Beneath a tangled canopy of jasmine branches on a rooftop terrace in Milan, Laura Sartori Rimini is serving pappa al pomodoro. “You have to mince the onion very fine so it blends well,” she explains as she doles out the tangy dish, a savory tomato and bread porridge she mastered while studying architecture in Florence. “Giacomo always tells me my onions are even finer than his.” The Giacomo she’s referring to is Bulleri, the Tuscan-born chef and restaurateur behind Milanese institutions da Giacomo, Giacomo Bistrot and Giacomo Arengario. For years, he has entrusted her firm, Studio Peregalli — comprised of herself and her business partner Roberto Peregalli — to design his iconic Milanese restaurants, taking up where their mentor, the legendary Renzo Mongiardino, left off.
One of the last truly old guard Milanese design firms, Studio Peregalli are known globally for their charismatically decadent interiors that mix weighty historical references with uncompromising Italian craftsmanship. The spaces they design — from stately homes to Michelin starred restaurants — ooze a charismatic old-world charm that sets them apart from other contemporary designers. “He’s a philosopher,” she explains of the longstanding dynamic between her and her design partner, Roberto, “I’m an architect.” Together, it works.
With wide blue eyes and a crop of wavy blonde hair befitting of a silent film-era starlet Sartori Rimini holds herself with a poised serenity that belies the fact that she’s just skipped off a flight from Paris and whipped up a three-course meal for eight people. “If you’re used to doing so many different things,” she relates, as she poses for photographs and fields calls from the office, “you become quite sharp.” Moments before, she could be found sweeping through her flat, plucking flowers from vines and settling them just-so in baskets and vases in delicate, ikebana-style arrangements. Multi-tasking has become a quasi-religion for the sought after architect, who juggles projects from New York to Paris while still managing to bake fresh apple tarts for her kids every weekend and nurture her flourishing rooftop garden. “The garden is my secret,” she relates, “It’s how I stay grounded amid all the madness.”
The rooftop garden sits perched above Milan’s bustling Porta Romana neighborhood. As office workers scurry along the streets below, coffees in hand, Sartori Rimini remains enveloped in an oasis of calm. Her flat sits on two floors, joined together by a treacherous but elegant winding wooden staircase that leads from the living room to her bedroom above. She and her husband snapped up the attic when their second child was born and turned the entire thing into a sprawling bedroom and closet. The flat is a prime example of Sartori Rimini’s beguiling design style, brimming with antiques she sources from yearly trips abroad with her family and lined with her growing collection of antique architectural etchings. Indeed, each nook and sightline of the apartment is meticulously arranged with the slinking aura of a 17th century Dutch still life. Block printed wallpaper, hand painted trompe l’oeil ceilings, haunting portraits and antique furniture that would look at home in Louis IIIVX’s living room, are all calling cards of her captivatingly anachronistic work.
“It’s always difficult to combine progress and aesthetics,” explains the architect. “I understand why people wear Lycra, for example — you don’t have to iron it. But it’s so much less beautiful.” Sartori Rimini, of course, would never be caught dead in the stuff. When she steps out in the evening she prefers antique kaftans picked up from vintage dealers in Morocco, and ostrich feather-trimmed gowns by her friend, the fashion designer Stephan Janson. An avid collector of antique jewelry, she’ll often pile on an oversized string of coral or a collar of inky onyx stones, again sourced on her travels. When she’s in the mood for something more contemporary, she opts for geometric brass pieces by Hervé Van Der Straten or the delicate bronze of Osanna Visconti.
With Sartori Rimini’s skills of conjuring, creating and simply living in these imagined, ancient worlds, her projects have more in common with the hazy glow of reading an old novel than the sanitized reality of contemporary interior design. Her firm even employs a team of over one hundred craftsmen to give their interiors that hard-to-find handmade quality. “We don’t just want to give our clients a nice house,” she describes of her and her design partner Roberto’s style, “we want to give that house a soul.”
– Laura Todd