Fit For A Medici
Simone and Roberta Micheli reign over a 15th-century stable in Florence, Italy
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 5/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
In the combined lounge and archive at Studio Simone Micheli in Florence, Italy, the pietra serena limestone floor and brick walls date to the 15th century, when the building was a stable. Simone Micheli designed the cowhide-covered Ata chair and the vinyl-covered benches, all production pieces, as well as custom tables clad in plastic laminate.
In the administrator's office, a custom plastic-laminate desk stands in front of cabinetry clad in digitized graphics by Roberta Micheli.
In reception, a 15-foot-tall wall of cabinets combines plastic-laminate panels and stainless-steel hardware.
A steel-framed opaline-glass wall separates reception from the design studio.
Roberta Micheli's salad supergraphic wraps the 8-foot-high enclosure hiding the reception desk.
Neon-backlit mirrored panels run along two sides of the meeting room, which has a new concrete floor. Simone Micheli designed the steel-framed OO chairs, the custom lacquered table, and the vinyl-covered Polifemo lounge seat, which has a single LED "eye."
To let off steam, Simone Micheli occasionally climbs the cabinetry in reception.
Roberta Micheli designed the photomural in her graphics office, which occupies a 1990's building behind the 15th-century stable.
The meeting room opens to a courtyard.
In his own separate office, Simone Micheli used plastic laminate for the table, desk, and shelving, all custom. The graphics are by Roberta Micheli.
|Lucky are the Italians. Especially those who lay claim to a quattrocento building in Florence.
Architect Simone Micheli was willing to sacrifice the picturesque views from his first office, in the hills of Fiesole, when he discovered a 1400's stable a short walk from the Duomo. Subsequently used as a wine warehouse, then a tannery, the building had a humble grandeur.
After a full year of restoration and restructuring—repairing the characteristic pietra serena limestone floor, stripping the brick walls and fir ceiling beams, and painting most surfaces white—the stable supplies historical gravitas to counterbalance today's slick surfaces and idiosyncratic digital imagery. The latter is the work of the architect's wife, Roberta, who heads Simone Micheli Studio's graphics arm. As he sees it, the resulting setup reads like an "organic loft."
Reading literally comes into play with the street-front windows, to which Micheli adhered a mission statement of sorts in vinyl letters. "Solo quando un architetto con una forte carica creativa incontra un committente illuminato nasce un opera." ("Only when an architect with a strong creative streak meets an enlightened client can a real work of art be born.")
Inside the 3,800-square-foot building, plastic laminate is the most important addition to the existing envelope of masonry and wood. Shiny black laminate clads the reception area's 15-foot-tall wall of cabinets, their stainless-steel spike handles recalling a rock-climbing wall—especially when Simone Micheli actually climbs it as an energy release. The same black laminate makes a more sedate appearance on the office 'administrator's built-in desk.
Venture into the stone-floored lounge for bright white laminate, which clads the low oblong tables alternating with black vinyl-covered benches of precisely the same proportions. The black-and-white theme is picked up by Simone Micheli's curvy cowhide-covered armchair. Since the lounge doubles as the studio's archive, there's also cabinetry here: white-painted steel with black steel handles. If ever there were an argument for the compatibility of minimalism across the centuries, this is it.
The lounge is wrapped on two sides by an L-shape open design studio. When members of the 20-person staff leave their desks to confer with clients, the meeting takes place in a vaulted brick room with a new concrete floor—a Renaissance grotto crossed with a contemporary art gallery. In a cool spatial trick, Simone Micheli paneled the sidewalls in mirror backlit by neons. "The unique light effect and play of reflections are amplified by the rough surrounding brick," he explains.
His furniture designs in the meeting room range from the sedate to the lively to the downright outré. The white-lacquered Parsons table couldn't be simpler, while orange-upholstered chairs with spindly steel frames have the leggy grace of grasshoppers. Freeform lounge seating, a white vinyl-covered de- sign called Polifemo, has one glowering red LED "eye."
Equally witty, Roberta Micheli's plastic-laminate digitized supergraphics wrap unexpected surfaces. A leafy green salad adorns the 8-foot-high enclosure that encircles the receptionist—who keeps track of comings and goings via video monitor. By the office administrator's desk, giant succulent lemons climb tall cabinetry.
Roberta and Simone Micheli do their work in two small separate buildings set behind the stable, its rear courtyard, and a long, narrow garden. Built as storehouses in the 1990's, the 270-square-foot brick structures required significant reinforcing before being turned into offices. Now, they boast grape-printed plastic-laminate furniture (his), a steel work table (hers), and arresting wall treatments (both). Roberta Micheli's office visually enlarges the garden with a photomural of an outdoor scene. Her husband's brings the greenery indoors by virtue of a mirrored end wall.
"I consider this project a three-dimensional portrait of me and my wife," Simone Micheli says. "It's a happy space to work in, a place to dream with one's eyes wide open."