopment of the common areas, the new restaurant, the spa, indoor garden and ancillary spaces. Coppered finishes, a reference to the Corten cladding on the main façade, in color terms combined with different shades of gray and taupe, is the leitmotif of the interior design. Cementitious resins were used for the floors; two large wooden portals mark out the entrance to the two main ground floor wings.
Marco Bonelli and Marijana Radovic
m2atelier’s work is characterized by a multidisciplinary approach, ongoing research into materials, spaces and proportions, and attention to detail. How much of each of the two of you comes out in these aspects?
We both hail from different yet complementary backgrounds. Having had the opportunity and good fortune to work in a variety of fields, from architecture to hospitality, residential, nautical, retail and product design, we always pool our experiences to serve the creative process, while trying to avoid repetition or self-quotation.
We always work together during the initial creative phase, bouncing ideas off each other, engaging in productive internal debate with our team. We always try to strike a balance between visionary ideas and pragmatism. After lots of toing-and-froing, we almost always reach a point of equilibrium.
We surround ourselves with coworkers who have a variety of skills, people from different backgrounds. We work in an environment conceived as an orderly contamination of fluid spaces. Even if it looks like a haphazard collection of samples, our cryptically-ordered materioteca (materials library) is something that we enrich after every project; it truly represents who we are.
We often pursue and explore several solutions in parallel, because, we believe, there is no single, valid solution; on the contrary, we are sure it is useful for clients to explore more than one solution at depth.
Your office is also your home: what design process did you follow for such a significant place?
Our office is in a sense a true extension of ourselves and our lives, both practically and directly. This is not surprising, given that it is on the ground floor of the building where we live. It is an integral part of who we are, in the broadest sense of the expression.
The practice and residence make up an inseparable whole, one that is physically directly connected, part of a synergy-creating project. This became a reality in 2012, even if it started a long time before. We had long wanted to integrate professionalism and skills, to enter into a dialogue with a variety of professionals, to cross-pollinate architecture with other artistic disciplines, bringing in disparate influences from distant worlds to Milan, and everything it offers.
An integrated set of environments breaks down boundaries between private life and the public domain, between home and work. It unifies the design experience and how we live; it is the base from which we strike out and to which we always return; it is the beating heart that pumps out ideas and projects, where people meet and relationships are formed, where we come to recharge and then head off again.
Seeing that we spend most of our time in the office, it was vital for us to recreate an environment that somehow reflected us, that was both pleasant to be in and inspiring for everyone. The practice’s open space facilitates and stimulates cross-sector sharing in our design approach, while the materials library and the various samples, in which we are constantly immersed, throw up a wide variety of often surprising solutions. The studio is the crucible of our research, one that is constantly evolving and changing.
Edoardo Caovilla is the third generation of the family in charge of this luxury shoemaker, while Drumohr is the oldest men’s tailoring brand around. When designing boutiques for brands with such immense heritage, how do you interpret their historical value, and most important, how do you design a space that is contemporary yet innovative?
When we set out to design a space and a design concept for a brand, the first thing we do is truly understand the product and its story. Two brands with incredible traditions, Caovilla and Drumohr, gave us countless insights and jumping-off points for research to design their spaces.
For us, it is about designing for the future in a fresh, innovative and contemporary way, communicating that historical value is a mark of reliability, a guarantee that not many can boast. In our opinion, this message must be whispered, skillfully conveyed with discretion, without shouting about it. It is about being perceived rather than seen.
The Caovilla boutique combines contemporary style and sophisticated creativity with a new concept to represent the brand’s values of elegance, heritage and innovation. To enter a Caovilla store is to dive into a sophisticated atmosphere that alludes to a Venetian salon, a perfect showcase for “bejeweled shoes known as works of art”. Traditional Venetian materials like gilded surfaces and decor, valuable wood, crystal glass and marble add a contemporary tinge to the matt and glossy surfaces, mirroring the way the brand’s DNA is evolving. The warm and elegant colors of the interior manage to create a space where it’s the shoe that is the star.
The Drumohr boutique story is of an elegant, sophisticated, masculine atmosphere, combining details and solutions that enhance the brand renewal journey the oldest men’s tailoring brand has been following. We created furnishings and decor to enhance Drumohr’s Italian craftsmanship and aesthetics, incorporating touches that range from modernity to tradition. The overall effect we sought was to create a perfect harmony between architecture and sartorial tradition, using technical and aesthetic solutions to enhance the parts of the whole without any one prevailing over any other. The resulting physical and visual harmony makes for a unique atmosphere, one that the unchanging spirit of the Drumohr brand has been channeling for centuries.
At the Four Points by Sheraton Venice Mestre, the Corten façade “evoked a material dialogue with the interior”. Starting from this example, how do you develop the dialogue between the exterior of the building and the interior design in your projects? What about material choices?
Context is always a key part of our work, whether it be a physical location, as in the case of the Four Points hotel in Mestre (Venice), or a more abstract concept such as a client’s personality. Our design is almost always a response to the context, in dialogue with it. Sometimes this follows a symbiotic, complementary approach; at other times, a contrasting, counterbalancing approach.
Here, the exterior, the building envelope - which was not touched in the redevelopment - features Corten cladding surfaces that pick out the main façade. This “strong” image suggested a material comparison on the inside too, one that we made explicit with sliding walls of copper-plated expanded metal that enhances the hall with an interplay of light, shadow and three-dimensional optical effects.
We consolidated our design choices, catering to the client’s requirements and the hotel’s target demographic. We focused on a restrained color palette to homogenize the specificities of our chosen materials. We used cementitious resin for the floors, stretched mesh for the walls, fabrics, back-lacquered glass, and ceramic slabs, technologically high-performance materials that also conjure up an elegant, sophisticated style, here distinguished by various shades of gray and taupe with accents of shiny and matte copper.
Art has always been a major source of inspiration to you. How do aesthetics and function interact in architecture?
Art is an integral part of our lives, right through our growth, as a source of inspiration for our projects, a tool for educating our children, and a reference point for cultivating our creativity.
For us, the hallmark feature of a good design is compositional balance and skillful use of materials to convey character and personality to the space, against the backdrop of a never-ending dialogue between architectural elements and artworks that is in our DNA.
These precious elements tell a story, imbue a space with character, convey style and passion. They bear witness to a love of beauty, a common thread in a design approach that ideally integrates architecture and memory, nature and art, and design and tradition.
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