On the first floor of a historic 16th century palazzo in the center of Genoa, Via Garibaldi 12 is one of the most appealing interiors and design shops internationally, an authentic example to independent retail. In this family-run store, we can find an eclectic selection of products, from books and helmets to dinnerware and furniture. O Editorial talked with Lorenzo Bagnara, who runs the shop with his parents and brother: How did Via Garibaldi 12 started? Started from an idea of my parents to move our retail business, started by my grandfather as an emporium in 1939, from Busalla (20km away from Genoa) to Genoa. The search for a location took 3 years but finally, in 2000, we found something that satisfied our needs. We avoided main commercial streets (that now, after 12 year, are lined with H&M, Zara, and Fnac), preferring instead a place discreetly set on the first floor that was previously used as an office. Via Garibaldi is the political and cultural hub of the city – in front of us we have city hall, the Chamber of Commerce and the main museums, Palazzo Rosso and Palazzo Bianco. Every building was constructed around 1550 and at the time the Strada Nuova, as it was once called, was the financial centre of the world from 1557 to 1627 when Genoese bankers controlled all of Europe’s finances.
The store interiors are amazing. How do you mix modern objects with classic architecture? The palazzo was built in 1562 and restored every century with a different style. So we try to follow the genius loci of every room with the objects. The golden room, made in 1770 by the architect of Versailles, Charles de Wailly, was the hardest to furnish. For it, our friend, the architect William Sawaya, designed bespoke glass boxes and tables with a mix of carved gilded wood and brushed steel. In the main room, originally a patio (closed with a roof in 1899), there are pieces like a Louis XV goes to Sparta armchair by Tal Lancman. For me, it fits in perfectly with the space.
"When we introduce something in our store our main concern is exclusivity. Genoa is not a large city so we have to be different from competitors. But the main factor is also to sell something that we'd also like to have in our own home. For us, it could be a Zaha Hadid sofa, a Berkel meat slicer or a Rimowa cabin trolley. What we want to sell is a lifestyle."
Where do you source the products? Mainly our research for new products is done directly at trade fairs as Maison & Objet, Ambiente, among others. But every time we have the chance to visit a foreign country for leisure, we often take a look at furniture stores to check if there's something new and that possibly is not already distributed in Italy. The big issue today is to find good products before they become too popular. Part of the research is also done looking at blogs and reading magazines like Monocle and Wallpaper. Unfortunately, too often you find nice ideas that are still 'concepts' and not yet in production so sometimes we keep in touch with the designer to be the first to have his latest creation when it becomes available.
What is the importance of product provenance? It's a very good question. Provenance and quality are a key issue when it comes to the objects we sell. We ourselves are also producers through my brother's company, B.Home Interiors, so we support as much as we can products that are conceived and made in the same country. Unfortunately today it is really hard because big players in Italian design, such as Alessi, have outsourced a large part of their production. Today, I've received a pallet of Ralph Lauren Home goods (we carry a small selection of this brand that is really hard-to-find in Italy). If you look at the origin of the goods, you can read only China, Taiwan and India. This doesn't mean necessarily that the objects are not very well made, and, in this particular case, the quality is excellent. But for sure it means that a big part of the price tag relates to packaging, marketing, advertising and so on. So, the (unfortunately) few times that we find something locally made, and maybe we have also the chance to meet the creators or to visit the atelier where it is made, it's a big coup for us.
"Our willingness to sell the product is strengthened because we can transmit to the final customer our emotions since we have experienced personally the creation of what we have in front of us."
What are your favourite products at the store? This answer could change every couple of months! At the moment we have a great range of Baccarat LED lights called Jesouffl (literally I blow) designed by the French conceptual artist Yann Kersalé (he created the lights for the Agbar Tower in Barcelona and the Sony Center in Berlin). They are inspired by the way glass is mouth-blown so they tell immediately something about themselves but, at the same time, they are a concentration of hidden technology as LED lights and a rechargeable battery. Books are also a favourite product of mine. It's easy to start a conversation with new customers by presenting them books just published and they are also something inexpensive but with a great potential inside. And, last but not least, the B.Home Interiors range designed and made by my brother, Giorgio. He can realize in a few weeks a bespoke item, with leathers in 60 colours and even special stitching.
Where do you get inspiration? Leonardo da Vinci once wrote: "I have in the past seen in clouds and walls stains which have inspired me to beautiful inventions of many things." This remind me the title of Sir Paul Smith's book 'You can find inspiration in everything* (*and if you can't, look again!)'. When I have to arrange a new layout for the store, I can be inspired by something that I've seen accidentally: for instance recently, during the International Boat Show of Genoa, I've set up a small exhibition of concept models of yachts by local architect Edoardo Miola. I've visited his atelier searching for some architectural models he made for Aldo Rossi and by chance I've discovered he was also the official model maker for Nautor's Swan.
"When we decided to open the store on the 1st floor, in 2001, I think that our idea was to set us apart from the mass market world. I think that our customers think of themselves as the happy few, those 'in the know' just because they know how to reach us. And, as an independent store, we have a lighter structure so we don't have to buy in bulk or make big sales of what we don't sell. We pay a lot of attention to service, packaging and things that usually 'money can't buy'."
Your favourite places in Genoa and around the world? Recently I've been a contributor for the Wallpaper City Guide of Genoa and I had the chance to see my city with tourist's eyes. Genoa, is a best kept secret, just a few miles from the world famous Portofino and Cinqueterre. It has been a very rich city in the right centuries, when there were artists around. So we have a big heritage of art from the 16th and 17th century. One of my favourite is Palazzo Rosso, just a few steps from our shop, where there is a magical combination: frescoes, architecture but also modern design. On the top floor you can visit the 1954 apartment of the former director of the museum, Caterina Marcenaro, who lived there. She asked Franco Albini to combine his design furniture with her personal collection of antiques. The result is an incredibly modern space, still modern today. As for restaurants, I strongly recommend Ostaia de Banchi, a brand new trattoria (in a building that dates from 1528) with an open kitchen that serves Ligurian food with a twist. Another unmissable spot in the city center is Pasticceria Liquoreria Marescotti, a 19th century cafe (famous for their Amaretti sweets) that serves their signature aperitivo Marescotto in champagne saucers from the 1920s. For a perfect weekend there are two great options not far from the city: Villa Rosmarino, in the beautiful coastal town of Camogli and Villa Sparina, a resort in the Gavi hills where they produce a great white wine. As I said, I'm often in Paris for work. In that city there's always plenty of new places to experience, but recently I fell in love with Le petite Vendôme, a family-run wine shop that sells also charcuterie sandwiches and has a handful of tables where they serve French cuisine from tha Auvergne region: it's incredible to find such a place in Rue de Capucines, a stone's throw from the elegant jewellers of Place Vendôme.
Lorenzo Bagnara photo here