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Nigel Coates 14th â€“ 19th April (h)+, via Varese 12, 20121 Milan
Potentino as Paradigm The Importance of Place
I have been living in the Tuscan countryside now for over 25 years, and fortunately have had the opportunity to restore and inhabit two castles. But recently, from the Castello di Potentino where I live and work, I have noticed that the sense of place is gradually disappearing. Traditions that once sustained identity are being eroded. Homogenization inevitably leads to a lack of distinction and an inability to appreciate quality, that is, quality as the essence or special nature of a thing. The characteristics of any specific environment were originally formed by a series of unique interactions with the climate, the earth, the vegetation, the individual sensibility, and the past – factors that are directly reflected in its produce or cultural expression. So PLACE makes a qualitative difference. Place creates idiosyncratic cultural expressions – from agriculture, viticulture to art, music and design. In other words, it creates living. In the relatively unspoilt area surrounding the Amiata, an extinct volcano in Southern Tuscany, I discovered that many local customs and practices have survived. They constitute a model for place, and exemplify why these traditions must be upheld. The CASTLE can represent a monumental continuation of this archaic relationship between man and environment. As a paradigm of that creative reciprocity, I began to realise that Potentino should come back to life as the dynamic cultural hub that it had always been, a PLACE where man, nature and artful intelligence can meet, and create a ‘21st Century Castle’. After many years of conversations and glasses of wine under the Tuscan skies with my great and highly talented friend, Nigel Coates, the neo-humanist idea of Paracastello was born. Charlotte Horton
3. Sala Volupta
2. Sala dâ€™Ingresso 1. Soglia
previous page: still from John Mayburyâ€™s film Pieces of Potentino, 2015
A Magic Realism Another side of Tuscany
Sustained commitment to the modern, urban world can so easily turn to a longing for the countryside. For the English at least, such hankerings often focus on Tuscany, and gloss over the downsides, the freezing cold winters and the socially corrosive effects of Italian furbiziai. The very idea of the city encapsulates migration from field to forum, while tired of urban frenzy, city dwellers dream of (and often act on) returning to an idealised version of their roots. The dynamic crossover between the countryside and the city largely defines the history of both; their culture, economies and social customs are well charted in art and literature. Wherever they are located, most homes have some symbolic evidence of the other, whether hanging on the walls or hidden in the kitchen cupboard. After the Second World War many derelict country estates across the Tuscan region were enthusiastically acquired at knockdown prices and painstakingly brought back to their original splendour. Meanwhile contadini ii couldnâ€™t lock up their houses in the country quickly enough. For the first time you could live in the village and go back and forth to the fields on your brand-new Vespa. Since those tough times, the Tuscan countryside has undergone a quiet, insistent revolution. These days houses abandoned by the contadini are much less available; most have already been revitalised by a new kind of owner who wants to bring urban values to bear on a synthetic interpretation of rural life. But some newcomers have spawned a thoroughly modern way of living that does not segregate town from country. On the contrary thereâ€™s a pioneering spirit building on a culture that combines the two. This exhibition is based on rural living as a prototype for reinvention. Along with it goes the reawakening of food culture, exploring not just how to cook better but to understand where food comes from. (Tuscan
cooking is essentially a poor cuisine based on fresh ingredients and alchemical processes such as the soffritto iii.) Combining preservation of the planet with new economies and values is a challenge that requires cohesive vision. Paracastello is based on one such experiment – the way in which Potentino castle has successfully reversed its decline, and in an exciting new phase of its ‘renaissance’, has brought a range of furniture and furnishings into being. There is also a thread in my own design work that stems from Tuscan experience. Over thirty years ago I bought a derelict farmhouse in the Senese. Over the years it taught me to appreciate the farmer’s way of doing things. It not only nourished my creative vocabulary and intellect, but also inspired numerous design pieces that express a sensuous, animalistic spirit. I am particularly taken by furniture made by the country craftsman attempting to channel ‘urban’ stereotypes of taste, while inadvertently simplifying them in the course of their execution. An acanthus leaf or Baroque scroll might be reduced to a notched outline, a mere gesture towards their aspiration. Meanwhile Potentino culture has been built from the inside outwards. It draws rural methods into its ramparts, nourishes them and focuses them. The new Potentino design line ‘furnishes’ exemplary living that embraces town and country, simplicity and refinement, local and global, and ultimately suggests a more meaningful approach to day-to-day life. Far from fantasy, both my own designs and those of Potentino express qualities that are not that different from the tenets of Modernism. They’re based on clean fluid lines and a lack of fuss. They have a grounded, earthy poetry that comes from a reduction of signification that typifies the rural condition. Paracastello enables these values to be exported, and reconfigured in the urban environment, and at a considerably smaller scale than in a genuine podere iv or castle.
