You might say Achille Salvagni takes a strada less traveled. As one of four new designers recently indoctrinated into Elle Decor’s 2015 A-list, Salvagni is not easily influenced by trends or what’s currently in vogue. Instead, he believes, “elegance and beauty are above these barriers.”
If the Rome-based architect and furniture designer sounds more like an Italian Renaissance painter, then that’s part of his allure. He charms with talk of midcentury maestros such as Gio Ponti and Paolo Buffa, yet remains steadfastly committed to the ideal: the beauty of simplicity. It takes a trained eye to see hints of classicism at work in his limited edition and bespoke furniture creations. The modern forms of his Antinoo cabinet or his Vittoria chair, for example, belie a certain level of restraint—a Roman-like reverence for reserving the most beautiful parts for our visual satisfaction. His interior work is equally complex: modern and traditional blend to achieve Salvagni’s ideal of timeless elegance.
We recently caught up with the architect-designer to ask him about the intersection between art, luxury and his concept of “slow design.”
Previews Inside Out From where do you draw inspiration?
Achille Salvagni I love to discover things. I have an endless curiosity and invest much time in finding references and details from across different cultures—from fashion to travel to contemporary art to literature. In my design process, nothing is left to chance; everything is considered and planned, down to the last detail.
Previews Inside Out Where does art fit into your work?
Achille Salvagni I live and work in Rome; it would be difficult to overlook art in an environment such as this. Art is, first, a satisfaction for the senses, thirst for knowledge and research of affirmation. These are the guiding principles I work with and try to achieve when creating my projects. When art is fully integrated into an interior, it enhances spaces, souls and people.
Previews Inside Out What does luxury mean to you?
Achille Salvagni I shy away from the concept of luxury as it applies to precious materials and shiny surfaces. Luxury is anything but that. Luxury is being able to afford to be surrounded by beauty and balance. Luxury is having enough time to enjoy the beauty in order to commit to enriching ourselves, to enjoying unique things. Luxury is a condition of the soul, not related to the value of things but to their extreme quality.
Previews Inside Out You are heavily influenced by Italian design. Which of your pieces take visual cues from different Italian historical periods?
Achille Salvagni I would point to Gio Ponti and Paolo Buffa for their emblematical work, drawing together the past and the future, as well as the great French cabinetmakers for their perfectionism and tradition—they were experimental and avant-garde in terms of style, all the while maintaining masterly techniques. I look to the 1920s and 1930s, followed closely by the 1950s—to the dreamers of those periods, for their enthusiasm for creating and sense of the future. When you are born and raised in Rome, it is difficult not to look to the past when thinking of the future. In all the periods of history, Rome has expressed moments of absolute excellence that will always influence and be referenced in new works, time and time again.
Previews Inside Out How has your architectural background informed your furniture designs?
Achille Salvagni When I couldn’t find what I needed for my projects available on the commercial market, I started creating my own pieces, and it’s from this experience that my current furniture and lighting collections have grown. The interior artifacts and objects I create are deeply moving and considered objects d’art. Poised, eloquent and unquestionably luxurious, each piece is underpinned by unwavering commitment to detail, ideas and the use of the finest materials and craftsmanship. These are not just interior decorations but timeless pieces infused with history, context and the imagination.
Previews Inside Out You have compared your design approach to the Slow Food movement. Can you explain what “slow design” means?
Achille Salvagni Slow design is a different way of conceiving the aesthetics of space and its components. It is an ancient method of working that leads to unique and extraordinary results. It is the ongoing challenge of not settling for industrial products meant for mass production but trying to tell unique stories, dedicated to individuals. I love to be able to design, test a prototype and reach new and unique results. All this takes time and passion. It is this passion that makes you design a doorknob or the hinge of a closet, create the design of a carpet by choosing the color range of wools and silks, and work with the most extraordinary skilled artisans.
Previews Inside Out For your bespoke creations, do you design with heavy direction from clients, or do they give you total design freedom?
Achille Salvagni The customer is always the center of the project. You can’t create a tailored suit without a customer. My job is to understand and grasp the needs, to give answers and make concrete suggestions. I speak quite a bit with my clients; I like to know the ins and outs of their personality to be able to create something that fits them perfectly. I further enhance their spaces with something unexpected that I may have discovered in conversation with them or unearthed through my research.
Previews Inside Out What are your favorite materials to work with?
Achille Salvagni During a stroll on the streets of Rome, you come across countless materials that mark the passage of 2,500 years of history. Even if you’re not looking for them, you breathe them in together with the churches, the palazzi and the urban perspectives of different cultures. I work with materials that recall ancient tastes, paying attention to the patinas and finishes. The materials used for my collection recall the marble used in Roman basilicas, and the bronze and onyx used by the ancient Romans.
Previews Inside Out Can you tell us a little about your collaboration with Jean-Philippe Delhomme?
Achille Salvagni I have been an admirer of Jean-Philippe Delhomme since the early 1990s when I first came across his work in the advertising campaigns for Barneys New York. I identified with these immediately, and I never forgot them. Many years ago, when I was launching my website, I decided to contact him and see about collaborating to create illustrations about my work and the world I was creating. From there, we worked together, and he created a series of characters and illustrations based on me, pieces from my collections and even clients’ interiors projects, from super yachts to a pied-à-terre. Today, we are working on illustrations that will be used as outdoor coverings while I am in construction at my London gallery, which is set to open in the Mayfair section of London in October 2015, for the wrapping of the façade of a townhouse in New York City, as well as for a modernist estate in Miami.
I like to think that we are both astute observers of contemporary life. Every project I present to him is different from the previous and challenges him in different ways. He gets to imagine who the people are who will live in a space I create and how these people will live there. I like to think this is fun for everyone involved.