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Peter Marino Delves Into Italian History to Renovate Bulgari New York

PROJECT NAME Bulgari New York
LOCATION New York
FIRM Peter Marino Architect
SQ. FT. 4,500 SQF

Since 1989, Bulgari has been an ipso facto New York landmark. Its two floors of Italian jewelry and luxury goods have occupied Warren & Wetmore’s 1921 Crown Building on a prime corner in Midtown, keeping company with Harry Winston and Van Cleef & Arpels. But last year, it was time for a refresh.

Think Bulgari, and visions of the brand’s centuries-long heritage in gold, silver, and gems comes to mind. You may also conjure sunny images of the Eternal City, with its terra cotta–toned facades, and thoughts of Elizabeth Taylor and Rome’s Cinecittà, considered the hub of Italian cinema. In other words, la dolce vita. To translate that inimitable glamour architecturally, the company turned to Peter Marino.

The Interior Design Hall of Fame member’s connection with Bulgari began six years with Peter Marino Architect’s renovation of the flagship in Rome, where the company was founded in 1884 and is headquartered today. Then came PMA’s re-envisioning of the London store in 2016. All the while, at the behest of new owners LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Marino was developing a design language to burnish the brand’s identity, much of which is carried through all three stores. But since both the Italy and U.K. projects were in landmarked buildings, the firm was precluded from exterior interventions. Manhattan was another story, however. There, Marino could tell a tale of continuity and innovation both inside and out. “New York is a younger and more modern city,” he begins.

LEDs concealed in the bronze grillwork turn on at night. Photography by Manolo Yllera.

“I’m a complete bronze freak,” admits Marino, who is an avid collector of Baroque and Renaissance bronzes and a creator of sculptural boxes cast in the ancient alloy. It’s a passion he shares with classical Rome, where bronze was the metal of choice. In Marino’s hands, it became the basis for elaborate grillwork throughout.

Outside, bronze crisscrosses the double-height windows on two elevations, creating “a level of transparency that’s quite a new concept,” the architect notes. “Most jewelers are walled against the day.” The motif—diagonal rhomboids with rosette corners—is derived from an archival sketch for a Bulgari brooch, sadly never created.

For the 4,500-square-foot interior, more bronze screens surround the new statement stairway up to the balustrade along the rebuilt mezzanine. Their matching geometry has deeper historical roots: Its pattern is borrowed from that on the floor of the Pantheon, an intervention Marino had devised for the Rome and London stores.

In the jewelry salon, the pair of chandeliers were originally designed in 1964 by Gio Ponti for the Parco dei Principi Hotel in Rome. Photography by Manolo Yllera.

The same goes for other design elements throughout. For instance, since Bulgari is quintessentially Italian, Marino again looked to the country’s modernist architecture and furnishings for inspiration. For furniture and lighting, he dove into the postwar period, examining work by Gio Ponti, Piero Portaluppi, and Carlo Scarpa. In fact, several of the era’s signature pieces are here. A ’50’s Osvaldo Borsani table in pink marble and mahogany, for example, functions as a display surface in the main jewelry salon, where the central vitrines are anchored by massive bronze bases. A pair of Ponti’s exuberant chandeliers, also bronze, hang from the shallow vault around the salon’s 18-foot ceiling.

Materiality, color, and historicism have been carried through, as well. For materials, Marino homes in on pietra, “classic Italian marbles and rare stones, to be exact,” he states. Here, there are five varieties, their colors and vibrant veining an opulent mainstay of the densely layered palette. Pavonazzetto, or Italian marble, pervades downstairs in columns and stair treads, while Breccia di Stazzema, another Italian marble, appears on the exterior and interior portals. Twinkling red porphyry trims the gleaming marble mosaic floor, inset with a single eight-pointed star at the entry, while white Thassos marble borders it.

“Yellow, orange, red. I hadn’t done a store with those colors before,” Marino continues. “For me, it’s stepping out”—into the light of a Roman summer afternoon, as it were. He’s referring to the apricot silk lining the display niches, another gesture spearheaded in the Rome flagship. He has not only repeated it in New York but also built upon it. In the mezzanine lounge, also known as Maison Bulgari, a silk blend in the same color upholsters the sectional sofa, its silhouette inspired by Borsani originals.

Stair treads are Italian marble. Photography by Manolo Yllera.

That lounge functions as an event space or, with its separate VIP room, a private sales area. But here’s one of the ways the New York store differs from Rome and London—and, actually, most other jewelry stores: The high-end pieces are not cloistered away in off-limit rooms. Customers and tourists alike can gape at five- and six-figure jewelry and watches right up front. Toward the back, the flooring changes to Italian walnut, a warm backdrop for the selling of bridal and other accessories such as Bulgari fragrances.

Undoubtedly, the setting is glorious. And of course, glamorous. Taylor, arguably the epitome of glamour and Bulgari’s most famous client, is memorialized with a commissioned artwork by Campagnolo & Biondo. Andy Warhol, who coordinated a meeting between the actress and this architect when he had them both to his Montauk compound in the ’70’s, may have been as enamored of oversize gems as the movie star, creating a series of screen prints to prove it. One of them hangs in the store between the niches showcasing watches.

