Emiliano Salci is the co-founder of DIMORESTUDIO and DIMOREGALLERY, two societies he created with his partner Britt Moran, an American interior designer from Georgia. Salci was born in Arezzo, Tuscany. Both of their families manufactured furniture – but this has little to do with their talents. Salci and Moran met in 2003 and soon after they created DIMORESTUDIO in Milan. Emiliano Salci is an interior designer and architect, a furniture and antiques collector, and also an art enthusiast and a painting lover – he is especially fond of those classical paintings you can find in the area of Arezzo which is the birthplace of Piero della Francesca.
Emiliano, how did you become Emiliano Salci?
I completed my classical studies in high school, but this is only a tiny part of my whole experience. I believe everything started when I was kid: I was always in close contact with my father who had a furniture shop where I took the reins – which was a bit of a struggle, as it often is between parents and children. A big motivation for me was the desire to come to understand beauty, fashion, and classical art – through Piero della Francesca, Cimabue, and Giorgio Vasari – but also the contemporary art that I experimented with in a playful way as a kid. Design was always important to me. I remember I used to come to Salone del Mobile with my father when I was 14: the 80s-90s was a sort of golden age for design. Masters like Vico Magistretti, Achille Castiglioni, and Mario Bellini were present at the Salone and they became icons of the city.
When did you decide to move to Milan from Arezzo?
It was around 2000-2001, which were years when the designer had a very recognized role. Design is a bit watered down today. In the past, there were beautiful scenographies. I remember a display by Pallucco set in a real slaughterhouse with flowers scattered everywhere. Design still had an important identity in Milan at that time.
What did you do?
I came to Milan to work as the creative director of Cappellini. I supervised displays, advertising, events, and the distribution network in New York, Milan, and Paris. Some very young designers were flourishing at the time and have now become masters in their own right, such as Jasper Morrison, Tom Dixon, Marc Newson, and the Bouroullec brothers. Thanks to Cappellini, I fell completely in love with design, but I also realized I was looking for something else: an artistic direction able to comprehend design, but also fashion, art, and antiques. I was really ambitious and I wanted to create something on my own. That’s where DIMORESTUDIO began.
You met Britt and decided to create your own business together. I’ve read that you were bored of minimalist design and wanted to embrace concepts like old memories and color?
With our name, dimore (“dwellings”), we wanted to express a powerful idea connected to the past. Just by saying dimore, you imagine a certain kind of historic mansion, with rooms one after the other, with tapestries, stuccos, and patinas.
Is this why you started by creating interiors for fashion boutiques, places that make people dream?
For Britt and I, a formula of design and architecture that isn’t able to comprehend a classical story or a journey into the past is outdated. Creating interiors is also about making mistakes. We’ve learned that something which is considered canonically ugly can give warmth and humanity to a room if it’s in the right context. Then there’s light, a super-important matter for us. We like to have a space abound with lights for an event or party, but we also love creating conversation corners or breakfast spaces with dimmed light. Dior and Fendi wanted us to recreate this specific kind of familiar and cozy interior, with attractive colors and comfortable sofas that nobody is afraid to sit on.
What is a luxury boutique, a mansion, a hotel, a restaurant, if not a scenography?
Exactly. Britt and I have always called ourselves interior designers, but we live every project as if it was a movie. Everything has to be in perfect harmony.
“Everything has to be in perfect harmony.”
Emiliano Salci, in Milan there’s a house, Villa Necchi Campiglio, which is an icon for you. Is it your point of reference where modern and antique-style furniture and architecture coexist?
That’s right. Piero Portaluppi (the architect who designed the villa) is an icon for us. I think that villa is an avant-garde work of a genius, but it wasn’t just Portaluppi who made ancient and modern coexist. Gio Ponti, Ignazio Gardella, and Osvaldo Borsani have also reached modernism and the real spirit of contemporary design. In my opinion, current design is a legacy of the past. Most of the work has already been done.
Design has the ability to evolve – just like fashion and the times. Have you ever radically changed your way of working?
Our work changes constantly, almost day by day, because we don’t like cookie-cutter projects. We like changes, but we also like to have a clear vision. Times, spirits, and projects change, but the DNA stays the same.
During this pandemic you created your own apartment. What did it start from?
From light, and consequently from color. Everything was set pretty quickly, with pieces and furniture that have traveled from house to house for years, from move to move. There are new pieces, too. There is a lamp by Serge Mouille whose light made me understand what atmosphere I wanted to give the house. I wanted a darker, shaded house. I wanted sober, less frivolous colors, a more classic palette.
Which colors did you choose for this palette?
Camel, brown, earth tones, and a touch of bronze.
A return to Tuscany through burnt sienna…
It’s a classic touch I’ve been noticing a lot in cinema and fashion. This pandemic brought us back down to earth. Now we look for a timeless sofa that will last forever, or want a good, well-made coat. The concept is simple: buying pieces we can build a bond with, things that will stay with us for years, perhaps even for the rest of our life.
