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Lebanese Studio David/Nicolas on Reimagining Casa di Fantasia, a Gio Ponti Treasure in Milan

The masterminds behind eclectic Lebanese studio David/Nicolas have embarked on their most challenging project yet – reimagining a Gio Ponti treasure in Milan.

Photo: Sara Magni

They’ve weaved their eclectic signature style into projects from all over the world. Working from Beirut and Milan since 2011, Lebanese design duo David Raffoul and Nicolas Moussallem set up their eponymous firm David/ Nicolas, which has since become one of the world’s most sought-after studios. Recently, the team embarked on an unlikely project when they set out to reimagine a 1923 Haussmannian art deco-style home by Mario Borgaro near the Piazza Piemonte. The property, dubbed Casa di Fantasia, was refurbished in 1952 by Gio Ponti.

Nicolas Moussallem and David Raffoul. Photo: Sara Magni

Ponti, the prolific Italian architect and designer, conceived over a hundred buildings during his six-decadelong career; he also designed several decorative objects and reimaged spaces small and grand. One such project was the Casa di Fantasia, which Raffoul and Moussallem sought to recreate in their own way, while preserving the historical character of the original work. “Our task was to completely reimagine Casa di Fantasia, and we opted to do so by retaining the primary features of Gio Ponti’s original design and honoring his vision,” says Lebanese designer Moussallem, who worked with his French Lebanese studio partner Raffoul to navigate this renovation of the 260sqm two-bedroom in Milan. “This project served as a creative platform for Gio Ponti, where he was able to experiment with various perspectives, circulation patterns, collaborative efforts, and intricate details.” Decades on, the same can be said for the founders of David/ Nicolas.

A succession of glazed openings visually connects the living room, study, dressing room, and bedroom. Table by Eero Saarinen, Knoll, Superleggera chairs by Gio Ponti, Cassina. Photo: Sara Magni

How the project fell into their hands is a story of serendipity. Owned by electronics executive Mario Lucano until the 1960s, the home was sold to an entrepreneur who kept it nearly intact for over half a century. But by 2019, the owner decided to put the interiors up for auction, including panels from the walls, the Mellotti tiles, and the furnishings. The empty shell was sold to an investment banker named Michele Marocchino. About a year before acquiring the apartment, Raffoul and Moussallem had met Marocchino in their Beirut offices through a mutual acquaintance, discussing at length their work, vision, and his passion for art and design. “It was an informal meeting, and we had no idea that we would be collaborating on this exceptional project a year later,” Raffoul remembers.

In the library, a photo of Queen Elizabeth II by Chris Levine behind 18th-century marble obelisks, an artist’s book by Michelangelo Pistoletto, a Flemish portrait, an 18th-century fragment of a painting, and a 1972 lithograph invitation. Photo: Sara Magni

The revamp posed several challenges, and one was critical: “How to maintain our identity while respecting the works of Gio Ponti and Fornasetti?” Raffoul says, referencing the Italian artist and designer who helped Ponti create the first renovation. “To tackle this, we approached the project by focusing on the essence of the house, and the important perspectives Ponti emphasized in his drawings.”

The study upholstered in crimson silk with geometric oak inserts. Photo: Sara Magni

Initially, the project was presented to the designers as a request to create a boiserie for the two renowned rooms of the house – The Studio and The Dressing. “However, upon delving deeper into the archives, we mutually decided to take a broader approach and reimagine the entire space that was once Gio Ponti’s creative playground,” Moussallem says. “We designed and crafted the two main couches for the living area, a freestanding bar, the dining table lamp, several sconces made of casted aluminum, and the library space sofa.” The interior features several art pieces, including photos by Mimmo Jodice, as well as artwork by Ettore Spalletti from the Galleria VistaMare in Milan. Additionally, Letizia Chianese, who happens to be Marocchino’s mother, contributed a piece to the bathroom. A wallpaper panel from the 18th century adorns the main bedroom, and 25 pink paper prints by Carol Rama are displayed over the bed.

The stairs of the building, dated 1923, are designed to obtain a lighter impact on the building structure. Photo: Sara Magni

The designers recreated the removed rooms, respecting the original proportions and dimensions. Even Ponti’s use of radica wood was reinterpreted through the team’s marquetry. “We also used Fornasetti’s wallpapers depicting bookshelves and integrated them into our boiserie systems, which transformed into an actual library from that initial drawing.” Casa di Fantasia became a playground once again, where the designers were able to communicate with great minds from a different era. “We believe that Gio Ponti always intended this project to be an experimental space, and we are proud to be a part of that,” Raffoul and Moussallem agree.

The pink sinks and the tiles of Fausto Melotti in the bathroom are old, starkly juxtaposed with the clay floor, which is new. Photo: Sara Magni

In the dressing room, a Mimmo Jodice photograph and a David/Nicolas sconce on marquetry walls. Vintage bench by Pierre Jeanneret. Photo: Sara Magni

In the main bedroom, over the bed, pink paper Carol Rama prints. Photo: Sara Magni

Originally published in the Spring/Summer 2023 issue of Vogue Living Arabia

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