Where They've Been
Adam Štěch of Okolo’s Italian Architecture Tour

When Adam Štěch goes on location for Okolo, the Prague-based design blog and magazine he founded with his brother Jakub and graphic designer Matěj Činčera three years ago, he likes to picture himself as a National Geographic reporter. Okolo’s recent Vienna Only issue, for example, became a kind of urban hunting expedition through the wilds of the Austrian capital, while legitimate business trips — like attending the Milan Furniture Fair as an editor for the Prague interiors magazine Dolce Vita — are rife with opportunities for fieldwork. After “cruising around crowded Zona Tortona in the center of design hell,” as the 25-year-old puts it, he’ll often spend a day or two searching out amazing examples of indigenous architecture to document. One such recent excursion to Lake Como entailed a curious encounter with the locals: “We were looking for an Ico Parisi house, for which I knew the district but not the exact address, and there was a single old man walking nearby,” recalls Štěch. “I approached him on a whim, explaining who Parisi was and asking if he knew the house. He picked us up with his car and dropped us off directly in front of it. I love those kinds of stories.”

We love them too, which is why we asked Štěch to put together this slideshow sharing some of his favorite moments from his travels in the past few years, which revolve almost exclusively around modernist buildings from the ’50s and ’60s. “When I visit a city, I’m not so interested in contemporary design, because it’s already all over the blogs,” he says. “I want to discover something totally new yet totally old. My favorite is seeing an old house in a book and being so surprised at how it looks in person. Often when I ring the bell, people are nice enough to let me inside.” Some of his finds are posted on Okolo, while others he holds on to for future books and projects. Wallpaper recently commissioned Štěch to write about the Parisi house in Como, sending a professional photographer out to retrace his steps (presumably without the aid of any unsuspecting pedestrians). The images in this slideshow, though, were all taken by Štěch himself, and all throughout multiple trips to various regions of Italy. “The ’50s were a heydey in Italian design,” notes Štěch, who’s taken similar photos all over Europe. “There was this amazing connection of rationalism and strict geometry with baroque, organic decoration. It’s modern, but rich in details, craft, and materials. Like brass and tropical wood.” Read his dispatches here, then head over to Okolo’s website to see how it all fits into the larger context of what he and his brother do. Also be sure to check out the duo’s recent book devoted to their Italian design idol: Carlo Mollino.

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Before Štěch embarks on any trip, he digs back into his library to find interesting homes and buildings he might want to visit when he arrives at his destination. These were the books he drew upon for the trip to Italy. “There’s Gio Ponti, who’s my hero, and the open book in the middle is Luigi Moretti. The pink book is on Ico Parisi, and I bought it in Paris in an antique store; it’s really rare, and I paid 300 Euros for it. But I said to myself, this money will return to me — it was an investment. And then I used it for information for my article in Wallpaper, so it wasn’t very long after all that my investment was returned.”

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Ico Parisi, Villa Bolgiana, 1953, Lake Como. “This was the house featured in my Wallpaper story, and it’s part of a group of four adjacent villas all designed by Parisi. The owner let us in, but he didn’t speak English, so we were communicating with our hands and legs. The interior is all original because the original owner was his father; it’s all modernist furniture designed especially for the villa. That’s one thing I love about the period: In contemporary architecture you have Vitra or Magis everywhere, and it’s all uniform, but in the ’50s and ’60s, all of the details and furnishings were exlusively made for each house. Here we found a canvas screen by Mario Radice, an abstract painter who collaborated with Parisi.”

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Ico Parisi, penthouse apartment, Lake Como. “This is the bedroom of the penthouse we visited on the same trip. I like this picture because it’s like an abstract composition, with the accordian walls you can roll out and roll back in. The left screen divides the bedroom from the main living room, and on the other side it hides the wardrobe. Again, it’s all exclusive to this home: All the details are part of the architect’s vision.”

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Ico Parisi, penthouse apartment. “It’s funny, Parisi was a modernist during the ’50s and ’60s, but he slowly became a postmodernist artist. This is a model of one of his art installations from the ’80s. He was fascinated by the car as a theme, and especially cars fixed in something, like a block of concrete. His later work is very radical. He continued as an architect, building, for example, residences in Como where the whole interior is a crazy postmodern installation and everything is covered in fur. But I like his modernist period best.”

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Angelo Mangiarotti, apartment building, Milan. “This is the reception area for a Mangiarotti apartment building in the center of Milan, where these exclusive, architect-designed residential buildings are pretty common. This is the reception area, and the table is based on his marble furniture. There’s a similar kind of building across the street from Rossana Orlandi, but I don’t know the architect. Unfortunately I only got to see the reception area of this one.”

