Sitting in their atmospheric Milan premises, DimoreStudio’s Britt Moran and Emiliano Salci – American and Italian respectively – are totting up the number of homes they’re creating this year. While many well-known interior design studios take on one or two domestic projects a year, residences are at the core of DimoreStudio’s work. The number? Nine right now – including one in Marylebone, one in Belgravia, two in Italy, one in New York, a Vienna undertaking, one just finishing up in France, one in Zurich and another in Lugano. Many clients come to them via word of mouth. What draws them is what is also attracting the interest of the international press. “They are beyond the zeitgeist,” says Dennis Paphitis, founder of Aesop, who commissioned them to do two European stores for the skincare brand. “There’s something real, lasting and substantial in how they think about spaces.”
Giulio Cappellini, art director of Cappellini design firm, worked with Salci prior to the creation of DimoreStudio, as well as more recently on a new lighting collection, says DimoreStudio “represents a point of reference in the evolution of contemporary design”. They are “absolutely contemporary”, not least, he explains, for “understanding consumers’ desire to live in comfortable homes instead of museum-like houses”. Carlos Couturier says he chose Dimore for Grupo Habita’s new Guadalajara hotel, Casa Fayette, because he is interested in providing “human experiences” with his hotels rather than design ones – not that the hotel, which features Luis Barragán-influenced candy-colour combinations and definitive art deco lines, lacks for design flourishes.
Delicious hints of what DimoreStudio can do for private clients can be seen in its more public spaces. These include Aesop’s new Milanese retail interior, a lemon and teal-tiled apothecary on Corso Magenta – complete with metal-framed cabinets inspired by 1930s butlers’ pantries. There’s also the new Hôtel Saint-Marc in Paris, where each of the plush mustard, maroon or sky-blue rooms has a private apartment feel and is fitted with midcentury furniture. They’re also behind a new shop for jewellery brand Pomellato and a retro fit-out at menswear brand Boglioli’s store in Milan.
Moran and Salci’s own home in Milan, with its deep-green and red-hued walls, features furniture by midcentury names Josef Frank, Ico Parisi and Giò Ponti, 1930s and 1940s lighting from design stars Paolo Buffa and Paavo Tynell, as well as their own console furniture. These two stylish men – not, in fact, boyfriends but friends who live and work together 24/7 and who excel at the Italian ideal of fare una bella figura – have come together from opposite sides of the world to create a unique brand that is glamorous, has historical influences and takes the idea of an authentic muted colour palette and runs with it beyond the likes of Farrow & Ball. Dimore’s signature colours – warm oxblood, moody green, powder pink and dusky blue – are achieved with an attention to detail one might expect on a Visconti film set; Salci is said to take hours to decide on his colour combinations, cigarette permanently in hand.
As an increasingly in-demand studio, Dimore has been collaborating on products with key design brands since 2014. The latest is a collection of rectangular vases (from £564) for Bitossi Ceramiche in saturated hues, with brass accents. A quirky lighting range with Giulio Cappellini features three Sound lamps (£2,688 to £4,500) made of brass reminiscent of musical instruments such as trumpets and cymbals. There are also new Paralleli rugs (price on request) for Golran in Dimore’s colour palette with simplified Persian and baroque patterns mixed with geometrics. And they are collaborating with heritage brand Faliero Sarti on a range of scarves (£340), where each will be shaped differently – ignoring the traditional rectangular shape.
At Design Miami/Basel this year, they created a plant pot-filled Verande room installation to exhibit their debut outdoor collection, using limited edition fringed metal chairs, club chairs, ottomans, a sofa and occasional tables (all price on request). Their shows in the Dimore Gallery at the Salone del Mobile have also become a must-see. At this year’s fair, in April, they featured their own Progetto Non Finito furniture (Poltrona 081 chairs from £11,062), as well as Lampada 092 and 093 lamps (from £16,696) with pink and opal glass spheres. For their Progetto Tessuti collection, they have collaborated with figurative artist Federica Perazzoli to produce wall upholstery (£1,091 for 380cm x 140cm) and rugs.
Dimore’s influence is also being felt in New York where designs such as the chevron-shaped Tappeto 005 rug (£3,789) and marble-topped Tavolo 063 table (from £26,121) have been on show at directional store The Future Perfect since September. Owner David Alhadeff not only describes the duo’s work as “daring” but also believes they might be the most influential interior designers working today.
Why? Because they’re offering, says Alhadeff, an emotional connection. He remembers seeing the studio’s work for the first time: “It was 2010 and I stumbled upon a display, discreetly marked, at their Milan office. It was an emotional experience – design can do that. The context was incredible. Dark-blue walls peeling just perfectly, and precisely placed objects in a maze-like array of rooms and hallways. The objects themselves were smart and thoughtful.” It is, he says, an honour to be chosen as their first exclusive stockist in the US.