More specifically we are here in Milan, the home of Italian design and the pinnacle of Italy’s economy, industry and bourgeois values. Clean lines and a certain semiotic purity combine well in the famous Lombard furniture brands. But Paracastello is something of an interloper in this design territory. With a mix of humour, magic and the desire to stimulate curiosity in the user, it goes under, over, and through the castle. So in developing this show, we have taken hold of the exhibition spaces and overlaid them with a narrative drawn from Potentino. Paracastello captures the essence of the castle, and serves it up in an adaptable, digestible form that is way more relevant today than the clichés of country living as a style. We hope the result appears as a smooth mix between any city apartment and the castle itself. Its framework is an enfilade of spaces that are partially defined in terms of spirit and function but flow naturally into one another. Here spatial techniques do not so much depend on mimicry as paired down theatricality. Like that landscape painting hanging on the dining room wall, this environment sets up a dialogue of associations and counterpoints. These are not spaces with voluptuous arches and tiny windows fit for archers. But as the rooms of any home should be, they are both liberating and protecting. After all, the home should be a crucible for the mind and for the soul.
i The tendency to outwit and take advantage of your fellow citizens through cunning actions and choices. ii Literally ‘peasant’, but in Italian culture the term carries a dignity that is absent in English. iii The slow-fried combination of celery, carrots and onions that forms the basis of many classic sauces, soups and oven-baked dishes. iv An Italian farmhouse situated in an estate and originally occupied by contadini who worked the master’s land in return for half the produce.
1. Soglia Across two courtyards and through a small entrance on the left... but imagine the equivalent of this approach at Potentino castle. You’d climb a ramp, pass through two gates and finally cross the upper court towards the threshold. By the light of a Pepone lamp, you’ll pass a suite of keys and a sequence of portraits representing the multiplicity of people that typically visit the castle. Take your boots off while sitting on a Feral chair, and check your composure in the Occhione mirror. Here and throughout the Paracastello show, rooms are furnished with a mix of products from two sources: from Potentino’s new lifestyle brand and with designs by Nigel Coates. His pieces include his eponymous line alongside various pieces realized with companies with which he collaborates.
2. Sala dâ€™Ingresso All darkness and light; a stair, a narrow window and doors leading in all directions. The sheer weight and height of this ancient structure sets your thoughts whirling. On the far side of the room a Baciamano armchair and pouf are ready to welcome you â€“ with a drink perhaps. Books on winemaking and the castles of Tuscany are piled on Potentino side tables peppering the room. No nostalgia, more the modern lives of ancient buildings. A pewter Cuore lamp commands the room, and the engraving on a decorative folding screen warns the gods to curtail their taste for sensuality, a distinct risk in Potentino world. Video projections take you ducking and diving through the castle.
Ombretta 3 carpet
Potentino side table
Baciamano armchair and pouf
3. Sala Volupta A large black Picco table is laid for dinner. Twelve place settings each have a stack of Foculo plates and goblet-like Headsup crystal glasses just waiting for some delicious Castello di Potentino wine. Although relatively formal, this is the setting for frequent virtuoso lunches and dinners reflecting the inventive cooking that is so much part of the Potentino experience. Invitees include cultural luminaries, scientists and young creatives from all over the world. Typical dishes include risotto ai fiori di zucca, ignudi, pici al ragĂš dâ€™ oca, peposo and spezzato di cinghiale. Two of the walls enclosing the space reproduce characteristic compositions of fine china like those at the actual castle.
Carry Artid lamps
Potentino dining chair
Picco dining table
4. Triclinium No castle would be worth its salt without a place to meet and debate into the night. In this room three Picco loungers ensure the most sparkling of conversation while lying comfortably. In the spirit of the Greek symposium, these sport leather cushions shaped like a reclining figure atop low wooden tables with turned legs. Arranged around a group of Feral side tables and an Ombretta carpet, together the sofas define a space of their own. A Ballerino chandelier in mirrored Venetian crystal focuses the centre of the room. A pair of Punctum wall lamps suggest that no discourse is hermetic, no conversation ever final.
