For a Boffi showroom in Santa Monica, Piero Lissoni used unfinished steel and transparent glass to display cutting-edge kitchens—baths, too
Leslie Brenner -- Interior Design, 10/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
When Boffi sought to open a showroom in Southern California, the celebrated Italian manufacturer of kitchens and baths naturally turned to its renowned art director, Piero Lissoni, who oversees every element of design for the company. Lissoni was the one who propelled Boffi in its present direction of sleek yet supremely functional modular kitchens 10 years ago, with the launch of his groundbreaking Latina kitchen. Working in conjunction with Los Angeles partners Modern Props and Modern Living, Lissoni completed the new showroom in cooperation with Boffi's in-house architectural staff. The result, a striking skylit space in Santa Monica, makes as forceful a statement as the sophisticated merchandise on display.
The Santa Monica location, a stretch of Fourth Street where avant-garde furniture and design stores have been opening lately, was partially responsible for attracting Boffi and partners. Still more important was the building itself. "When I saw it, I saw something that was super-ugly but at the same time naturally elegant," recalls Lissoni. Looking into the soul of this 11,000-square-foot double-height volume, with its skylights and bow trusses, Lissoni saw the interior of a ship or the belly of a whale.
Glass walls now divide the space, creating layers of transparency that start with the facade's three enormous square storefront windows, then ripple all the way back. "The glass looks like light that's solid," explains Lissoni. "It's physically existent and at the same time nonexistent. It's a dichotomy."
A staircase of cold-rolled unfinished steel cuts diagonally upward, leading to a mezzanine on which Boffi's bathrooms are shown. Though the mezzanine preexisted, Lissoni abbreviated it to run around only the back of the interior, bridging the two sides for circulation purposes. Rough steel I beams provide support where sections of the original mezzanine have been removed. Lissoni compares the result to the balcony of an old-fashioned cinema. "From upstairs, I like to watch people down on the first floor," he says. To that end, he placed staff offices at the rear of the mezzanine, facing outward to offer a view of entering customers.
Outsize mirrors multiply the effect of the glass walls, while the roughly welded corners of the mirrors' steel frames recall I beams' unfinished steel. "The idea is to respect the defects," explains Lissoni. It's also a question of heightening the contrasts. White-painted walls of exposed brick set off the poured-epoxy floor's liquid blackness and the glass, stainless-steel, and plastic-laminate surfaces of the modular kitchens. All of them were designed with ingenious touches such as recessed knife-holders and built-in bain-marie inserts that would occur only to someone who's a dedicated cook. As Lissoni confides, "It's my private passion."
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