An Italian oasis to call home is on a lot of people’s wishlists. Few, however, would think to look for it in Udine, the northeastern city in the lesser-known Friuli-Venezia Giulia region – unless you’re Patrizia Moroso, that is.
Despite the Italian design scene revolving around the Lombardy capital of Milano, it was here, 20km from the Slovenian border, that the Italian furniture designer discovered the hideaway she was to make her home 15 years ago. Although she has had a long history with the city by virtue of it being where her parents founded their design company, Moroso, in the 1950s and where she has worked as art director since the 1990s, she discovered her sanctuary quite by chance. “I was pregnant with my third child and my two eldest were crazy, terrible boys! I needed a house with a garden so they could live outside,” recalls Moroso, who was living in an apartment not far away in the historical centre with her husband, the artist Abdou Salam Gaye, and growing brood. “One day, I was out walking with a friend and I looked over a fence and saw a kind of wild paradise full of plants and trees. I tried to find the owner to see if they would sell the place.”
She discovered that she was looking at a 9,000 square-metre piece of land which had been abandoned 20 years before. The proprietor had planned to build a house for his daughter complete with a large garden. The daughter, however, had ended up elsewhere and the wider family “had said, ‘No thank you’,” recounts Moroso. As it stood, the owner had been left with two large plots and permission to build only on one. “That’s why they could never sell it, but for me it was perfect. Why do I need to fill the land with two houses? One is enough.”
She wasted no time in snapping it up and enlisting her close collaborator, the architect Patricia Urquiola, to design what would become Moroso’s foreverfamily home. Around the same time, the pair had been on a work trip to Australia where they had fallen hard for the contemporary architecture in the Melbourne and Sydney suburbs, as well as the mighty monolith Uluru. “The houses in Australia are very minimal, like metal boxes with lots of windows, while the colours and the details were fantastic inspiration for us,” she says. “We brought back all the details from the trip.”
With northern Italy being either “too humid or too cold” for a metal structure, they designed “a wooden box in the middle of nature” and painted it dark grey to give it a weathered patina effect so it would nestle into its surroundings. The windows were all made in oxidised-red metal frames, the colour of the berries Moroso found in the garden.
Inside, the split-level, open-plan space takes shape around textured concrete pillars and structural walls, from which – thanks to the absence of any doors except on the two bathrooms – rooms form as cosy corners of one continuous space. “I love architecture and to see the fundamental structure of the house,” says Moroso.
Underfoot, wooden flooring is met with red resin that runs from the entrance into the four-bedroom property. The latter, says Moroso, is a nod to the rich clay soil of Senegal where Salam Gaye is from, while the red-and-white-mosaic tiling is an exact copy from his family home in Dakar.
That their home has more than a hint of art-gallery curation about it is no surprise given Moroso’s own trajectory. When her parents asked her to return to Udine to help them keep the business afloat during the recession-hit 1980s, it was a young Moroso who fired up the company with a series of era-defining collaborations with then little-known, now pioneering artists. Together with the likes of her school friend Massimo Iosa Ghini (the founder of the Bolidismo movement), product designer Toshiyuki Kita, and industrial designer Ron Arad, she redefined the Moroso brand identity from basic and clean to daring and experimental.
Pieces from these, and all her past collaborations and collections, are dotted around their home: see the purple Misfits seating system designed by Arad in 2007; the harlequin leather poufs from the 2009 Dew collection; the boiled-wool Ruff chair designed by Urquiola in 2020; and what must be the pièce de résistance, the silver foil chair called Memory designed by Kita, made from an especially tough type of aluminium normally used in construction sites to protect boilers and which keeps its shape.
“I have no distinction between me, my profession and my ideal house,” she says, “I am totally living it!” She laughs, “If you look at my home, it’s all prototypes and samples from that time before production because I love that moment. I love looking at the pieces that are at the beginning of their story.”
Many of the pieces hail from her celebrated and ongoing collection, M’Afrique. The project – which she launched with an exhibition featuring pieces from longtime Moroso collaborator Sir David Adjaye’s celebrated African Cities photo-essay – connects influential designers with local African artisans to celebrate and shed light on the skill and expertise in craft and architecture coming out of the continent.
The original curling chairs, pedestals and tables in the collection, woven from plastic usually used for fishing nets and interpreted by several designers, such as Martino Gamper and Sebastian Herkner, find their place dotted around Moroso’s home.
Elsewhere, the large-scale 2.5 by 1.4-metre photographs she asked the Senegalese photographer and reporter Boubacar Touré Mandémory to take for an exhibition now hang on several walls.
All of these professional keepsakes are complemented by statues and ornaments the couple have picked up on their travels. “I love to mix things I have from all over the world that tell different stories,” she says. “These objects are like friends, they carry happiness and are happy to live with me. It’s nice to see them all talking to each other, too.” Colour, Moroso’s calling card, is everywhere, concentrated in some areas and saturating others. “I always know the first four of everything we sell will be white and grey, but I will always find someone who loves colour just like me.” True to her word, on the first floor she and Urquiola created “a sort of hammam”, a sauna room that is flooded with myriad rainbow-hues of light depending on where you stand, thanks to a 3M filter placed inside the double glazing that appears as a gold mirror from the outside.
With the kids now having left home, the space remains a sanctuary for Moroso and Salam Gaye, “Especially in the summer, when the days are longer and I get home at around seven, the light of the sun setting is coming in and I see all our beautiful things around us and I say, ‘Oh, such a beautiful place!” she laughs, adding: “Design is a thing that helps you live a better life.”