Few are as big friends of Italy as the founder of Plaza. When Christopher visited Salone del Mobile, we asked him to think about the design country that furnished his heart.
Text: CHRISTOPHER ÖSTLUND
In my home, the first thing you’ll always encounter is something from one and the same country, Italy. A piece of furniture, a lamp, an interior detail. All with a personal story from my life, Cassina, Edra, BB Italia, Flos… All made in small towns around Italy and that I have met in some context. I have visited many legends over the past 30 years, both the small craftsmen and the big giants. No matter who you visit, there is often in Italy a closeness, a personality, that is difficult to pinpoint. You greet the designer, furniture maker, sofa stopper and have lunch with the owner family. In Italy, the meeting itself is king, and the personal often becomes decisive if liking is to arise, at all levels. Having met everyone in the food chain means a lot to me, it means that I may look at certain furniture in a different way. I see Luigi’s handiwork, Roberto’s grandfather’s life’s work… In Italy, family businesses are often hailed as the backbone of the country.
Here at the publishing house, the bookshelves are filled with design books. We have always been surrounded by Italian furniture, lamps and tables. But even on my bedside table there is always a book that touches on the same subject, Italy. It can be a phrasebook, a Tuscany guide, an architecture book, about Renzo Piano, Palladio or Ponti. It makes me fall into an Italian aura every night and wake up to one in the morning. I am and have always been a seeker of the Italian code. I love the Italian country, in all its forms.
As the owner and publisher of a number of magazines and especially interior design magazines since 1994, his interest in interior design is on an almost manic level. Every day, simply summed up close to 10,200 days, since we published the very first issue of Plaza Interiör, I have thought about/looked at/dreamed about interior design. Sure, it’s on my shoulders to choose the direction of each issue with the editor-in-chief, but the editors do the big job. But, as many have noted, Italy appears everywhere in our newspapers. I’ve even named one Plaza Uomo (Italian word for “Man”), and Gourmet magazine has at least two theme issues a year about the country. In Plaza Interiör, which mainly has Swedish homes, objects from Italy are often found and in one of our other magazines Plaza Deco, we often visit Italian homes.
For me, the Salone del Mobile furniture fair in Milan is an institution. Not only because it is the world’s largest, I usually mention that the furniture fair in Stockholm is big. If you walk really fast around the halls in Älvsjö and have a peek, you can do it in one day. I was there in Stockholm last for four days in a row, but “Il Salone” is 36 times as big. So if you were to just skim through it, a month would not be enough. I have been visiting the fair since the 90s, and have never had time to visit more than maybe 20% of it. But regardless of that, it’s absolutely gorgeous. I usually say that if there is something in my life that I probably never get tired of, it is to look at furniture and interiors. Now, of course, as a Swede, I have a great fondness for the Scandinavian minimalist, and at Salone there are all directions, modern, classic, lighting, yes more or less everything in interior design and design.
For me, it’s not just new furniture, it’s also vintage, antique and flea markets. About a month ago I visited an antique shop in a small town outside Milan. It was more like its own private antique fair. The biggest I’ve ever seen. Completely remote, in huge halls, several houses and on several floors in each, there was everything you could imagine. A man who, throughout his life, only bought and bought. The incredible thing was that I was there all by myself. With a bit of mixed horror, I went through room by room, floor by floor. Saw things I’ve never seen. Spent hours just peeking. No price tags. Everything you have to ask about. When I was shown the basement, it was exactly like in the final scene of Indiana Jones, when the sacred ark gets placed in a huge warehouse. I have been there many times since then, and never cease to be amazed at what I find.
On another occasion, I was close to a unique find, which, however, got out of my hands. I was a visit to a small antique and design shop in Northern Italy. I had seen a sofa through the window during an evening walk. It was a great piece of furniture, famous design by Cappellini. Unwieldy, dirty – but absolutely incredibly beautiful. I’m sure I’ve seen it in Cappellini’s stand, about 15-20 years earlier. Visited the store at a later time and started asking about the sofa, which was properly stained in the upholstery, so I started to get a bit Swedish hesitant. The lady told me a little about it, and the price tag told a very interesting price. Such a sofa costs big money new. But, she said, unfortunately it’s sold. Oh well, I said. A little snooped I asked a little more about it, where had it come from? Had it been in an office, in a reception? Well, she said, it’s an architect’s old sofa. Don’t know if you know Daniel Liebskind… I was completely dumbfounded, here I had missed and bought the coolest Cappellinis sofa for a reasonable price owned, sat and soiled by the architect, and probably his dogs, he who e pen behind the new One World Trade Center in New York. This can happen when the design hasp is not on.
