Laura Sartori Rimini, architect, and Roberto Peregalli, philosopher, founded Studio Peregalli in Milan in the early 1990s and have created exceptional interiors and architecture for projects around the world, as well as designing theater sets and exhibitions. The international press has selected them as one of the 100 most influential interior design firms in the world. Photo: Hugh Findletar
Sergio Risaliti is an art historian, writer, and curator of exhibitions and interdisciplinary events. He founded the Palazzo delle Papesse, Siena, and served as its director until 2002. Since 2014 he has acted as artistic director of projects at the Forte di Belvedere, the Stefano Bardini Museum, the Palazzo Vecchio, and the Piazza della Signoria, Florence. Photo: Giovanni De Angelis
Sergio RisalitiYour architectural and decorative interventions both pose and resolve a series of problems: the relationship between the present, for example, and the past, which you make real again without lapsing into academic reproduction or empty stylistic quotation. I feel as if I were experiencing a perceptual condition like being half asleep, somewhere between dream and waking and belonging to both those dimensions: your houses are inhabited by living people, here and now, but also by parts of the past, or rather of past lives and lost civilizations that today survive only as fragments and ruins.
Roberto Peregalli and Laura Sartori RiminiWe don’t think the present can exclude the past. It’s a past that is dreamed of, rediscovered through fragments and reinterpretations. Our work is a question not of reproducing but of reinventing—think of it as archaeological, as rediscovering traces of vanished worlds behind the skin of the walls. It’s not just about nostalgia. Looking back, as Rilke said, has a value in some way based on a future to which we don’t yet belong.
SRYour work puts back together the debris that Walter Benjamin writes about in his “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” where he describes a famous watercolor by Paul Klee, Angelus Novus.
RP & LSRThat’s exactly what we’re looking for—we’re trying to rediscover a harmony in the contradictions and dissonances of the present.
SRHow do you avoid conflict with each other—how do you maintain a dialogue, bring together heterogeneous elements that are also elements of your characters, of your singular sensibilities? The results are a perfect harmony of perhaps quite different ideas, tastes, and preferences, just as your predispositions and personal talents are different.
RP & LSRWe do have different departure points, different approaches to life and to work, but it’s these differences that have allowed us a fertile dialogue over all these years of working together (twenty-six now!). There are conflicts sometimes but it’s always positive in the end, because we have shared goals: a love of beauty, a sense of the power of details, an attention to the nuances of time.
SRHow do you develop a project? How do you relate to the client? Do you need carte blanche? Do you construct the work step by step with the client, or do you prefer to surprise them, to catch them off-guard?
RP & LSRAfter the site itself, the client is the most important element in a project. Carte blanche does not exist, because you always have to establish a dialogue with the people you’re working for, and it’s important that they be happy with the result as well as that we are. We make a journey with the client. There can be moments of being caught off-guard, moments of surprise, but these later get put back together so as to end up with a shared outcome at the journey’s end.
SRAccording to Walter Pater and then Edmond de Goncourt, a house is an expansion of the body of the person who lives in it, in the same way that the body in turn is a projection, an expansion, of the soul. Robert de Montesquiou used to compare the house one lives in to a state of mind. Do you agree with the ideas of these great literary figures?
RP & LSRIn the end, a house, if successful, certainly reflects the soul of its inhabitant. Heidegger said that to dwell is to take care of the world. For us, discovering and accommodating the soul of both house and client is obligatory. Our houses aim not to be “period rooms” but containers where a place’s previous life and the people who now live there merge.
SRYour new Rizzoli book, Grand Tour, covers various locations: you start in Milan, move on to Tangier and Tel Aviv, then pass the Strait of Gibraltar to New York. It’s a journey in space and time, encountering not only different civilizations, languages, and customs but different materials, techniques, and tools.
