You might wonder what the movie star Elizabeth Taylor and the neoclassical architect of the Bank of England, Sir John Soane, could possibly have in common. (Beyond their Britishness.) The answer lies behind the discreet facade of a London store where the unlikely pair provided the inspiration for Interior Design Hall of Fame member Peter Marino in his rich reimagining of Bulgari.
Taylor’s association with the Italian jeweler is the stuff of legend, going back to 1962 when her leading role in Cleopatra took her to Rome. She frequented the original store so often that Richard Burton is said to have quipped: “The only word Liz knows in Italian is Bulgari.” Taylor’s acquaintance with Marino, meanwhile, dated to 1970’s New York, specifically a first meeting at Andy Warhol’s beach compound in Montauk. Marino saw her again at AmFAR charity events. “She serves as the perfect glamorous, feminine muse for Bulgari’s new look,” he says.
The London boutique follows, lavishly, in the wake of Peter Marino Architect’s work at the Rome flagship. That project was half restoration, but there were rooms at the rear where Marino was able to express his own interpretation of the Bulgari identity as seen through the lens of the Dolce Vita era, when Bulgari basked in the attention of not only Taylor but also Ingrid Bergman, Anita Ekberg, and Ava Gardner. Seeking to recapture that exuberant moment, when Italian culture enjoyed global cachet, he incorporated and referenced the design of such modernists as Carlo Scarpa, Angelo Mangiarotti, Osvaldo Borsani, and Franco Albini. This vision has now traveled remarkably well to a Georgian streetscape where Bulgari’s fellow jewelers include Asprey, Blancpain, Boucheron, Chopard, Graff, Piaget, and Harry Winston.
An inset eight-pointed star marks the paving at the entry, as in Rome. Otherwise, the white-painted cast-iron facade gives little indication of the extravagance within. Marino manages to convey a powerful sense of glamour and monumentality despite the relatively compact nature of the interior, 4,000 square feet on two levels. Nor has a lack of formal symmetry stopped him from imbuing the ground level’s four interlinked spaces with a sense of classicism, achieved through an abundance of noble features, ancient materials, and geometric patterns in contrasting palettes to demarcate different zones.
For example, the main jewelry salon’s white floor mosaic of Thassos marble and glass tile gives way to honey-toned walnut parquet in the adjoining room for ladies’ watches and bridal jewelry. Next door, in a smaller room for men’s watches, walls in a sage green embossed suede evoke an English gentlemen’s club. VIP rooms are awash in amber-toned faux marble finishes and apricot-colored silk velvet. In the events space, custom upholstery and curtain patterns recall costumes Taylor wore in her films.
Thassos marble aside, Marino used highly figured Italian marble, varieties prominent in ancient Roman architecture, to anchor the overall scheme and lend it grandeur. Said to be a favorite of Cosimo de’ Medici, a black-and-white Tuscan marble frames the boutique’s imposingly wide portals, accompanied by columns in a rare Carrara marble with rust-colored veining. “These columns, which have no capitals, instead connect to the structure above with a simple bronze pin,” Marino explains. “I love the fraught modernity of revealing that connection point.” Even more striking, a real tour de force, is the Carrara marble staircase. Its steps, subtly hexagonal in profile, were inspired by the ones that Scarpa designed for the Galleria Regionale della Sicilia, a museum in a palazzo in Palermo. At Bulgari, the marble is meticulously arranged to zigzag vertically, coaxing visitors upstairs. The stairs run between bronze screens that Marino devised for the Rome boutique: a geometric lattice that takes its cues from the pattern of the floor of the Pantheon.
So far, so Italian. It’s upstairs, in a series of private rooms, that Marino, a longtime Soane admirer, pays homage. In the events space, he removed a dropped ceiling and restored a skylight that had been concealed—a nod to Soane’s innovative ways of letting the light in. A more obvious reference appears in a VIP room crowned by a hemispherical vault echoing the one over the breakfast room at Sir John Soane’s Museum. Marino calls this “a wink at Britishness.” Beneath the dome hangs a row of portrait photos of Monica Vitti, Gina Lollabrigida, and of course Taylor, all suitably bejeweled, printed on double layers of silk for a 3-D effect. Vitti and Taylor are in black-and-white. Their jewels are in color.
Project Team: Frank Spadaro; Stefano Pasqualetti; Joseamid Martínez-Cosme: Peter Marino Architect. Mcdonald Architects: Architect Of Record. Metis Lighting: Lighting Consultant. Adrian Cox Associates: Structural Engineer. Qubiloto: MEP. Damiani Marmi: Stonework. Green Allestimenti: Wall Covering Contractor. Sice Previt: General Contractor.