Achille Salvagni Puts La Dolce Vita Back in Italian Design
Roman architect-designer Achille Salvagni’s luxurious interior design and furniture evokes historical fantasies.
From the eloquence of a simple gesture to the bold symbols of the Roman Empire; from the extravagance of the Golden Twenties to the monumental streets of his hometown, Achille Salvagni’s collections, in his words, “whisper many centuries of history.”
Following in the footsteps of the great Italian architect-designers of the 20th century, Salvagni set up his atelier in Rome in 2002, employing fine Italian artisans to craft bespoke furniture and lighting in materials like ebony, brass, bronze, and glass. The studio’s recent collection for New York gallery Maison Gerard contains sophisticated geometries, art deco touches, and exuberant details. The Emerald side table (2013), faceted like the precious stone, stands satisfyingly solid and modern in polished fibreglass. The Tango Console table (2014) features an asymmetric network of legs beneath a noir doré marble top. The Spider Chandelier (2013) splays six pearlescent light fixtures from an onyx body.
We caught up with the designer to hear how he’s less concerned with current trends as with the fundamentals of elegance—think the set of Luchino Visconti’s 1963 film The Leopard (set in Risorgimento Italy) pared back for contemporary living.
Artsy: Who are your idols and sources of inspiration from the history of art, architecture, and design?
Achille Salvagni: I am fascinated by the Spatialist movement founded by Lucio Fontana, which Enrico Castellani, Agostino Bonalumi, Paolo Scheggi, and Dadamaino belonged to. They were the first to sense that a three-dimensional surface could give the perception of volume, playing with matter to create optical illusions. In design, I would mention [20th-century Milanese architect-designers] Gio Ponti and Paolo Buffa for their emblematic work, drawing together the past and the future, as well as the great French ébénistes [cabinet-makers] for their transgression and tradition—they represented an exploratory avant-garde in terms of style, while maintaining masterly techniques. I look to the ’20s and ’30s, followed closely by the ’50s—to the dreamers of those periods, their enthusiasm and sense of the future.
Artsy: How do you source your materials?
Achille Salvagni: During a stroll on the streets of Rome you come across countless materials that mark the passage of 2,500 years of history. Even if you’re not looking for them, you breathe them in together with the churches, the palazzi, and the urban perspectives of different cultures. I work with materials that recall ancient tastes, paying attention to the patinas and finishes. The materials used for the collection recall the marble used in Roman basilicas, and the bronze and onyx used by the ancient Romans.
Artsy: How do you approach designing for specific interiors? Do you have a fixed work process?
Achille Salvagni: The development of a project starts by listening. I believe interior decor should serve as a “self portrait” of the occupant and not the designer. Therefore I prefer to disappear behind my design, creating interiors with a timeless elegance, or dressed-down spaces with a “lived in” look. I apply this rigorous approach to result in an atmosphere of calm pleasure, with an awareness of balance, a feel for lighting, a sense of style.
I love to discover things, I have a perpetual curiosity and invest much time in finding references and details from across areas of culture—fashion, travel, contemporary art, literature… In my design process, nothing is left to chance; everything is considered and planned, down to the last detail.