Another purely New York characteristic of this project is Marino’s representation of the city’s energy. It’s apparent on the exterior grillwork: At dusk, LEDs behind each rosette pulse in changing patterns. “Between the neighboring high-end stores, Bulgari wins.” Italian glamour and American pizzazz—now that’s an unbeatable combination.

Marble mosaic flooring is inset with a porphyry star at the entrance. Photography by Manolo Yllera.

Project Team: Frank Spadaro; Alex Lavecchia; Luis Gonzalez; Joseamid Martinez-Cosme: Peter Marino Architect. Design Republic: Architect of Record. Luce5; Metis: Lighting Consultants. Eckersley O’callaghan; Robert Silman Associates Structural Engineers: Structural Engineers. Rosini Engineering: MEP. Sice Previt: Metalwork. Damiani Marmi: Stonework. L’Artigiano: Plaster Workshop. Michilli: General Contractor.

Product Sources: Through Nilufar: Chandeliers (Jewelry Salon). Green Allestimenti: Custom vitrines. Margaritelli: Wood flooring.

See more from the April issue of Interior Design

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A California Estate Gets a Breath of Fresh Air Thanks to Design Duo Atelier AM

Alexandra and Michael Misczynski, the wife-and-husband team behind the Los Angeles–based AD100 design firm Atelier AM, are standard-bearers for the increasingly superannuated concepts of quality and connoisseurship. In an image-driven culture, where novelty and extravagance so often masquerade as virtues, the Misczynskis remain steadfast in their belief that true style can emerge only from substance. It’s an old-fashioned idea, perhaps, but as the firm’s work so eloquently demonstrates, it can be applied in ways that celebrate the present and future as well as the past.

Consider the spectacular Montecito estate recently reimagined by Atelier AM in collaboration with Richard Manion Architecture. Built in 1930 by architect Reginald Johnson, author of such Southern California landmarks as the Santa Barbara Biltmore Hotel and the mansion at Ganna Walska Lotusland, the Montecito property was ripe for reinvention when it was purchased roughly seven years ago by longtime clients of both the Misczynskis and Manion. Instead of a slavish renovation that would have ossified the Italianate villa into a baronial relic, the designers conspired to revitalize the home in order to serve contemporary tastes and needs without sacrificing any of its patrician élan.

In the living room, a pair of antique tortoiseshell-and-ebony cabinets flank a sofa by Design Quest custom in a de Gournay silk velvet. Club chair by Design Quest custom in Loro Piana Interiors linen; early-19th-century porphyry tabletop mounted on new wood base; giltwood chair in a Rogers & Goffigon blue velvet.

“The house had been bastardized over the years, and we wanted to bring it back to what it had been, but not in a literal sense,” Michael explains. “Our work was more of a reinterpretation, calculated to instill a modern spirit and energy suitable for a similarly modern, multigenerational family.”

Inside Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent’s California Dream House

Atelier AM’s modus operandi is predicated on a reverence for patina and the evidence of appreciation that materials accrue over years of loving use. In the Montecito project, that approach is manifested in the deployment of reclaimed, timeworn wood beams and decking, vintage terra-cotta tile floors, artisanal plaster, Italian marble, and ample architectural details of gray Pietra Serena sandstone. “It was a favorite building material of Brunelleschi’s,” Manion says, striking an appropriately lofty Renaissance note.

The Misczynskis outfitted the graciously scaled rooms with meticulous compositions that span centuries—indeed, millennia—of art and design. Gilded Italian furnishings from the Baroque and Rococo periods mingle amicably with important 20th-century French tables and chairs by Jean-Michel Frank, Jean Royère, and Jean Dunand. Lighting encompasses a magnificent Viennese giltwood chandelier, a floor lamp by Alberto Giacometti, repurposed Han Dynasty vases, and a flamboyant confection of Murano glass that hangs above the dining table. A Roman statue of Fortuna and a nearly 5,000-year-old Bactrian stone object expand the heady mix into the realm of the ancient.

The natural hues and textures of the wood, plaster, and stone building materials establish the serene mood of the rooms, while jewel-toned upholstery silks and velvets add strategic jolts of lush color. “We don’t do a lot of kooky wallpapers and graphic prints,” Alexandra says. “Our color sensibility is a bit more subtle and organic. We focus on form, line, and the integrity of the objects that inhabit our interiors.”

The Misczynskis’ sympathetic embrace of both the antique and the contemporary is manifested with particular brio in the design of the newly expanded kitchen. Beneath a ceiling of rough-hewn, reclaimed wood beams, two minimalist stainless-steel islands, as taut as Donald Judd boxes, suggest a home that has evolved over time, with modern amenities unapologetically inserted into a historic envelope.

“It’s not about artificial theatrics,” Michael says of the style clash. “We simply believe that the past and the present do not exist in opposition. They are complementary. Harnessing the tension between the two to create something beautiful, meaningful, and of the moment—that’s the essence of modernity.”

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