Style | The Aesthete

Nigel Coates talks personal style: Part Two

Further tasteful revelations from the Royal College of Art’s professor of architecture.

April 07 2011
Maria Shollenbarger

My style icon is Carlo Mollino. But I don’t just like him for his furniture. I admire him for his mad creative mix; the relationship between his own sources of pleasure and excitement, such as skiing and being a pilot, and the way he put rooms together, which, I think, are still unparalleled in their richness. Mollino could be inspired by a greyhound racing, and turn that inspiration into a chair. Giò Ponti was also good at it, but he was more... sensuous, extravagant. If you study Mollino’s plans, you see he was incredibly economic. They are really layered, and surrealistic.

The site that inspires me is where I come from: the Malvern Hills, in Worcestershire. My mum still lives there. I couldn’t wait to get away, of course, when I was younger. But the hills are exquisitely beautiful. They inspired Elgar, who was also from there.

The last meal that truly impressed me was at La Locanda del Castello in San Giovanni d’Asso [Tuscany]. So much so that I’ll tell you precisely what I had. I ate a tortino di patate with tomino caldo – tomino is a cheese – as a starter, then tagliolini al tartufo, and then peposo, which is beef cooked in brunello for hours – braised and braised until it is unbelievably tender. And the wine – oh my god, this has since become our favourite. It’s a red called Corbezzolo, made by a producer called Podere la Cappella. And the pudding was tortino di cioccolato caldo on a bed of cream. This place isn’t chic, it’s not stylised at all; the cooking is just... [touches fingertips to lips] mwah. Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II 4, San Giovanni d’Asso 53020 (+3905-7780 2939;

If I had to limit my shopping to one neighbourhood in one city, it would be the centro storico of Florence. Gerard [Loft] is one store I’d want access to all the time. As are Ginori, the china shop; Pampaloni, a silversmiths full of exquisite things; the amazing Luisa via Roma, of course, and Calvani for shoes. Always with a stop-off at Procacci for a snack of panini al tartufo. Calvani, Via Degli Speziali 7r (+3905-5265 4605). Gerard Loft, Via dei Pecori 34-36 (+3905-528 2491). Luisa Via Roma, Via Roma 19-21 (+3905-521 7826). Pampaloni, Via Porta Rossa 99 r (+3905-528 9094). Procacci, Via de’ Tornabuoni 64 (+3905-521 1656). Richard Ginori, Viale Giulio Cesare 5 (+3905-542 049).

The best gift I’ve given recently is a ceramic sculpture by a Japanese artist called Makiko Nakamura – she’s a student at the RCA, graduating this year. It’s called Diamond Killed a Dog; basically, a diamond-shaped container sitting atop a cute little dog. And it comes with this incredible story about how the diamond killed the dog. It’s gorgeous. So singular.

And the best one I’ve received is a genuine Piranesi print, drawn from the original plates of his series Antichità Romane. It’s the Volume Two frontispiece. The scales are just astonishing; the teeny, teeny little people imply that these structures are just enormous. It has more fantasy than the others in the series, which were intended more as documents.

My favourite room is in my house in Italy. I recently converted the stalla, which has two exquisite brick arches, into a living space. It had literally been for farm animals for centuries; now it has scale and dignity, and light, plus a view to die for – over the Crete Senesi towards Siena – which you see through a pair of glass doors. So you can sit there in the winter, next to a big fire, and look at this landscape. There’s also an early-medieval grain store in the ground, which is an amphora shape, 2.5m deep. We put a simple sheet of glass over it, so you can look down into it. The house was built on what was an Etruscan settlement, and it continues to tell me stories, has done so for 20 years.

An indulgence I’d never forego is the gym; but because I do it to be healthy and sane, I suppose it’s more of a necessity. So let’s say good wine, then. That’s a reasonable answer. Southern Tuscan wine. Because I love its characteristics, it’s the one I know most about. I love it when you know about something you enjoy, the enriched experience of it. There’s one produced by Castello di Potentino, in the Maremma – a red called Montecucco; just divine.

The people I rely on for personal grooming and style are my web designer, Jean-Michel Dentand. I suppose he’s a bit like a tailor, no? In the sense that he shapes the way I’m perceived; he “dresses” me for the internet. And I do like to go to Tricker’s. Tricker’s, 67 Jermyn Street, London SW1 (020-7930 6395;

The city I’d live in if I didn’t live in London is Rio de Janeiro because it’s the most beautiful and vigorous city in the world. It’s got this unbelievably sexy landscape, with the city filling up all the space in between and tipping, literally, into the ocean – so the people live this hybrid lifestyle between beach and metropolis. There’s the Jardim Botânico, and the beautiful Chácara do Céu museum in Santa Teresa, with an impressionist collection of paintings. And there’s a wonderful club called Zero Zero. But I like the whole thing, even Lapa and the bits of downtown and Santa Teresa. It’s blowsy, it’s all out there; uninhibited. And it’s musical, and physical – and, of course, super-energised by being in a place that is a forcing ground of the world’s issues; wealth and deprivation, privilege and suppression, always with the undercurrent of violence. Jardim Botânico do Rio de Janeiro, Museu Chácara do Céu, Rua Murtinho Nobre 93 (+5521-3970 1126; 00 (Zero Zero), Avenida Padre Leonel Franca 240 (+5521-2540 8041;

In my fridge you’ll always find Parmigiano Reggiano, from the local co-op supermarket in Sinalunga. I don’t believe in getting these little slivers when I can bring a big, stonking piece of the real thing home.

If I weren’t doing what I do, I would be a director of films, because I see things in sequence and in stories. I see everything – design, architecture – in terms of narrative, not necessarily continuous, but cut out. It’s through a sort of projected experience that I can design things; I see them first where they are, how they’ll be. I try to imagine a product, and turning it into being. I imagine a film narrative is like that. I particularly admire Almodóvar. He captures a combination of chaos and real life. He really exposes human nature.

See also

People, Interview