Tile for All Seasons
Josephine Minutillo -- Interior Design, 10/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
On a quiet street in the heart of Milan's Brera district—a neighborhood known more for its world-class art museum and charming galleries than for the trendy shops and cafés that saturate most of this style capital—Italy's first Sicis showroom has opened in an 18th-century palazzo. Designed by Studio Marco Piva, the young mosaic-tile company's 6,500-square-foot facility adds a spectacular splash of color to the Brera's sober surroundings.
"You can't help but notice it," architect Marco Piva says of the Art Factory, as Sicis calls the new showroom. With its massive windows facing the street, the vibrant interior becomes, as Piva puts it, "part of the scenography of the city."
It certainly didn't start out that way. "When we acquired this place, it was completely run-down," recalls company founder and president Maurizio Placuzzi, who had previously hired Piva for product and exhibition designs.
"The driving force was to give new life to a very traditional art form," says Piva. He kept the three-level interior mostly unfurnished to make room for large mosaic installations, which function as architectural elements rather than mere decorative surfaces. Rising up the walls of the central stairwell, for instance, a continuous mosaic changes from intense reds to cooler blues, like a journey from the center of the earth to the sky.
The mosaic installations will change like the seasons, both natural and commercial. Doubling up on the city's fashion calendar, Sicis will present new mosaic collections every three months or so. To accommodate these transformations, Piva made sure that the interiors would be extremely flexible. Any section of flooring or vertical paneling can be removed and replaced easily. Double-sided modular panels—some flat, some curved— are rigid yet lightweight, thanks to honeycomb-steel cores.
A network of spotlights enhances the luminosity of a wide variety of tile types. The upper level is reserved for the bold colors and eye-catching geometries of the Glass3 collection. Meanwhile, the basement accommodates countless mosaic samples in glass, stone, metal, and composite marble, among other materials.
The Art Factory's inaugural installation, which fills the storefront windows and the ground level, opened during this past spring's Salone Internazionale del Mobile and runs through October. Displays by such leading European names as Tom Dixon, Patricia Urquiola, and Ora-Ïto include a cast of large-scale comic-strip characters, demonstrating that contemporary mosaics can be simultaneously witty and beautiful.