When asked to name the biggest influences on his work, Vincenzo De Cotiis, the Milan-based architect, designer, and artist, demurred, saying, “I consider myself omnivorous. I feed on many different stimuli spanning art, architecture, and imagery.” De Cotiis is known for his richly textured, ruggedly sculptural limited-edition and custom furniture, which combines iconic modernist materials like brass and Tuscan marble with decidedly less conventional ones, like fiberglass recycled from old boats, and recycled wood—with elegant results. In an essay by Anne Bony in Vincenzo De Cotiis: Works (Rizzoli Electa), the recently published book that focuses mainly on his furniture, De Cotiis cites influences like the Arte Povera movement of the late 1960s and early ’70s, and the minimalist work of Donald Judd. De Cotiis is also known for interiors in which he strips centuries-old architecture of any later embellishments or updates, creating a conversation between the authentically historic and his emphatically contemporary furniture designs.
But in a house outside Milan that De Cotiis designed from the ground up for a couple who are avid collectors of art, objects, and vintage 20th-
century furnishings, the layers are almost all modern. Because of the owners’ wish for privacy and the close proximity of the neighboring houses, De Cotiis created a rather brutalist concrete building, tempered with abundant natural light and outdoor space. He explains this seeming departure from his previous residential work by saying that in this case, there was “no historical stratification, no previous trace. The form is defined by the lot and the required choice of materials: a contemporary bunker adapted to accommodate the cultural life of an educated couple.” He says, “The challenge was to create an architecture that comes to life inwards while screening its exterior, giving a sense of protection and intimacy.” De Cotiis takes this “bunker” and imbues it with warmth, texture, and human scale.
The design is what he calls “a sort of system of interlocking volumes.” You enter the three-story building on the ground floor (the basement level contains a guest room, a hobby/art room, and utility rooms) and walk into a spacious living room that opens onto a terrace and swimming pool. On a De Cotiis–designed rug, a pair of Marco Zanuso’s iconic Lady chairs, designed in 1951, face a vintage curved sofa. These are flanked on one side by a pair of De Cotiis–designed floor lamps, and on the other by one of his custom tables; its irregularly shaped marble top, set on brass legs, manages to look simultaneously tough and glamorous. A custom-designed shelving system, made of steel, brass, and recycled wood, stands in the center of the room and includes a built-in desk. At the other end of the room, steps rise to a mezzanine lounge area with custom modular seating and a vintage pole-mounted light fixture from the owners’ collection; warm-toned recycled wood lines the wall that faces the street. Beyond the lounge, a skylit dining area is furnished with a custom table and wood chairs, designed by De Cotiis, that are covered in Hermès velvet. Outside, the layout mimics the varied levels of the interior, with the pool terrace leading up to an open-air dining area off the kitchen.
From the living room, two flights of stairs—the first covered in iron and the second a series of cantilevered concrete treads—ascend to the bedroom level. The lower stairs are adorned with items from the owners’ collection of ceramics as well as a cast-brass bowl by De Cotiis, which sits atop a stack of books, on one of a series of movable, painted wood plinths.
At the top of the stairs, through a pair of recycled fiberglass-and-brass sliding doors, the master bedroom showcases linen wall panels and a bedcover. To one side lie dressing rooms and a gym, to the other a spacious bathroom, with vintage FontanaArte mirrors above the double sink. From the master bath, a full-height pivoting door opens onto a small terrace. Together, these spaces and elements produce a feeling that is both serene and sheltering.
Even as De Cotiis continues his residential work—one of his current projects is in Paris, on the Île Saint-Louis—some of his objects have moved into the realm of abstract sculpture. Ode, an installation that was part of Dysfunctional—an exhibition at the Ca’ d’Oro, organized by Carpenters Workshop Gallery for last year’s Venice Biennale—was a series of tall, upright forms in recycled fiberglass and silvered brass, arranged to form a “barrier” with social as well as formal meanings, but which could also become room dividers. As De Cotiis says, “Abstraction, undoing the functional aspects of objects and things, is a process that fascinates me . . . and perhaps I will move ever more in that direction.” But one can hope that someone with his ability to master both fine art, and the art of living through design, will continue to do both.