It all started, as many great Italian stories do, with family and food. “My grandmother was really into porcelain,” says Massimiliano Locatelli, one of Italy’s preeminent architects and founder of the new affordable luxury line of housewares, Untitled Homeware. “She collected it, and she used it with great care at family meals.” Dinner in Locatelli’s family was the centerpiece of the day, arriving with much fanfare and many rules. “So many rules,” he laughs. “The ceremony of food was very important in my family.”
Thus began Locatelli’s passion for porcelain, only to discover as an adult that it was a prohibitively expensive luxury if made by hand. “I have loved porcelain forever,” he says, “but there was nothing for me between handmade and IKEA.” So, he decided to make his own. Along the way, porcelain turned to glassware, and metalworking, and stone carving. With a bit of this and a little of that, Locatelli assembled a collection of table settings and pieces for entertaining that seamlessly blended classic lines and modern influences into fresh, whimsical creations.
To understand Locatelli’s aesthetic, one need look no further than his acclaimed office space in San Paolo Converso, a 16th-century church and convent in Piazza Sant’Eufemia in Milan. Told by local officials that the landmarked building could not be structurally altered in any way, nor the frescoed walls be obscured from view, Locatelli set about building a two-story freestanding steel and glass cage in the center of the church, a contradictory modern structure that nevertheless feels completely at home encased its Renaissance surroundings. Marrying the traditional with the modern and wedding rich ornamentation to stark minimalism are specialties of the designer. In his home collection, Locatelli breezily pairs a flowery porcelain dinner platter with a clear glass salad plate detailed with hand-applied insects in such a way that, when one is layered over the other, the ants and bees appear to float on the flowers beneath.
Mixing materials and motifs gives Untitled Homeware an eclectic, whimsical feel. (Photo courtesy of Untitled Homeware)
“It’s really an anti-design approach to design,” Locatelli offers as he peruses his offerings on the 9th floor of Barneys’ Madison Avenue flagship, where Untitled Homeware has found its new home. “There is only one shape for the plates—round—because I detest eating off of squares!” The pieces are intended to be mixed and matched, creating eclectic, colorful settings. And none of it is to be taken too seriously. “You know when you visit a house that’s been overdesigned, you feel so uncomfortable,” he explains. “I want people to be comfortable. I want these pieces to speak a language people understand.”
Complementing the place settings are modern, minimalist home furnishings, including the dramatic, sinuous multi-piece West Lake table. The story of the original design goes like this: Locatelli was working with the Princess of Vietnam on her home in Hanoi, when the Princess informed him that she would like a dining-room sized table for her living room, to be built in such a way that it could grow or shrink depending on her entertaining needs. Finding inspiration in the living room’s expansive view of Hanoi Lake, Locatelli replicated its shape using cast bronze modules, with one mahogany module in the midst to represent a small peninsula that juts into the water. The pieces could be configured in different ways to suit the size of any event.
What works for Vietnamese royalty, Locatelli has found, also works for Manhattan’s social elite. “This is a collection for the Barneys crowd,” says the designer, who splits his time between Milan and New York. “Young, stylish, smart.” Recalling his grandmother, he confesses the table settings hold a special place in his heart. “It’s all about affordable luxury,” he maintains. “And most importantly, it’s about keeping the culture of eating alive.” Spoken like a true Italian.
VISIT MASSIMILIANO’S UNTITLED HOMEWARE INSTALLATION
ON THE 9TH FLOOR OF BARNEYS’ MADISON AVENUE FLAGSHIP