The house is but the externalized man, said American intellectual Frank A. Parsons. A statement that could not be any truer if I think of Clara Bona and her “Viaggio a casa mia” (“A tour around my house”), a series of daytime Instagram stories where she shows followers around her house on a multi-colored journey through the world of interior design. An architect (she founded Studio98 with two colleagues) and a journalist from Milan (currently taking care of an online column on renovation for Cose di Casa), her Instagram gallery is a thoughtful mix of vibrant colors and prints, a work in progress of her housing projects alternating with frames from her private life, all with a common thread: her contagious smile. Among an iconic lamp, a Venini vase or a beloved object from an antique market, Clara’s smile is actually the most valuable accessory to appear in her videos, alongside that pinch of irony and authenticity – the values that that followers appreciate the most in a world of filters like social media is. And the place where she lives fully reflects Clara’s cheerfulness and eclecticism, in details like definitely peppy hues or mix & matches of patterns that harmoniously blend in a Milan apartment with beautiful, creaking larch wood flooring.
Thus, in one of the many afternoons of this long quarantine, I invited her to an interview, as I was interested in learning more about her path and had a few other questions about her job. After all, she has been able to make many customer’s dream houses come true!
No sooner said than done, Clara kindly accepted to take part in the interview, and we agreed to have a phone call.
Will you tell us a bit about yourself?
I am an architect and a journalist, and I have always been both at the same time. After graduating from an art secondary school, I studied Architecture at the Politecnico di Milano. Meanwhile, I also attended an advertising graphics evening school, and one year after finishing university, in 1989, I graduated from the evening school too. In those years, no IT programs were used for design, which was mostly manual. Sometimes, I used to think that it was a waste of time to draw in that traditional, persnickety way; today, however, I appreciate this method, which has given me so much. Writing was another passion of mine, so I started visiting editorial offices (this is how we used to do at that time!) and offering to write design and lifestyle features. I managed to become a contributor, and thus to join the National Order of Journalists. In my first jobs at architecture studios, my role was more about technical tasks, like bureaucratic procedures for construction sites. I also took care of the interior styling of residences for photo shootings.
In 1998, together with two colleagues of mine, I founded Studio98, where we collected all our previous experiences, with a focus on interior design (my true passion) for residential and commercial spaces, restyling works, and arrangements.
What do you enjoy most about your job, and what difficulties are you currently experiencing?
I especially love planning, it’s an instinctive, automatic process for me. The moment I spot a house, my creativity kicks in! Other aspects of my job come into play then, such as submitting my project to the client, launching it and supervising the operations when issues or difficulties come up, especially when renovations are involved. You need to be absolutely flexible and creative. You open a construction site reckoning you will visit it 30 times, and then they become 300! However, if you carefully follow it first-hand, the outcome will be perfect. Ultimately, issues are where the best solutions can be found. There are many stages to go through, and none can be overlooked – for a house, there are standards to observe, because details make a difference. I’m just so pleased when my clients tell me that it’s a pleasure to go back home, or to spend a long time there in times like these!
What is luxury for you today?
When I think of luxury in the world of interior architecture, I envision small areas around the house dedicated to wellness and comfort, which should not simply be the privilege of big houses, but should be found in more modest solutions too, such as apartments in cities. I also consider as a great luxury to have some open air space, a balcony or small garden. At the same time, as far as interior is concerned, luxury means surrounding oneself with objects and décor pieces created with carefully selected materials and crafting techniques, or timeless pieces.
My idea of luxury is about simplicity, about taking time for oneself: for me, it’s going on a trip, enjoying my house in Liguria, or having breakfast in a nice pastry shop.
Italian architect Gae Aulenti said: The concept itself of ghettoization makes me mad. Especially those who say: I hired a woman as an architect. This is the age of empowerment, of Me Too… do you think that we have finally got over some of the prejudices regarding certain professions for women?
I think that there is still a long way ahead to get rid of certain prejudices. As of today, the environment of architecture is still a very masculine one, while in the field of design and interior design the percentage of female professionals is higher because it is probably a more feminine kind of job for what it requires, such as a sympathetic approach to the customer: in fact, you often develop a kind of friendship which also lasts beyond the end of the collaboration. What I see is that clichés are still relevant on construction sites, where you find yourself facing a team of painters, builders, etc, all men, who sometimes look at you suspiciously. To be honest, I’ve never had any problem with anybody. But sometimes I wonder: what if I were a man? However, some projects prove that something is changing: I recently took part in a conference of women architects – RebelArchitette – who have collected in a book the story of 100 women workers who have put their effort into activism, hoping to raise awareness on the inclusion of women in design-related professions.
Our houses are complex machines which are fundamental to our well-being, this is written on your website. The current situation caused by COVID-19 will probably lead us to reinvent some systems and eradicate others, what consequences do you think this will have on our private spaces? Will interior design gain further importance?
During this forced imprisonment, our houses have taken on a whole new value. We have realized that some things are more important than others. It will be more and more necessary to organize the spaces in order to make them more comfortable and to meet our needs, such as turning a tiny corner into a home office. In Milan, for example, there are so many people who never really used their balconies, but now these have become key spots to relax during the lockdown. Having some sort of open air space is crucial. People are more aware of their houses, which before were lived only when everybody got back from work. I once saw people going to see houses with a compass in their hands: it struck me back then, but now that I live 24/7 at home, I have realized how important the orientation of a house is for one’s well-being.
“Viaggio a casa mia” is your new format where you open the doors of your house, which is unique, rich in colors and patterns. Do you have any particular style marks that you apply to your clients’ projects too?
Color is definitely my style mark. When I offer a white house to my clients, they are almost disappointed. Over the years, I have developed a refined sense of color; combining hues is not immediate, there is an actual coordinated project behind. The same applies to tapestry, which is also something I love.
As far as geometry is concerned, I prefer symmetry, straight lines, and to play moderately with volumes. I don’t really like curved shapes and diagonal cuts. I prefer high over false ceilings.
When I am in charge of refurbishments, I don’t usually burst into the house and throw everything away: for me it’s important to preserve the original identity of the house. I always try to retain what’s interesting and to enhance to the soul of the house.
“Viaggio a casa mia” is not a series of tutorials on how to furnish your house, its goal is to inspire others through the videos I shoot inside my house. I have always used Instagram with a journalistic approach, describing the pictures with long captions.
If you were a design icon, what would you be?
I would be Cassina’s Superleggera designed by Giò Ponti: a perfect combination of design, technology and strength. Modern and essential, a chair invented in 1957 is still relevant and versatile, and perfectly fits any kind of interior space.
What are your future projects?
I have got many residential projects and construction sites going on between Liguria and Milan; they had to stop, but will restart as soon as we get over this situation. They’re very special works and collaborations, which really excite me. Besides, I’ve got an unpublished editorial project: it is about the houses and the stories of those who live inside them, a mix of interior design and psychology that I had left behind and have now resumed.
Thank you Clara!