Long before you actually see Patricia Urquiola, you can usually hear her. The Oviedo-born, Milan-based architect’s Spanish-inflected Italian clicks at a million miles a minute in a thundering, yet chirpy tone. She is the only woman we know who can roar like a blond lioness to bring high-powered businessmen to their knees– and yet still be as charming as a purring kitten.
When she finally materializes in physical form, the electric Urquiola package is wrapped up in eye-bending style. On this weekday morning in Milan, the 54-year-old has boldly thrown on fringe-front rocker slip-on shoes by Pierre Hardy with orange lurex socks, a black Lanvin coat and cropped rust colored Marni pants. She shoots across her dining room like a tornado.
“I’m fast—fast, fast, fast, fast!” she says, blasting words like bullets and running upstairs while tweeting directives to a trailing staff of employees. “I’m a beast of speed. The minute I get into something, I go full on.”
Urquiola thinks, talks, walks, works and zips around the globe at lightening speed—and she’s got a body of work to prove it. Over her 30-plus year career, she has designed Moroso couches, B&B Italia chairs and carpets, one of a kind wall art, Flos lamps and perfect tableware from Kartell.
By now, she is one of the most important female furniture designers in the world and a coveted hired gun for the world’s top design companies. But she plays down the fame. “I’m an instrument, like a chef, designer, or an artist,” she explains. “What I do is me. If you like that, I like you. I am less interesting than what I do. I’m a medium.”
As such, she designs approximately 30 new products per year ranging from kitchens and couches to carpets and tiles. In contrast to most of her male contemporaries, Urquiola’s work is characterized by live-wire color, rambunctious pattern and an unbridled sense of optimism. The creativity occurs at her 20 plus person studio in Milan, conveniently located downstairs from her two story home which she shares with her daughters Sofia age 10, Giulia age 20 and her Italian husband Alberto 45, who also runs the studio. It’s a unique home-work situation that allows Urquiola to do what so few women actually can: run a happy home and also a successful empire.
“I know how to split the time,” she says. “My husband and I move easily from the house to the garden to the studio and are usually talking about work. Sometimes I go down to the office in my pajamas.”
Usually, however, she’s in a feisty, original mix of runway fashion. Her closet is packed with Dries Van Noten knit tunics, Stella McCartney mock crock pint coats, boxy Celine outerwear and python patchwork Birkenstocks by Isabell Marant.
“They’re not very feminine,” she observes of her favorite fashion items. “They’re objects I have fun with—they’re more like toys.”
Similarly, Urquiola’s home has the layered, unruly air of an unconventional collector, rather than the minimal control of a cool curator. Her two-floor apartment and her two terraces are stuffed with patterns, books, objects, products and design prototypes, most of which she has designed herself.
“I find it insane when designers live in homes that look like design museums,” she says of her cozy chaos. “You need to live with the objects you design. So, everything goes up and down from the studio. All of my objects are like wine. They stay there to mature and then I think what to do with them.”
At the moment, she has paired rusted low-rise B&B coffee table protoypes (that were destined for the trash bin) with crystal bubble lamps by Foscarini, Boodri marble tables, her Fat Fat stools and side tables for B&B, wall textiles she designed for Kvadrat, and resin intarsia artwork she did for Milan design gallery Nilufar.
The rowdiness unfurls outdoors where Urquiola has allowed her garden to explode like a wild jungle populated with her own unusual outdoor furniture designs. Amidst undisciplined foliage, there are Kettal outdoor armchairs, multicolor Moroso plastic chairs, high-backed B&B outdoor arm chairs and a color-flecked plastic outdoor carpet she designed that looks to be made of woven wool.
“Your home must correspond with your personality,” Urquiola trills. “I don’t like it when the house doesn’t fit with the person who owns it. This is the only drama in design.”
– J. J. Martin