Interior designer Jean-Pierre Calvagrac remasters a storied Rome apartment, merging the classical and contemporary.
Jean-Pierre Calvagrac has been immensely successful in bringing old-world charm to some of the most eclectic interior design projects in the world. This is most evident in his latest project, an apartment, which now presents itself as a celebration of Italian art and architecture through the ages.
A two-bedroom, late 1800s property in the heart of the embassy district of Rome has been transformed into a classical haven of differing eras. Now owned by an Italian from Tuscany living between Italy and Paris, the apartment has remained in the family to this day. Calvagrac, who describes the structure as “a magnificent Umbertino-style building,” made sure to pay homage to the location and context of the building by maintaining accents of classical Italian architecture, while also incorporating a few contemporary touches to the space.
“The interior architectural ensemble has been completely modified to create perspectives and volumes in keeping with our time,” muses Calvagrac, though creating such a balance posed a slight challenge to the design team as they tried to reconcile the old and the new. “It took us and the owner some time to precisely find a balance between incorporating the family style and their possessions. We also found new works, furniture, and specific objects of Italian design, some going back to the 1930s, 50s, and 70s, all the way to the Italian Renaissance era, with punctuations of the Memphis Group or the Novecento.”
Artists and painters from these eras, such as De Chirico and Morandi, are in fact guiding inspirations of this renovation. Calvagrac highlights some of his favorite decorative features in the expansive apartment, including the double living room “rose antico terracotta,” where he says the arches seen throughout the space seem the most transformed by doubling the volumes, bringing about a play of the mirrors lined across the walls. The arches are another example of this continuity and recreation of Italian art and architecture within the interior, which Calvagrac likens to the arches of the ancient colosseums or the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana.
The doors and radiator covers are also a mix of an 18th-century Italian model, but revisited with a touch of the 1940s. To create a greater contrast, he personally stuck to the idea of this somewhat theatrical purity seen with the color black, as well as its gun barrel patina effect. “The colors of the rooms are absolutely the colors that are representative of the city of Rome, like the facades of palaces, monuments, and streets – especially the terracotta pink, the ochre yellow, the reds, and the browns and the elegant tones of bronze and green,” he says. “The celadon green-blue of the entrance and the blue of the master bedroom also represent the hues of Italian paintings and their recognizable accents, from the Renaissance to the Novecento and Italian Futurism – mythical pictorial currents of art.”
In the same way the designer had always loved the works of Morandi and other great Italian painters, he wanted to emulate the very subtle contrasts of tones for the floor, where he aimed to recreate an ecru sand tone, as often used for the Roman frescoes of Pompeii.
“While the vaults are structured and enhanced by the effect of the double black lines on the ceilings, for the two bathrooms, I didn’t want to create an atmosphere that was too modern to keep continuity with the apartment,” he says. In one bathroom, a black veined orangebrown marble adorns the space, while in the second, an ecru-white is used in travertine, a style famous and symbolic of Rome in its architecture, with the elements reminiscent of black marble columns. The fittings are from Maison Stella, with the mirrors doubling the spaces, allowing for infinite perspectives. The kitchen was another challenge the designers faced in bringing together the design of the storied apartment, as the proportions were very particular. “I therefore decided to create a mirror box as an asymmetrical corridor of mirrors with a very unique effect – an endless feeling of the space, with the black of the walls giving a contemporary atmosphere,” he says.
Coming together to establish Coorengel and Calvagrac in 1997, an interior design and branding agency with clients across Paris, Rome, and New York, Calvagrac knew his design partner before embarking on creating baroque-style interiors as part of a shared interest in art and design. While both initially pursued degrees in law, each found their passion for architecture, design, and decoration at different stages in their careers, with Coorengel leading operations at Ralph Lauren Home before joining Calvagrac on their journey to redefine the interior space.
“I grew up between Paris and the Burgundy countryside, where I was lucky enough to have appreciated a particular architectural environment – our family property being a castle from the Directoire-Empire period, for instance,” Calvagrac says. “Michael and I had already been friends for a few years before starting different collaborations, initially meeting while working on a common project for Ladurée,” he notes.
Adding to its impressive portfolio, Coorengel and Calvagrac is currently working on projects in northern Italy in the lake region, as well as apartments in Paris and the Hague in the Netherlands. The team is also bringing together the restoration of a property in Tuscany in San Gimignano between Florence and Siena, continuing a heritage of exquisite design. In regard to possibly expanding their practice to the Middle East, Calvagrac is optimistic, adding, “We are always very impressed by the incredible transformations and future-oriented creativity that we enjoy discovering during our travels.”
Originally published in the October 2022 issue of Vogue Arabia
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