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Via Garibaldi 12

This 16th-century palazzo in Genoa houses a treasure-trove of home furnishings and intriguing objects.

October 25 2009
Ivan Carvalho

When the design community makes its annual pilgrimage to the Salone del Mobile in Milan to seek out the latest interior trends and talent, truly savvy insiders make time for a side trip to Genoa to visit Via Garibaldi 12, a family-run emporium that has made a name for itself in such circles.

Part concept store, part traditional neighbourhood retailer, the shop has become a favoured destination of design buffs and even royalty keen to stock up on well-made objects for the home. Buyers find modern furniture, tableware and glassware from established names next to pieces from up-and-coming designers, and corners given over to bijou displays dedicated to gardening, electronics and home appliances.

Befitting the more reserved character of the Genoese, the Bagnara family don’t create extravagant store windows. Instead, shoppers venture up the marble staircase of the 16th-century palazzo to uncover the treasure-trove of home furnishings in eight rooms with baroque stucco decorations, two of which contain frescoes of scenes from the Punic Wars. The building is one of a series in the port city’s historic centre that are part of a Unesco World Heritage site and has long been a conversation piece – it was part of the Grand Tour and is mentioned in Pictures from Italy, a travelogue by Charles Dickens. “People often walk in and confuse our store with a museum,” admits Lorenzo Bagnara, who, together with his parents and brother Giorgio, busies himself waiting on customers and signing up couples to the family’s highly sought-after wedding registry.

After renovation work by Lebanese-born architect William Sawaya, the Bagnaras opened up in 2001, convinced that the location was a perfect fit. “Past occupants were considered ahead of their time and that appealed to us,” explains Renzo Bagnara, Lorenzo’s father and a walking encyclopedia on design history. The palatial setting is home to one-off pieces such as One Minute Delft vase by Marcel Wanders (€3,700) and leather desk accessories (from €100) produced under Via Garibaldi 12’s own B Home Interiors label (fans include David Linley and FT columnist Tyler Brûlé).

Rooms catering to the kitchen feature simple KitchenAid rolling pins (from €44) alongside Iittala flatware from Renzo Piano (€75 for a set of five). There are picture frames in pearwood by Pierluigi Ghianda originally designed for the Musée d’Orsay (€534) and Ron Arad’s PizzaKobra lamp (€1,060). There’s even a selection of jewellery and watches, including an Hervé van der Straeten gold-plated brass necklace (€396) and Pierre Junod watch by Massimo Vignelli (€415).

Asked about the advantages of running an interiors shop in Genoa, the family refers back to a remark made by Peter Paul Rubens: “Since the Genoese Republic is ruled by gentlemen, their buildings are thus very beautiful and very comfortable.”