Patricia Urquiola on Designing A Flagship Store for Molteni&C
Italian Furniture Meets Japanese Culture
Italian furniture company Molteni&C opens its first flagship store in Japan. The company teams up with Spanish designer Patricia Uruquiola to create a space that combines Italian elegance and Japanese sensibility, spiced up with her signature poetic approach to design. On the eve of the store opening, we sit down with Patricia to talk about her long-time love affair with Japan and the concept behind MOLTENI&C TOKYO.
Photographs by JAMANDFIXInterview & Text by MAKI MikaTranslation by TANAKA Junko (OPENERS)
"What I like about Japanese culture is it shows respect to the finest details."
“I’ve been to Japan countless times,” says Milan-based designer Patricia Urquiola. “Minami-Aoyama is probably my most favorite area in Tokyo. It’s not because there are latest fashion brands lining up on every street. You’ll also find a small atelier and couturier next to a mega mall. I like the fact that these two completely different universes coexist in one place.”
Location seems to be a key inspiration for Patricia to design MOLTENI&C TOKYO. “Though it’s in the middle of the city, right next to it is a bamboo forest and green garden of Nezu Museum. I wanted to reflect this element on the design. That’s how ‘wooden wall’ was born,” she says, remembering her trip to Kyoto where she visited Komyoin, a temple in Higashiyama. “You’ll get the perfect view of Japanese garden from its round window. I was so mesmerized by it and decided to use it as the central motif. The ‘wooden wall’ blurs the line between inside and outside. Even when you’re inside the store, you’re still interacting with the garden outside. It’s like a ‘secret garden’, you know?” she smiles.
Behind the ‘wooden wall’ is a huge floor to ceiling glass. The bottom half of it is covered by dark mirror which completely hides cars and people passing by. “The idea was to keep the urban landscape out of sight so that you’ll feel like you’re in a quiet garden,” explains the designer. Seven-meter wall also works as a bridge between Japanese elements outside and Italian elements inside; between the first floor and the basement. In short, she incorporates ‘Omotenashi (hospitality)’ spirit into the design. “The wall navigates guests from the first floor to the basement. You’ll be surprised what a competent host it is.”
It was more than twenty years ago when Patricia visited Japan for the first time. “Japan made a big impression on me. It was definitely a love at first sight,” she recalls. Since then, the two seem to enjoy each other’s company at every opportunity; conference, exhibition in Kyoto, art installation at Spiral Hall just to name a few.
“Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Sapporo… Every time I come here, I learn new things and adopt them. What I like about Japanese culture is that it shows respect to the finest details. Look at this paper cup for example. Made from a soft texture, it feels really gentle on the lips. I think it embodies the beauty of Japanese design, known for its good sense of balance. If you were in America, tea might be served in a plain plastic cup. The paper cup isn’t something expensive but you still feel a commitment to the natural material. My design philosophy is quite similar. I get so much inspiration from Japanese culture.”
Patricia interprets the universe of Molteni&C in Japanese style.
The project of MOLTENI&C TOKYO was initiated by the brand, eagerly asking Patricia to join forces. “We couldn’t think of anyone better than Patricia to design our first retail store in Japan. She loves Japan and understands its culture to the fullest,” says Giovanni Molteni, who is in charge of production at Molteni&C.
The request from the brand was to interpret the universe of Molteni&C in Japanese style. For Patricia, it means to embrace ‘emotional aspect’ of Japanese culture, not simply demonstrating Italian lifestyle. “The ‘wooden wall’ symbolizes that aspect. But it doesn’t stand out on its own. The keynote is centered on the corporate color of Molteni&C, anthracite (dark gray). From the texture of the wall to the color of the floor, all harmonizes with the color of the ‘wooden wall’,” explains the designer.
“In a visual sense, the keynote may look similar to the traditional Japanese architecture,” she analyzes. “My favorite color is the caramel we use for the wardrobe and the stairs in the bedroom (basement). It gives you a warm impression. In fact, there’s a small epilogue to the story of caramel: Jasper Morrison was kind enough to drop by for the opening reception and told me that he used the same caramel in the recent project he has been working on. It’s such a coincidence! I’m happy that we happen to like the same color at the same moment.”
Patricia pairs up the Japanese-inspired elements with ‘Gio Ponti Screen’, a see-through screen that embodies the historical aspect of Italian culture. Molteni&C likes the screen so much that they plan to install it in all the retail stores worldwide.
“Gio Pointi is by far the largest figure in the history of Italian modern design. Being a designer myself, I have immense respect for him. ‘Gio Ponti Screen’ is my interpretation of his signature geometry design,” she describes. “To make it more fun and ‘fantastico’, we decide to make the screen movable. It moves swimmingly from right to left; just like from Italy to Japan; from modern to classic design. MOLTENI&C TOKYO is a place where the two opposite natures meet and join in harmony.”
Patricia, like a great conductor, assembles different elements and composes an epic piece for Molteni&C. It was not the first time the designer and the brand work together. The store also features her previous collaboration pieces with the brand such as storage, table, and chair.
“I’ve known Molteni&C for more than 20 years. There is no limit to our innovation endeavor because I fully trust their capacity for development and technology,” she says. “Take ‘Diamond’ our collaboration piece launched in 2004 for example. It’s a table with folded legs like a delicate Origami (paper folding), the element skillfully assembled by a light folded aluminum foil. When I came up with the idea, I made a prototype with Origami. I wanted to create a table exactly like that. Of course I couldn’t find anyone who had the capacity to make my dream come true. But with Molteni&C, we could turn the idea into a real product, while keeping the Origami philosophy. It’s not the case for every designer-client relationship. In a design project, I think it takes four to tango, instead of two: two of which are the ideas of designer, the others are the technological skill and development capacity of client. It’s also important that we trust each other.”
MOLTENI&C TOKYO is the beautiful result of long-lasting relationship between the brand and Patricia. It’s a place where Japanese essence meets Italian modernity. Even a new visitor would sympathize with the peaceful universe it creates.
Born in Oviedo, Spain in 1961 and now lives and works in Milan, Patricia Urquiola attended the School of Architecture of Madrid Polytechnic and Milan Polytechnic, where she graduated in 1989 with Achile Castiglioni. In 2001 she opens her own studio working on product design, architecture, installations. Some of her products are exposed in the permanent collection of MoMA in New York and other international museums.
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