Where do you find them?
For interiors, we have a designated research team which looks for the right furniture all over the world according to the mood we’re creating. The trend is to create a calibrated mix that ranges from the nineteenth to the twentieth century.
Is it possible to include a Louis XV style desk or an ancient painting?
What do you want to create with your own apartment?
My apartment is pretty small and essential, but it has a little bit of everything. There’s furniture from the 30s with pieces made by Piero Bottoni, a sofa by Magistretti, but also plenty of anonymously-made décor.
Which is your favorite room?
The living room. The living room offers the possibility to enjoy a cup of coffee or a sip of wine, to read books, or simply to receive guests.
Does this house mirror you?
It does right now. I say “right now” because I’m already looking towards the future, towards something new.
Has the pandemic put DIMORESTUDIO on hold?
We had to halt every project in the first lockdown. During the second one we started up again, but with a significant structural limit. Our work is very physical and tangible, so we can’t go digital.
You don’t love the Internet?
I love the Internet to surf the web or to read the news, not to create interiors. I have to see the house with my own eyes: I want to notice lights, shadows, how people move in it, if the floor squeaks. Right now, our projects are divided between DIMORESTUDIO and DIMOREGALLERY, which is our collection of mid-century and contemporary furniture. DIMORESTUDIO has been working on private projects in Saint-Tropez and London, or on hotels for the hospitality industry in Rome and Germany.
“Our work is very physical and tangible, so we can’t go digital.”
Emiliano Salci, you were on hold in the first lockdown. How have you worked on big projects for fashion boutiques?
We designed the concept of Browns’ new flagship store, which has been recently inaugurated. Now we’re working on a sensational boutique, Doha, by Dior, in the Middle East. Fashion boutiques and retail stores are moving with caution.
This is a happy moment for the home?
Yes. This is a moment of living rooms, for study corners, for desks and lamps… It’s no coincidence that we are receiving more requests for the living area.
Your gallery also hosts Gabriella Crespi’s creations.
Yes, we sell some of her original pieces. Recently, we came to an agreement with her family to reissue some pieces made with the same method and by the same artisans as the original ones.
Can people buy furniture in your gallery without necessarily commissioning your studio for interior design?
Of course. That’s why we have different branches: DIMORESTUDIO for those who want to restyle or redesign their own interiors, and DIMOREGALLERY to supply furniture to other interior design studios or other architects all over the world. With our gallery we sell a very specific selection of mid-century and contemporary pieces. It’s in constant evolution and it varies depending on our mood. With it, I can be free to feel like a chameleon.
Along with Portaluppi, which designers do you admire most?
Don’t you think this kind of design has become too exclusive?
It has become too expensive. Other countries, unlike Italy, got really good at safeguarding their designers. We, on the other hand, missed that boat. For example, Jean Prouvé has astronomical prices and the French defend him – and they are right to do so.
Maybe here in Italy we have devoted this kind of protection to Gio Ponti?
Maybe. Surely not to Portaluppi. Just think of how few things he designed that we have left.
As you mentioned earlier, you work in London and Paris. Are the majority of your clients abroad?
Yes. I don’t know why they are so rare in Italy.
How do you understand what your clients want?
When they choose us, they already know how we work. Still, we are always open to listening. If we have to create an interior space for a house, we ask our clients if they love cooking or reading or walking barefoot – maybe they would want carpet. Sometimes we happen to work on houses that are a true wonder even before our intervention – that’s why we almost refuse to touch or change them. I hate houses designed by an architect who almost dares to suggest where to put the ashtray. I like mistakes that never turn out to be real mistakes.
Which country loves you the most?
France has loved us since the beginning. We designed amazing houses in Paris.
Does fashion still exist?
Brand-new creations no longer exist – design is similar from this point of view, there’s nothing new to invent. Fashion brands have been working to make their historical archives contemporary, there’s a big restyling work, a remix of several different styles, but there’s no real innovation. For example, it’s been a while since the last fitting revolution brought by Romeo Gigli or Armani in men’s fashion.
From fashion to colors to textiles – The latest passion of DIMORESTUDIO.
It’s another passion besides furniture. In addition to DIMORESTUDIO and DIMOREGALLERY, we have created DIMOREMILANO, which is our own furniture label. It’s designed by us and produced by selected makers and artisans. Britt and I introduced it during 2016 Milano Design Week without having a proper company. Only later did we decide to create a real business with a brand and a catalog. It’s a niche production of lamps, sofas, chairs, and tables.
So, there is DIMORESTUDIO for the interior design projects; DIMOREMILANO, which is your own furniture label; and DIMOREGALLERY, which sells both your own furniture and historical pieces. How are textiles integrated?
