Patricia Urquiola’s favourite bookcase

The Spanish architect and designer’s Vico bookcase is a repository for memories of mentors, prototypes and a rehomed robot dog

Patricia Urquiola at home in Milan with her Nuvola Rossa bookcase designed by Vico Magistretti
Patricia Urquiola at home in Milan with her Nuvola Rossa bookcase designed by Vico Magistretti | Image: Valentina Sommariva

“My favourite bookcase is in my sitting room and can be seen from the entrance as you walk into the house. It sits in front of the table where I have lunch. I have other ones, but those are just grey metal shelves – part of the architecture. I wanted this one because it’s by Vico Magistretti. He and Achille Castiglioni were mentors during my career, and I felt it was important to own one of his pieces. It’s the Nuvola Rossa designed for Cassina. I have two – the other one is positioned on the opposite wall of the room. 

I remember Vico’s sketches for this bookcase were so interesting, I always keep them in mind when I look at the shelves. I worked on his team at De Padova for a short time as a young designer and this bookcase is a constant reminder of him throwing me things to do and saying you have to do this or that. It was designed in 1977 and has been produced non-stop ever since. It’s evergreen, which is amazing – that doesn’t happen every day. What I admire is the simplicity, the sensuality that Vico always put into his work. It’s a fantastic example of quality design – very easy to reproduce but with a language and an essential message.

I live above my studio and I’m always changing and moving things around. I buy things, I try things – it’s part of the way I live my life. On the bookcase [second shelf up] is a green Phonola radio. It was the first thing that Achille Castiglioni told me he’d worked on. He was so young at the time, his name doesn’t even appear on it, but he helped his elder brothers Pier Giacomo and Livio Castiglioni, along with [architect and furniture designer] Luigi Caccia Dominioni – a very important personality in our culture of design and architecture in Milan – who are credited with the design. At my graduation, my friends asked me what I wanted as a gift. I told them, ‘The first thing Achille worked on – it will bring me luck.’ So they clubbed together and bought it for me in an antiques shop. I love to have things around me from people who have shared my life. The dark blue vase [on the top shelf] is from [architects] Franco Albini and Franca Helg. They gave it to me 20 years ago. When I move house, it comes with me. Then there’s the orange ceramic, a vintage piece from Bitossi, something that one of my friends gave my husband and I when we married. The orange bowl is called Ceste, and is made from irrigation hose by a guy called Roberto Mora. I remember seeing it a few years ago when visiting my friend Rossana Orlandi [the Milanese gallerist]. I immediately thought, ‘Ooh, I need to take that home!’

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I have a lot of my prototypes on the bookcase. There’s a Mutina tile called Celosia and the red skull was made for an opera in Spain [The Coronation of Poppea by Monteverdi, which was performed in Urquiola’s hometown of Oviedo for the first time in 2010 – she designed the set]. On the third shelf down, there’s a prototype of a low seat, the Wasting Time daybed, that I took home with me – it’s a giant sneaker-shaped bed, designed as part of Rossana Orlandi’s Guiltless Plastic project for this year’s Milan Design Week. It’s composed entirely of recycled PET plastic. Reusing waste is a topic that has interested me for many years. Such designs are part of a poetical new sustainability – how to approach any kind of leftovers and make them into something of value. 

On the fifth shelf down is my robot dog. It belonged to my daughter who got it for Christmas a few years ago. She’s now 14 and doesn’t want to use it any more, so I told her, ‘Give it to me. I like it.’ Most of the shelves in the house are filled with books but this one is different – it also displays objects of personal importance. A bookcase always says something about you. It reveals aspects of your life. This is a very special one as it’s the Vico bookcase.”

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