Home Tour: A Sensual Pied-à-Terre in London
Italian designer Achille Salvagni evokes a sensual blend of his and hers for a London pied-à-terre.
Style is a way to say who you are without having to speak,” wrote the celebrity stylist and fashion designer Rachel Zoe. By that definition, this 3,015-square-foot pied-à-terre in London sumptuously articulates the personalities of its owners, an Italian financial tycoon and his wife, a celebrated former model, who visit here often with their twin 8-year-old sons. To give their voices visual expression, the couple found an eloquent translator in the Rome-based architect and designer Achille Salvagni. Of his clients, Salvagni notes, “He is a very powerful man—calm, stable, and sober—and she is very elegant. I wanted to replicate in this space his confidence and her sophistication.”
The two-bedroom, three-bath apartment sprawls across the top floor of a 19th-century townhouse in Holland Park, the fashionable enclave that counts Elton John, Valentino, and Simon Cowell among its residents. But as with most homes of that era, the uppermost story, which often functioned as staff quarters, was architecturally undistinguished. “My aim was to give integrity and character to this very big space,” explains Salvagni. He did so by taking a page from the decor of the time in which the building was erected. “During the Victorian period,” he observes, “the upper classes wanted to show they were well traveled.” To that end, aristocrats adopted what Salvagni calls “a cultural colonialism,” appointing their homes with artifacts from Britain’s sovereign holdings around the world.
Salvagni specifically referenced Far East influences that were in vogue among those eminent Victorians, but he did so in a thoroughly contemporary way. A black-stained bamboo floor runs throughout, as does neat black trim that defines wall panels of raw silk. Muted Chinese-themed wallpaper from Zoffany envelops the foyer, where two Cantonese porcelain jars from the late 18th century flank the entrance to the main room. Silk pillows bearing chinoiserie designs punctuate the living room and master bedroom spaces. And to enclose the open kitchen, Salvagni created walls of fabric sandwiched between layers of glass that are reminiscent of shoji screens.
All these elements, he says, “evoke the Far East in a quiet, sophisticated way, rather than shouting it.” This strategy was also a clever nod to the husband’s business, which is based in London and also has interests in Asia, specifically the former British settlement of Singapore.
The designer also deployed luxurious materials that strike a balance between masculine and feminine. Across from the entrance to the main room—a loftlike space that Salvagni ringed in crown molding to give it greater distinction—visitors encounter a library niche. This was his stylish solution to one of the apartment’s architectural misfortunes: two inconvenient structural columns he could not remove. Salvagni concealed them in walls of black-stained brushed oak with shelving faced in polished bronze. This defines the niche and also affords elegant storage for the couple’s collection of old manuscripts. A svelte, curvaceous desk swathed in parchment, along with a petite chair based on an Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann original—both Salvagni’s designs—soften the space.
The wife has spent a career in the milieu of haute couture, where handcraftsmanship and exclusivity are embedded in its soul. Salvagni, who opened his own London atelier in Mayfair this fall, expressed that singularity by designing furniture and lighting (many pieces are one-of-a-kind creations) as a pure form of the couture ideal. As he explains, it is difficult to find satisfaction in ordinary pieces, “because you lose the power of the uniqueness.”
In the living room, Salvagni’s voluptuous Loro Piana velvet-covered sofas, which recall 1940s Jean Royère silhouettes, and a shapely coffee table are juxtaposed with his harder-edged Shield cabinet, a standout piece boasting muscular cast-aluminum doors, bronze gilt feet and hinges, and a special, handcrafted blowfish-skin frame.
Imposing chandeliers—Salvagni’s popular Spider fixture in the living room and custom pendant lighting over the dining table—also pair the implacable solidity of a material like bronze with the milky soft glow of onyx. The right angles of the Carrara-marble-topped dining table contrast with the rounded backs and tapered legs of the chairs surrounding it. In the master bedroom, a shimmery, art moderne–style custom carpet, Salvagni’s Gae chairs, and a bench upholstered in Hermès fabric provide feminine shapes and textures that make the presence of a rectilinear four-poster bed sculpturally striking.
Selected use of antiques, as well as the couple’s significant collection of Italian spatialist art—Lucio Fontana, Gino De Dominicis, Enrico Castellani, and Agostino Bonalumi, whose blue 1969 work appears above the fireplace—add further provenance to what originally had been considered modest rooms. (Naturally, there is fashion photography such as Richard Avedon’s iconic photo of the model Dovima with elephants.) Beneath the windows in the main living spaces, Salvagni had antiqued mirrors from Venice installed as a wall treatment. Imparting a sultry patina, the surfaces expand these areas visually, making “it appear as if the space arrived at this state over a long time and in a natural way,” he says.
Bold and confident, supple and sexy—Salvagni’s design expresses his clients’ chic tastes, illustrating that style is personal.
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