Cindy Coleman -- Interior Design, 1/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
After delighting Milan with superb breads, pizzas, and cakes for 15 years, baker Rocco Princi is known locally as the Armani del Pane. So it's fitting that he hired the Italian fashion king's favorite firm, Claudio Silvestrin Architects, to design a Princi bakery and shop near swank Corso Como.
For numerous Giorgio Armani stores worldwide—as well as projects for Calvin Klein and other aficionados of stylish minimalism—principal Claudio Silvestrin has practiced absolute purity of design. The 2,250-square-foot, two-level space he created for the Princi panetteria is likewise stripped down to the bare essentials, so the simple sensual pleasures associated with bread-making can be fully indulged.
In a visual coup de théâtre, Silvestrin sandwiched the bakery's street-level kitchen between the storefront windows and an internal glass wall. Visible to both the customers in the shop and passersby on the piazza, bakers in this laboratorio are like actors giving a performance. That they wear chic uniforms designed by Armani only adds to the dramatic effect.
The fast-paced action in the laboratorio, which produces almost 200 varieties of bread, baked goods, and pasta, contrasts sharply with the serene atmosphere in the shop, a space charged with the symbolic elements that go into bread: fire, water, earth, and air. Uniting them is a massive, waist-high wall of porphyry that runs the length of the kitchen's glass divider. A reminder of ancient Rome—where the gray-violet stone was used for paving—this parapet starts at the back of the shop, in a deep niche where Silvestrin set a wood-burning fireplace. The parapet then extends to serve as a monumental snack counter before piercing the glass storefront and jutting into ' the street, where water gently trickles from the lip of the wall.
Rough-hewn on the parapet, porphyry appears in a polished state on the floor and a large central column. Honed porphyry forms the steps of a double stairwell with mirror-image flights descending to a second kitchen, storage space, and restrooms for customers. The walls of this stairwell are clad—most spectacularly—by brass in a custom oxidized finish that Silvestrin calls terra bruciata, or burned earth. The same metal lines a display wall in the shop and alternates with panels of pale beech on the face of the sales counter.
Sitting by the coffee counter, a large vase of clear glass represents the sole decorative flourish amid the warm tones and rich textures of the simple architectural forms. Light fixtures are discreet, set flush in the otherwise pristine white ceiling or hidden in unobtrusive ankle-level slits in the stairwell walls. Nothing distracts from what Silvestrin calls the "art of making and the art of baking." And, one might add, the silent art of design.