Punctum wall lamp
Feral side table
Ombretta 1 carpet
5. Studiolo Cultured Renaissance figures would only succeed in acquiring a rounded understanding of the world thanks to hard graft and informed study. As sets of learning, it follows that castles would often boast a Studiolo, a place to collect the sort of books, curiosities and scientific instruments that would enable erudite study. Potentino fuses these necessities with style, combining literature with learning, an understanding of the natural world with ancient tenets of the first inhabitants of this valley, the Etruscans. Relax here on a Lehnstuhl chair and Hรถcker footstool reading a book on Wunderkammer by the light of a Chapeau floor lamp. Feral bookshelves loaded with rare tomes combine practicality with Cubist artistry.
Chapeau floor lamp
Ombretta 2 carpet
6. Camera No amount of study will settle in the mind without a fine place to rest, and Potentino has many exceptional such rooms. A Feral bed with a wide all-wool mattress handmade to traditional Tuscan standards ensures a deep refreshing sleep. In the daytime the bed is piled up high with Meander and Minerva cushions. A choice of robes adorns the Potentino servo muto standing obediently in the corner of the room. Slip into one of these gowns, slide beneath the sheets and turn your attention to your current novel by the light of the Illuminati wall-lamps. As if the entire room were a four-poster, these walls are hung with opulent fabrics mixing those borrowed from the castle with new prints derived from its decorative motifs.
Illuminati wall lamps
Potentino servo muto
7. Terrazzo Naturally the archetypal closed configuration of any castle explodes when you step outside its heavy doors. Potentino conforms to type with its elegant courtyard and loggia overlooking the valley below. Like a giant outdoor room, this is a place to dine, talk, and listen to musical performance and dance. As soon as the harsh Tuscan winter turns to spring, everyone will long to be out in the open. To help enjoy the fresh air, Cipretto outdoor furniture combines contemporary elegance with robust local materials. Wine will be served by the lady of the house, the Castellana, who offers a choice of Sacromonte, Piropo and Balaxus.
Cipretto sun bed
8. Vigna Surrounded by woods and olive groves, the jewel of the estate is a 4-hectare vineyard. Like two impasto brush strokes of vivid green on the otherwise tawny landscape, these distinct areas are divided into several varieties of grape. Sangiovese dominates along with Pinot Noir and Alicante. As the cliché goes, you are living in a painting, so why not paint one too? If you spread out your paint box next to you on one of the Cipretto benches, you’ll be perfectly set up to capture this stunning, unspoiled valley. If it’s an afternoon snooze your looking for, some Cipretto double sun bed have been thoughtfully sited in the shade of some olive trees. How often can you say life couldn’t be better?
Double Cipretto sun bed
Cipretto outdoor bench
Products Upholstery: Picco lounger / Nigel Coates / nigelcoates / leather and ash / w170 d102 h987 cm Baciamano armchair with table / Nigel Coates / Fornasetti / jacquard and chestnut / w124 h129 d113 cm Baciamano pouf / Nigel Coates / Fornasetti / jacquard and chestnut / w62 h43 cm Easy chairs: Lehnstuhl / Nigel Coates / Gebrüder Thonet Vienna / bentwood beech and Viennese cane / w82 d88 h86 cm Lehnstuhl-Höcker or footstool / Nigel Coates / Gebrüder Thonet Vienna / bentwood beech and Viennese cane / w64 d34 h43 cm Side tables: Feral / Nigel Coates / nigelcoates / walnut, chestnut, ash, glass / w53 d53 h45 cm Potentino / Nigel Coates / Potentino / chestnut / w50 d60 h45 cm Chairs: Feral / Nigel Coates / nigelcoates / walnut, chestnut, ash / w49 d41 h73 cm Potentino / Nigel Coates / Potentino / chestnut, Casentino wool / w44 d55 h94 cm Table: Picco / Nigel Coates / nigelcoates / ash / w300 d110 h75 cm Lighting: Pepone chandelier / Nigel Coates / Potentino / porcelain and bent rod / E27, 110-240 V, w48 h37 cm Ballerino chandelier / Nigel Coates / Abate Zanetti / hand brown crystal / 110-240 V, w68 h82 cm Carry Artid suspension / Nigel Coates / nigelcoates / borosilicate glass / E27, 110-240V, w34 d24 cm Cuore wall lamp / Nigel Coates / Slamp / LED 12V, w29 d9 h39 cm Illuminati wall lamps / Nigel Coates / Slamp / LED 12V, 1: w18 d9 h50 cm; 2: w27 d7 h42 cm Chapeau floor lamp / Nigel Coates / Slamp / E27, 110-240V, d58 h170 cm
