FOR DESIGNER ILARIA MIANI, THE SECRET
to a successful restoration is simple: Highlight what makes a place
unique. "Each building has its own character, its own history, and
it’s our job to continue to write the story," she says. "My first source
of inspiration is always the building itself, whether it be a remnant
of the original plaster, an old piece of rubble, carved stone that’s
been there for centuries, whatever. What remains of a building
always tells me something. These elements speak to me and
reveal the soul of a space."
In the Venice palazzo that she shares with her architect
husband, Georges, they did just that, expertly combining the
building’s design history, the aesthetic of one of the world’s
most beautiful cities, and their own contemporary point of view.
Located in a quiet corner of the island of San Pietro, steps from
the fifteenth-century Basilica of San Pietro di Castello, a UNESCO
World Heritage Site depicted by the great Venetian artists
Canaletto and Guardi, the 200-year-old palazzo is far from the
tourist crowds. The secluded neighborhood still buzzes with local
activity, however, and its markets, restaurants and small shops
appealed to Miani.
Throughout her career, Miani has created furniture and
decorative elements that are at once practical and elegant. She
studied art history as well as the trades involved in creating her
furniture and finishes, including metalwork, gilding, painting and
silverwork. That depth of knowledge has allowed her to work with
clients such as Ralph Lauren and Ines de la Fressange, among
others, and Miani continues to rely on the ancestral know-how of
Italy’s finest craftsmen. Every tile she uses is handmade, and the
tables and beds she designs are forged using the same ironwork
techniques that have been employed for centuries; her wood
pieces are manufactured by cabinetmakers whose tools have
remained unchanged over the ages.
Without losing sight of her first calling, Miani recently parlayed
her savoir-faire into interior design, displaying a similar grace and
skill in this new medium. "My job is to create spaces," she explains.
"Georges and I restore old mansions, but always with an artisanal
approach. And when we collaborate on both the interior and
the architecture of a project, there always has to be an accord
between the two. That to us is fundamental. The container is
often more important than the contents. Furniture, decorative
elements, these can always be changed, but the allure of a
building, its spirit, its genius, should always be respected. That’s
why we always seek to expose so many of the original structural
elements of a building—the beams, the terracotta tiles, the bricks."