Textiles are part of DIMOREMILANO. Just like the furniture they are almost all designed by us, and made by manufacturing companies in Como which have always worked for the fashion industry. Textiles are something magical. They can radically transform a space. We use them to cover sofas, armchairs, and cushions, to make curtains, or to upholster a room. They aren’t used so much in Italy, but it’s a tradition in England or in the United States.
Where do you sell your textiles?
Selling textiles is a different and rather more complex process than selling furniture. Everything starts from big distribution points, which sell them to stores. We personally sell them to architects.
Among these activities (DIMORESTUDIO, DIMOREGALLERY, and DIMOREMILANO), which one do you prefer?
I like them all. Maybe what I like most is when they intermingle.
How do you organize your workload?
I supervise the creative sphere of the projects while Britt manages the commercial side and the communication with clients and the press.
How does architecture integrate with your work?
As DIMORESTUDIO we have our own architecture firm. In Florence we have designed a house which winks at the past. It’s a majestic villa we built from the ground up.
Do you like this aspect of your business?
I like to do everything; I like spaces that already possess a history, a substance, and a feeling. That doesn’t necessarily have to be a villa with lots of frescos. It could be a simpler home – or even an empty structure, like a cocoon.
We have talked about things you love. But what is the thing that bothers you the most?
I hate copies – not so much those who buy them, but those who create them.
Britt Moran and Emiliano Salci, the co-founders of DIMORESTUDIO and DIMOREGALLERY
DIMORESTUDIO: Milano Mozart residence 2014.
Photo: Danilo Scarpati
DIMORESTUDIO: DIOR DUBAI
Photo: Paola Pansini
DIMOREMILANO: Pomeridiano shooting 2018
Photo: Andrea Ferrari
DIMOREMILANO: Interno Milano shooting
Photo: Andrea Ferrari
DIMOREGALLERY: Visioni Exhibition
Photo: Andrea Ferrari
“I prefer mistakes and emotional attachment to perfection.”
Emiliano Salci, lately I’ve heard a lot of people talking about how “colors have been making a comeback” during this pandemic.
It’s a topic people cyclically talk about. Colors have never gone away: the concept of “non-colors” doesn’t exist as black and white are colors. DIMORESTUDIO has always used them and will continue to do so. Speaking about my relationship with color, I am more attracted now to elegant colors like bordeaux and prefer them to bright colors – I find the latter to be somewhat of bad taste, as they do not suit the period we are living in.
Is it true that people sleep poorly in rooms with dark walls?
I’ve always known that was true for bright walls. Personally, I’ve always prefered pale colors for bedrooms, nothing too gaudy. In my previous house the bedroom was sugar blue, light blue-gray; now it is jute, a camel-like beige color, but paler.
We talked about everything except for floors and carpets.
If I stumble upon a period property with the original antique floors I prefer to have them restyled or repaired because I love the creaking of antique parquet. I like all materials: wood, marble, grit, ceramics, or even cement tiles. We have used them heavily in a hotel in Guadalajara, a Mexican city full of art-deco and retro style.
And which carpets go along with these floors?
I love every kind of carpet: ancient, Chinese, modern, Moroccan.
In conclusion: What are the essential elements of a home?
A nice light and a nice texture on the walls – not just a color. I love to keep things varied. In the same house one room can have wooden paneling, another can be upholstered, and another room can be painted, but the important thing is that it has a texture beyond color. It must have pieces of furniture we have built a bond with, items we carry with us from house to house. I always say that I prefer mistakes and emotional attachment to perfection. When I think of a house, I like to take an abstract approach and design it with my imagination through spontaneous associations.
And do you design it all?
Yes, I do. Some décor and interiors have to be designed in order to be custom-made. I like setting up antiques with new, Indian, mid-century, Italian, and American furniture.
Are you still passionate about your work?
Yes, I am – even though it’s hard now without fairs. I miss the mundane aspects of meeting and socializing, the immediate exchange… I miss being present at the events and showing my work live.
Do you think Milan will rise again?
In my opinion it will. We all have a great desire to live again. And maybe to do something crazy.
Can you tell me about the Salone del Mobile that has been on everyone’s lips?
The 2021 edition of Salone del Mobile has been confirmed for September, but I think it will be a lighter version with a minor “wow” factor as compared to the previous editions. Anyway, things are slowly starting up again. Yesterday we confirmed our attendance at Design Miami in December.
Do you enjoy traveling?
Very much. I’ve always traveled, mainly for work, but I’ve always managed to make a quick visit to a museum wherever I go.
Which city do you like working in the most?
New York. I’ve never worked there permanently, though. I like almost all the cities I’ve been to, especially London and Paris – that’s where I feel more at home. I think Paris is more livable, perhaps because I know it better.
What is your favorite holiday destination?
Pantelleria. Britt and I love it deeply.
Where was your last trip?
To Cuba, right before the pandemic. I was undecided between Cuba, Japan, and Greece, but I was told I’d better rush to Havana to see the historical part of the city, which has been slowly disappearing.
Thank you for this interview, and let’s hope we can start traveling again soon.
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