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Carlo Scarpa, Casa Tabarelli, 1967, Cornaiano. “The first thing we saw when we visited this villa outside Bolzano was this gate Scarpa designed. How we found the house in the first place is a story — the original owner’s son lives in Zurich and is crazy for cycling, and he found our blog last year and emailed us. When he visited Prague we met, and he told us about his father, a shop owner and manufacturer who was friends with Sottsass and Castiglioni and was an important figure in ’60s Italian design, and invited us to the house for a weekend.”

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Carlo Scarpa, Casa Tabarelli. “Inside, the house is divided horizontally, and these exterior walls are continuations of the walls inside. It’s a very simple yet difficult layout. You can go all around the interior in a circle, it’s really interesting, and a really radical work of art. My favorite thing, though, is the atmosphere inside the house — everything tells a story. You have the vision of the design entrepreneur and producer who commissioned it, and all his friends’ works coming together, like a Duchamp sculpture next to original Alvar Aalto furniture.”

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Carlo Scarpa, Casa Tabarelli. “This is just one example of the treasures on view inside, including a few wooden objects by Jože Plečnik, an architect from the ’30s who was also active in Prague. This was the late Mr. Tabarelli Sr.’s collection — the son doesn’t live in the house. Actually we recently heard news that the house was sold. It’s a shame. We took a lot of pictures, though, and eventually want to make a small book about this house. It's not featured in any of the Scarpa books.”

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Carlo Scarpa, Casa Tabarelli. “More objects on view, but I don’t know what these pieces are. Maybe the vase is by Scarpa himself? On the shelf behind it is an iconic Brionvega TV."

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Carlo Scarpa, Casa Tabarelli. “A collection of Memphis glass by Branzi, Sottsass, and the like. Some of the pieces are broken. This actually is the collection of Mr. Tabarelli Sr.’s son, Antonello.”

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Luigi Moretti, Villa La Califfa, 1954, Santa Marinella. “Moretti was one of the biggest protagonists of the organic style; he designed the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. This seaside villa has a very nice main gate that looks like ocean waves. I was on holiday with my girlfriend in Rome, and this was one hour away by train, with three villas by Moretti right next to each other. One of the others is called La Saracena, and both houses were featured in a famous Domus article in the ’60s.”

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Luigi Moretti, Villa La Califfa. “I like the interior’s combination of the rustic, Mediterannean-style chairs from the ’90s with his modernist ideas and glass walls. The house itself is quite in bad shape, though. It was strange because we were let in by a guy who was maybe 90 years old, and he said he was only there for the summer, like a rental.”

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Luigi Moretti, Villa La Califfa. “This is a view from the staircase, looking up at a (dirty) skylight. I wanted to show the organic nature of the architecture."

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Luigi Moretti, Villa La Califfa. “The entrance to the villa has the same repeating oval/organic shapes.”

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Luigi Moretti, Villa La Saracena, 1954, Santa Marinella. “La Saracena is the same house you see in the Moretti book in the first picture of this slideshow, which features the original images from Domus. Those were the only pictures really published of these buildings, and then 50 years later, my own!”

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Luzi Jaretti, apartment building, 1950s, Turin. “We were advised to visit this building by the curator of the Casa Mollino — the shape is inspired by an organic morphological aesthetic, and the style is new Art Nouveau, like a neo-Gaudí. The entrance (right) is wonderful. The architects are totally unknown, I couldn’t find anything about them. In the ’50s this was a luxury building, but now it has a patina.”

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Luzi Jaretti, apartment building. “We rang the top bell at the building and a guy opened up and invited us into his flat, a luxury two-floor penthouse. This is a built-in storage unit. I don’t know who designed, it because the man was very old and didn’t speak English.”

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Luzi Jaretti, apartment building. “After our visit, the man showed us another building by the architects on a nearby corner, but from the ’60s or ’70s and more abstract. It had amazing brickwork.”

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Carlo Mollino, Casa Mollino, 1960, Turin. “When I was in Turin, I couldn’t miss our hero’s own home, now a museum you can make an appointment to visit. It was Mollino’s last apartment, where he died, and it’s completely furnished by him and completely original. The curator told us that the apartment is something like a mausoleum he made for himself, with classic architectural features from Egypt or Greece."

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Carlo Mollino, Casa Mollino. “This was his bathroom, those are his clothes. It’s interesting, the curator discovered the apartment in the ’80s, and he’s taken care of it all this time, along with his son. They’re the world experts in Mollino. They’re nice guys, if a little strange — Mollino is a total obsession for them.”

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Carlo Mollino, Casa Mollino. “This is a classic Mollino chair from the ’50s, but made out of carbon fiber — an experiment of the curator and his son, who asked a local university to produce it. It’s only a one-off. I shot it on Mollino’s balcony.”

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Anonymous, auto garage, Rome. “With this picture I just wanted to show that sometimes we discover things other than architecture on our trips. This was close to some of Luigi Moretti’s buildings in Rome. It’s the worshop of an old guy repairing a Mini Cooper, nothing more.”