Your first project—what was it?
I was friends with the tennis champ Adriano Panatta. I wasn’t even really an architect yet since I was still in school, but he called me and said, “Michele, please come to Forte dei Marmi. My mother told me to buy this house as an investment, but I hate it. Will you tell me what you think?” I told him to forget the house that was there and to tell me what he wanted instead, which was something more modern and sporty with an American touch and a winter garden. It turned out really lovely, with light woods and soft colors. Everyone saw it, and it launched my career. He and his wife are still some of our best friends.
What is the difference between Italian and American design?
History. In Florence, when you walk down the street the feeling of the culture and history is in the air. I love the U.S., and I love the energy of New York, but the history is so short. It’s so important to incorporate the history of a place into its design when you’re merging the contemporary with the classic. In Italy, it just goes back much further.
As an architect, what sets you apart?
It’s not just the aesthetics of a project but the soul that sets it apart. A lot of competitors try to copy me, but they copy the designs, the shell. It’s not just about that. You have to give it a heart, too.
Which aspects of your work do you enjoy most?
The clients. I get to work with such a fantastic range of people, all with different needs and different moods. Every day is a surprise.