This and everything around it has of course made me think about Sweden’s relationship with Italy, and especially my own.
A few years ago, I found out from Knut Knutson, the antiques expert, that this particular bureau became his first big sales assignment.–Christopher Östlund
Growing up, I spent a lot of time in southern Europe, mainly in France. There I became well acquainted with the country’s food, but also its variety of architecture, as well as how French people decorate their homes. The 70s meant very different material choices, exciting designs, strange shapes and colors. Strange for a guy growing up in Uppsala. It is there and then that I start looking in Italian and French fashion and interior design magazines. A new world is opening up. Slowly but surely, the Italian began to approach even new rooms, the inner ones. Design, fashion, art, history, speed monsters for cars and of course the food. The kitchen, the design and the lifestyle have won my soul – a long time ago. If the chambers of my heart were to be decorated, it would be with Italian design. That’s how close it is to my person.
My father was a sculptor and artist, my mother- a writer with big dreams of becoming an author. For them, the big event of the year was packing the car, driving down and settling for months around the Mediterranean. They had already chosen to move to Paris when they were young, in 1946.
The moving bags to Rome were packed in the 60s. There, in the now classic restaurant district of Trastevere, the Swedish artist family rented a large apartment with a studio. Color and shape were of great importance. In Rome, classic homes dominated, design was not really on the map among artist friends. Italian homes can also be spartanly decorated, in the 60s many apartments in Rome also lacked kitchens. Eating was done at the local Trattorian. The Italian men, who moved to the big cities for work, simply could not cook. Dad appreciated the strange design, color and style. Mom was probably more classic. Appreciated quality over design, as it probably was in the 60s and 70s. Mom was moody, loud – and family-loving. What a lovely environment for a swedish artist couple!
I was born a few years later in Uppsala. At home, we lacked what you see today as Italian and French design. Modern, non-figurative art and sculptures stood for color and form. Furniture, carpets and lamps would be of fine Swedish and Danish quality. As it was perhaps in many homes in Sweden at that time.
The recent Salone del Mobile in Milan was a long-awaited success. Here you can see some of Plaza’s Italian favourites. 1: Fratelli Bof has a great collaboration with the Italian designer Lorenza Bozzoli. The Pemba seating furniture is retro-inspired with a warm cocoon feel. The Kigelia lamp is geometrically playful. 2: Living Divani belongs to Italy’s classics when it comes to seating furniture, mainly sofas, or as the name suggests, divans of the more lively kind. On 800 sqm, Living Divani presented its novelties, curated by Piero Lissoni, Living Divani’s art director since 1989. The installation lived up to what we associate with the brand, restful elegance. 3: Alpi also has a close collaboration with Piero Lissoni, which was evident during Milan’s design week.
When I take a closer look at the family, there are many of us with a particularly great interest in Italian design. Nowadays we have both architects and lighting designers in the inner family. It has probably been passed down to the new generation in the family, as my niece is the architect Rakel Östlund at the architectural firm Andreas Martin Löf and my brother and godson the lighting designer Jakob with the same last name. My aunt had several spectacular Italian pieces of furniture. The classic Arco lamp from Flos, designed by Achille and Pier Castiglioni, I saw for the first time in the 80s in the stately residence in Växjö, where she was governor. An interesting and controversial detail in our family is about an agency, the blue agency. My aunt, Britt Mogård, inherited my grandmother’s blue dresser, which no one understood. Later, a few years ago, I found out from Knut Knutson, the antiques expert, that this particular agency was his first major sales assignment. It was sold for record amounts in the 80s, and Knut wondered just how this Italian agency came to our family, and yes – we all wonder in the family. No one knows for sure, but one thing is certain, the love for Italy seems to have been passed down for generations.
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