RP & LSRThat’s what we’re trying to do in the book—to show the beauty of the ties and resonances that every place and every civilization has, and at the same time to respect them and let them be experienced. In a world where everything is assimilated and aesthetic differences are often smoothed over, we try to revive those differences and understand what they can give us.
SRYou are in harmony with the great civilizations of the distant past, the recent past, and the present, and you keep alive earlier generations, belying the sacred scripture that tells us “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”
RP & LSRDialogue with the past makes it possible to create a bridge toward the future.
Our work isn’t so much an eclecticism like that of the late nineteenth century, but more a leap into a time past, revisited, as you say, as if in a dream.Roberto Peregalli and Laura Sartori Rimini
SRIn New York you designed a new home for two extraordinary artists, John Currin and Rachel Feinstein—two artists distinguished by their refined interpretations of the history of art and taste, which they treat with irony and countless subtleties.
RP & LSRThat was a stimulating project. Their house dated from the early 1900s; it had been reworked a good deal, but still preserved an aura. John and Rachel have very strong personalities, and at the same time, being artists, they know how to listen. To go on a journey with them allowed us to reconsider the importance of art in our lives. We wanted their work to stand in dialogue with ours: the idea that art has to have a context that resembles it seems reductive to us. A strong work can exist perfectly well in an environment that has its own autonomy.
SRIn the book, Currin says that irony assuages both nostalgia for the past and disgust for the present. Do you see yourself in this statement, which seems to suggest someone who detests mediocrity and admires the sublime, which he perceives in feelings and ideas that were part of great art in the past?
RP & LSRYes, in a way. But even as Currin makes this provocative statement, he repudiates it through his work. All his work as an artist is both a search for a dream tied to the past and a critique of the present. In this sense our own path, while different from his, has strong similarities to it.
SRAnother significant passage that helps us to understand your work is the one in which Currin and Feinstein sing the praises of Italian craftsmanship: only in Italy, they say, can they satisfy their desire for perfection. What they find there is not superficial reproduction but ancient knowledge, inherited quality.
RP & LSRWe appreciate this compliment, because it’s true that our projects would remain unrealized dreams if it weren’t for the team of craftspeople we work with.
SRLeafing through the book, with an excellent layout by Luca Stoppini, it’s as if we were looking at a film, a cinematic series of images passing before our eyes. The book is more than a document of a body of work that explores the feelings and emotions woven into places, spaces, ways of being and loving; it’s like a film with framed highlights, bringing to mind Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Conformist , Luchino Visconti’s Senso , and Vittorio De Sica’s The Garden of the Finzi Continis . Your methodology recalls the various disciplines of architecture, philosophy, interior design, restoration, lighting—the lighting design in Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon , for example. In your spaces, in other words, dream is reality and reality is the projection of a dream.
RP & LSRThe comparison with cinema is right, because our houses are like series of images, room following room in a perspectival enfilade that should be read in its totality. Every detail, from the furnishings to the texture of the walls in sunlight, contributes to this harmony. Like a film director, we have to manage different groups of people who must coexist over a timespan sometimes even longer than that of a film.
SRYour works layer not only times and civilizations but feelings and perceptions. Every detail, every color and form, germinates new faculties by which the individual, in a vague yet sure way (as when half-asleep), perceives things that exceed the actual capabilities that are intended and felt. This seems to me to imply an incredible expansion of time, an expansion of the emotional and cognitive life of the inhabitant, experiencing thousands of suggestions and perceptions, subtleties and fantasies, memories and reminiscences. Your interiors allow a possibility of being removed from the superficial, dehumanizing haste of contemporary life.
RP & LSRTime, patience, patina, care, detail, feeling—these are important words for us, as are the stratifications that a place ends up having. Its soul is precisely what is revived in the people who inhabit it. Our work isn’t so much an eclecticism like that of the late nineteenth century, but more a leap into a time past, revisited, as you say, as if in a dream. For us our work has a quality of rupture, constituting a new way of reflecting on the present and at the same time interpreting signs of the future.