“It's all about irony,” Tanja Solci says rather matter-of-factly about Carlo e Camilla in Segheria, the Milan restaurant she opened last year. From its name—translated to Charles and Camilla, of royal British fame—to its location (segheria is sawmill in Italian), nothing about this dining experience is straightforward.
Treating the neglected facility as if it were an “important historic building,” according to Solci, restorers painstakingly cleaned the masonry walls and replaced the wood roof. For nearly 15 years, Solci, an artistic director, used the renovated 10,000-square-foot space as her office and as an occasional venue, particularly during Milan's annual Design Week in April, for special events and exhibits she orchestrated for clients including electronics company Bang & Olufsen, designer Ross Lovegrove, and architect Claudio Silvestrin.
As Solci contemplated a change in career and scenery, she, like her father before her, considered renting the building to someone in the food or fashion industries. Instead, the creative spirit in Solci led her to once again opt to reinvent the space. She partnered with another Carlo—Cracco, a Michelin-starred restaurateur she first encountered by watching Italy's version of MasterChef, who runs a popular eponymous Milan establishment. (“This place would be like his mistress,” Solci jokes.)
The resulting restaurant is less an architectural achievement than a brilliant work of scenography. Two rectangular tables—one 82 feet long—intersect at the center of the main space to accommodate over 60 diners, seated communally—on one side, on angular “masculine” chairs, along the other, curvy “feminine” ones. On the tables, food is served on 25 different out-of-production patterns by historic Italian dinnerware brand Richard Ginori (now owned by Gucci). Over them, vintage crystal chandeliers set the stage within the soaring space but actually provide no illumination. A modular metal grid of theatrical lighting above the chandeliers houses the real luminaires. “The idea was to have these bodies floating for a magical atmosphere,” says Solci. “That's exactly the concept of the whole project.” By the windows, more trompe l'oeil lighting fools diners and guests seated at the bar, in a room adjacent to the dining space, into thinking sunlight is pouring in during the dark of night. Less formal areas for eating and drinking are located across a wide courtyard, the whole complex giving off an air of “aristocratic decadence,” as Solci describes it, shielded from the street by a rather imposing gate.
With the major restoration completed years before, construction this time around focused on transforming an office space into a professional kitchen and replacing the pavement to accommodate under-floor radiant heating. Solci took a hands-on approach to make sure the new surface looked exactly as it did after the 1999 renovation, personally dispersing the soft white quartz dust during the pre-dawn concrete pour to achieve the perfect color blend.
Having played such an integral role in the creation and design of Carlo e Camilla, Solci has become accustomed to the nickname Camilla, though she admits, somewhat reluctantly, that the original inspiration for that moniker, aside from the Duchess of Cornwall, was her dog.
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Company: Volume srl, Milan — Italy; light and sound for theater and fashion staging.
Floor finishing: concrete and quartz
Completion Date: March 2014
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Paints and stains: Farrow & Ball
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Reception furniture: Tanja Solci Studio design custom-made by Benfenati Allestimenti spa - Milan
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