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It’s hard to imagine the Molteni Group’s new New York flagship—a soaring space lined in travertine and walnut that opened this week—the way creative director Vincent Van Duysen describes it. “I came in this empty, soulless, concrete box,” says the Belgian architect and designer. The space may have had the grand dimensions of his past architectural work, but what it desperately needed was the rigorous approach to geometry, executed in a rich palette of materials, that unites both the spaces and the furniture he creates. “The challenge for me was, how can I bring in that Italian taste, Italian elegance.”
That touchpoint is a reference to the legacy of Molteni&C, the furniture company founded in Lombardy in 1934. In the eight decades since, the brand has gone on to become on of the giants of contemporary Italian design, producing innovative and iconic pieces such as Yasuhiko Itoh’s honeycomb-like bookshelves from 1959, a 2016 table made of 3D-printed panels by Patricia Urquiola, and architect Aldo Rossi’s sweeping Parigi armchair from 1989—all of which can be seen in the new flagship space.
As he speaks, Van Duysen is perched upon the generously proportioned Albert sectional he recently designed for Molteni&C, which together with kitchens brand Dada and office furniture line UniFor, comprises the Molteni Group. Located beside other global giants of design in the heart of Manhattan’s rapidly expanding NoMad Design District, the flagship is the first to combine all three brands into one showroom—a reflection of the new fluidity in the way designers conceive residential and office space.
The flagship expands on the concept of “The Collector’s House” that the brand presented at this year’s Salone del Mobile, by arranging a series of rooms as flexible vignettes. A kitchen, featuring Van Duysen’s award-winning VVD system for Dada (a restrained study in walnut, metal, ceppo and lavastone) opens to a living room with his Helene armchairs in textural Marta Ferri fabric; downstairs, a recently reissued table from 1958 by the late Gio Ponti is surrounded by black-stained ash armchairs, the Molteni debut of young designer Francesco Meda. Not a detail was overlooked, from vitrines of live plants to a wardrobe system stocked with designer clothes. “We’re working very hard right now to get out of the idea that it's just a showroom,” says Giulia Molteni, the marketing and communications director at Molteni&C and Dada, and granddaughter of the company’s founders. “We really want to present a kind of Italian palazzo.”
To evoke a grand European estate in the middle of Manhattan, Van Duysen separated spaces with travertine-lined doorways, pulling color inspiration from faded frescoes. The resulting space, much like the designs on display, revels in craftsmanship, as in slim reveals around the doorways that mirror details of the kitchen system. And then there’s the central walnut-veneer staircase that surrounds a dramatic two-story pendant by Michael Anastassiades. To achieve the deceptively complex design, the staircase was fabricated in Italy then shipped to New York in pieces. “The staircase is, as they say it in Italian, a capolavoro,”Van Duysen says, “a masterpiece.”
In keeping with the Collector’s House theme, curator Caroline Corbetta filled the space with works by five contemporary artists represented by Rome’s Frutta Gallery. Not only is the art available for purchase, it’s also a nod to company’s commitment to culture and patronage through the Molteni Museum. Much like Van Duysen, Corbetta worked as though she were creating a home for a specific client. “It's always going back to the idea of this imaginary owner,” Corbetta explains of the team’s approach to the space. “It’s someone that can recognize a Gio Ponti armchair, but also the work of a famous painter. They know about design, about art—they’re culturally aware.” 160 Madison Ave.; 212-673-7106.