In the parallel universe of architecture punditry, “maximalism” is the antonym of “minimalism.”
But while definitions of minimalism abound, few aficionados of architecture and interior design have a clear sense of what the opposing aesthetic might be. Yet a towering figure in the history of twentieth-century design has long defined, indeed embodied, that powerful aesthetic.
This was Renzo Mongiardino, who passed away in 1998 leaving behind a trenchant proponent by the name of Celeste Dell’Anna.
Dell’Anna’s association with Mongiardino’s studio in Milan was the boiling cauldron of means and meanings from which his own creative impetus sprang.
While the master uncovered some of his seminal ideas in the famous monograph, Roomscapes, his spiritual heir would inherit, adapt, and develop his vision in its breathtaking totality.
It is widely acknowledged that, before Mongiardino, interior design followed set historical patterns and that he was the first to break the mould. And so, to Dell’Anna, the private residence was the space where he would raise Mongiardino’s revolution to its apogee.
Minimalism, believed Dell’Anna as had Mongiardino before him, only created houses. Their own vision, by contrast, was focused on creating a home.
Renaissance men were maximalist when they filled their galleries with the things that mattered to them, as was Noah when he was filling the Ark, and the thought of the home as a sanctuary – a private involucre that insulates or shields the homeowner from the markedly different, at times perhaps even hostile, environment beyond the front door – is central to that vision.
“Maximalism is a manifestation of a desire for a different world,” as an architecture critic once bitterly lamented in the pages of avowedly minimalist Dezeen.
A man’s home is his castle is more than a proverb, it is a constitutional mandate for private life. The inviolably personal space of the home, in Dell’Anna’s interpretation, combines mystery, intrigue and excitement with peace, contentment and introspection.
Over the years since Dell’Anna opened his studio in Milan’s Via Montebello, many a discerning client in flight from the banality of ready solutions grasped at the magical formula as if it were a lifeline, as witness the triumphal array of house interiors in the photographs that follow here.
A centripetal force, however, was in evidence. As Dell’Anna’s personal and professional life increasingly meshed with the hopes and dreams of his clients, he began to feel the fatigue a magician may feel when a rabbit too many emerges from the silk topper.
Unlike his clients, he reflected, he was neither a prince of the blood nor a captain of industry, and the time had come to define and defend his own private space called identity.
Consequently he closed his studio in central Milan, eschewing the glamorous lifestyle he now felt had become a trammel on his creative freedom.
Perhaps the designer has renounced the maximalist aesthetic? Not in the least.
Quite the contrary, that spell of social seclusion which followed for Dell’Anna has deepened and sharpened his thinking about what the ideal home for the perfect client ought to look like, and the magical interior he was already internationally famous for creating gained, as it were, another dimension.
Amid the flood of barbarism and degradation engulfing modern culture, Dell’Anna is at work on his Noah’s Ark, a vision of the intensely personal space where the extremes of luxury meet those of purity, where objects are encouraged to speak for themselves, and where memory and the eye work in concert to enhance the owner’s sense of private dominion. Tastes may differ, but Dell’Anna’s designs never fail to appeal to the client who imagines his house, to paraphrase Le Corbusier, as a machine for dreaming.