Bed: Feral / Nigel Coates / nigelcoates / walnut, chestnut, ash / w200 d219 h37cm Accessories: Meander cushion / Clare Frost / Potentino / printed cotton / w50 h45 cm Minerva cushion / Clare Frost / Potentino / printed cotton / w60 h60 cm Carpets: Ombretta 1, 2 and 3 / Nigel Coates / nigelcoates / hand-knotted Nepalese wool / 1: w250 d170 cm; 2: w250 d170 cm; 3: w210 d170 cm Robes: Damask chapan / Clare Frost / Potentino / hand printed silk / w55 h113 cm Minerva kimono / Clare Frost / Potentino / hand printed silk / 1: w55 h67 cm; 2: w55 h125 cm Ceramics: Foculo plates and bowls / Gerry de Bastiano / Potentino / hand thrown glazed ceramic / dessert d18; plate d26; bowl d16 cm Foculo pitcher / Gerry De Bastiano / Potentino / hand thrown glazed ceramic / w20 h27 cm Headsup stemware / Nigel Coates / Nude - Glass Is Tomorrow / hand blown crystal / champagne w5 h25 cm, white wine w7 h21 cm; red wine w9 h23 cm; water w9 h23 cm Outdoor: Cipretto sun bed / Jono Nussbaum / Potentino / laser-cut steel and cypress / w70 d202 h48 cm Cipretto double sun bed / Jono Nussbaum / Potentino / laser-cut steel and cypress / w140 d202 h48 cm Cipretto armchair / Jono Nussbaum / Potentino / w180 d112 h93 cm Cipretto dining table / Jono Nussbaum / Potentino / laser-cut steel and cypress / w180 d80 h79 cm Cipretto bench / Jono Nussbaum / Potentino / laser-cut steel and cypress / w179 d40 h46 cm Cipretto stool / Jono Nussbaum / Potentino / laser-cut steel and cypress / w48 d40 h46 cm
Biographies Castello di Potentino. Run by the Greene family as a Residenza d’Epoca, this ancient castle is built on an Etruscan site in a secret valley nestled in one of the last undiscovered corners of Tuscany —the Amiata. Bought by Charlotte Horton and Alexander Greene in 2000, today the castle is a cultural centre. The revitalised estate is now home to a vineyard of 4 hectares and an olive tree plantation for the production of wine, grappa and oil. Charlotte Horton has been making award-winning wines in Tuscany for over 20 years. Before moving to Italy, she worked for Vogue Magazine, the Secker & Warburg publishing house and subsequently as a freelance journalist. In 2013, she was recognized as one of the Barclay’s Women of Achievement. Alexander Greene is part of the team that set up the Frontline Club, a members’ club and restaurant in Paddington that specializes in independent journalism, and hosts the likes of Wikileaks and Litvinenko. He went on to work at the publisher Little, Brown Book Group whose authors include J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer and Patricia Cornwell.
Nigel Coates is an architect and designer of spaces and objects. His studio in Bloomsbury combines architectural laboratory, showroom and gallery. Buildings include the Wall in Tokyo, the Hubs in Sheffield and the Geffrye Museum in London. His many architectural exhibitions include Ecstacity at the Venice Architecture Biennale, Mixtacity at Tate Modern and Picaresque at the Triennale Design Museum. Books include Guide to Ecstacity and Narrative Architecture. Clare Frost is a textile designer based in Istanbul. Working with artisans and artists in Turkey, Afghanistan, and India, she creates block printed and hand embroidered fabrics to the trade, embroidered and printed pillows, silk kimonos, capsule collections of clothing, leather shoes and bags. Gerry de Bastiano attended the Instituto Statale dâ€™Arte, Lecce, followed by the European Institute of Design in Rome. Subsequently from his base in Florence, he began experimenting with ceramics as artist in residence at Zaccagnini, the noted Tuscan majolica factory. He is represented by Galleria Blancheart in Milan and has sold extensively throughout the world. His ceramic work is in the permanent collection of the Museo Internazionale delle Ceramiche in Faenza. Jono Nussbaum was born and educated in London, where he worked on design projects before relocating in 2003 to an olive farm in southern Tuscany. Drawing inspiration from his surroundings and with a continuing fascination for the visual arts and natural sciences, Jono describes his work as an intuitive, physical response to his current environment. Jonoâ€™s designs are realised through collaboration with local makers and craftsmen. He uses locally sourced raw materials whenever possible.