Moran and Salci set up DimoreStudio in 2003, after meeting in Milan through mutual friends. At the time Moran, who was born in the US where he gained a biology and classics degree, was working as a graphic designer, having fallen in love with Milan and Italy. “I never expected to do anything like this when I was young,” he says, “but you discover at a certain point you have an irresistible passion for something”. So he joined up with Salci, who had landed in Milan after running a furniture company founded by his father in Arezzo, which worked with brands such as Cassina and Knoll.
The plan was never to make it big but to undertake select residential projects for creatives and fans of their work; Giulio Cappellini was an early client. Initially, they designed from just one room of a charming late-18th-century building in Milan’s creative Brera district, with only a laptop between them. One employee became three, three became five, and now they are a complement of 30, occupying the entire first floor of the building – each employee carefully vetted not just for like-mindedness but to ensure that they are willing to “eat, breathe and sleep Dimore, because it takes a lot of work to do what we do”.
What they do is create whole worlds that seem other-timely in character, yet remarkably modern too. “They have captured the spirit of the past, twisted it, moulded it and made it the spirit of our time. I don’t think their aesthetic is contemporary. It’s more modern, vintage and forward-thinking,” says Grupo Habita’s Couturier.
Moran admits he is the more conservative and classically minded, the stickler for accuracy and a literal interpretation of historical design; Salci is the fearless iconoclast – in his fashion choices, as well as in his interiors. Of Moran, Salci says, “He is more pragmatic, sensible, has classical taste as opposed to my contemporary edge.” Salci, adds Moran, “has such a contemporary way of looking at things. And yet he gives them this interpretation that is rooted in history.” The clue to much of their success is also down to their relationship. They are, says Alhadeff, a magnetic force. “Their personalities are important to why the work is what it is. Theirs is a story of support and friendship, and this kind of work needs a container like that.”
Aesop founder Paphitis says part of the attraction of working with the duo is witnessing their creativity. “All great creative thinkers are extreme and emotional,” he says. “I’ve not seen Emiliano throwing plates against a wall after a meeting but I’m sure he has done.” Couturier adds that Salci is serious, passionate and detail-oriented “but, as a good Italian, at aperitivo time, he is ready to enjoy a little dolce far niente. We had a lot of laughs. It was fun working with them.”
Whether such idiosyncrasies are enough to keep them at the top remains to be seen, particularly now that their signature deep colour palette and glamorous 20th-century mix of furniture has spread further afield. “We are always growing,” counters Moran. “If you look at our early projects, there’s a continuity, but we have the great fortune of being influenced by clients. After every project we are a little bit more enriched and better than before.”
The duo travel constantly, visiting galleries and museums, and so the influences on their work are always changing. This year they include the Brazilian modernists and the architectural and design work of Studio BBPR – a postwar Milanese practice that created lighting, furniture and buildings such as Milan’s famous modern-gothic Torre Velasca. The Velasca tower sits happily in Milan’s historic centre – just as Dimore’s work does. And like the city itself, which is international but with a curious village feel, Dimore’s work is local, intimate, yet outward-looking. “Dimore is not scared of scope,” says Paphitis. “Its work is majestic, ambitious and cinematic in scale.” Luisa Delle Piane, a gallerist who has supported the pair since the beginning of their career, says, “Although the Italian roots are very strong, and many references are to grand Milanese interiors, their vision is enriched with international inspiration.”
The more that international fame beckons, the more they know they have to keep it personal – even while launching new home collections alongside the current lighting and ceramics offerings. Salci describes his plans as building “a private oasis”, and Moran adds, “We are enjoying a really, really good moment right now. But we want to remain selective – we want to make sure we’re not everywhere. You lose the sophistication of your product when you do that. We are working with companies that have a really strong aesthetic and incredible artisanship like Bitossi Ceramiche – which has created many ceramics for the likes of Ettore Sottsass – because the craftsmanship is amazing.”
Such craftsmen are the must-mention third person in the Dimore marriage. Without them, says Moran, the studio wouldn’t exist. Its modern silk textiles (from €470 per m) are made by couture specialists. And those stunning colour schemes are not available off the peg. The palettes are created by a colour specialist who mixes the hues from scratch. “Here in Italy there’s still a tradition of fine artisan craftsmanship,” explains Moran. “Artisans specialise in one precise area and are very passionate about that specialism. There’s an active movement here to make sure that this fundamental aspect doesn’t die out. One of our prerequisites in our work is that we arrive with our own artisans – yes, even to New York. We want to work with the people we know can achieve the level of detail we need to ensure our clients are absolutely satisfied with our art.”