Lofty ideals

White but not whitewashed. Modern but with a touch of vintage. Open plan but with private areas. And studded with small, curious details that both surprise and delight the eye.

Designers Alice Tacconi and Mirco Onesti, founding partners in design and communications agency Reverse Innovation, based in Milan, have converted a former industrial workshop into their current home. And in every corner of their apartment you can find traces of their personality and their memories. It’s as if the couple have taken to heart Oscar Wilde’s famous remark – “Sensations are the details that build up the stories of our lives” – and crafted a living space where the details really do create atmosphere and tell a story.

In this way, the space located in a ringhiera apartment block dating back to the 1920’s (a typical style of Milanese architecture) has been reborn as a 21st-century loft. The renovations carried out by the couple reflect their desire to respect the property’s industrial character while at the same time creating a warm, welcoming environment.

The split-level apartment features an industrial mezzazine floor running its entire length and allows full use of the property’s 18-foot height, but without dominating the space. The building’s original iron girders and cantilevered staircase have been left untouched and on full view, as have the large workshop windows, which flood the apartment with daylight. This sensation of lightness and airiness is enhanced by the stark white walls, which again have not been tampered with, save for a coat of water-based (acrylic/emulsion) paint. Even the ceiling has been left as it was found, including the original hooks and Art Deco frescoes revealed during the renovation.

The couple went for a wood floor: veneer boards of aged oak imported from Belgium cover the spacious ground floor. Says Tacconi, “We wanted a floor which has lived its own life and can tell its own story.”

Upon opening the front door you find yourself in a large living space divided into two distinct areas. In the lounge area, you can find the circular “Osorom” seat by Konstantin Grcic for Moroso, which is used as a coffee table. The colour scheme is dictated by the carefully chosen furnishings: the eye is led from the Shanghai Tip couch in gunmetal grey, by Patricia Urquiola also for Moroso, to the mobile unit in the same shade by Lema; then on to the totem-like, cherry-red units by Bruno Rainaldi for Moco. Finally your gaze comes to rest on the famous Charlotte Chaise-longue upholstered in Tuscany Siena leather by Baxter.

In the niche under the stairs a clarinet recalls the music lessons of Tacconi’s childhood, along with a collection of “cult” ’60s magazines belonging to Onesti’s grandfather. There are other curios collected in the numerous antiques markets of Milan filling this niche, such as the torso of a Singer manniquen that has been reinvented as a table lamp; a rack once used to hold timecards for clocking in at a factory; and antique silver candlesticks, which evoke an atmosphere of times past. A deliberate contrast is created by the modern hangers specially designed by the couple.

Under the large windows, instead of ordinary flowerpots, a number of wine boxes have been reinvented with a new function: holding succulent plants and orchids and creating an oasis of green in the apartment.

The other half of the living space is devoted to the dining area, where light from the translucent white curtains creates a distinct area. Around the Fjord table with its light and minimalist armature, designed by Patricia Urquiola for Moroso, an assortment of chairs in diverse styles, colours and materials seem to dance: from an evergreen design such as the Panton by Werner Panton, to the “S” chair by Tom Dixon, not forgetting the Steelwood by the Bourollec brothers and the One by Konstantin Grcic. Completing the group is the vintage Medea chair, designed by Vittorio Nobili in 1955, made of curved plywood, which incredibly the couple found in a skip. “Before living here, over the years we collected the chairs that interested us most, finding them by chance in markets and shops as discontinued lines,” say the two designers.

The Arco floor lamp, by the Castiglioni brothers for Flos, is another star in this environment, combined with the simple and discreet industrial-style wall lights, chosen to provide illumination but at the same time to melt into the background.

The ground floor is also where ad hoc “service” areas were created – kitchen and bathroom – which previously didn’t exist here.

Designed as a small utility room, the steel kitchen stands out in relief against the anthracite-coloured walls. The kitchen utensils are on full display, while food items are stored in oak boxes that contrast with the metal, warehouse-style shelves. Dishes from The New English add an ironic touch to the walls, while the Luccellinolamp by Ingo Maurer creates a sense of drama thanks to its soft, poetic light.

The separate “ante-bathroom” and main bathroom could not be more different. In the first, the white colour scheme predominates. This is further enhanced by the large mirror that opens the room up and where the taps are located. An unusual feature here is the large sink that can accommodate two people at the same time and the industrial-style furniture used as a mobile unit. In contrast, the bathroom is characterized by the spacious shower room covered completely in charcoal-coloured Casamood glass mosaic, from CasaDolceCasa, which with its sparkling play of light gives the room an elegant feel and celebrates the traditional craft of mosaic.

The upper floor is a long mezzanine gallery running the length of the apartment. This houses a long series of white, fitted bookcases lit by spots from the Tolomeo series for Artemide. The bookcases lead on to the successive areas. First, there is the small studio where a large metal and glass table in a lively mustard-colour catches the eye, as well as the famous Midsummer Light lamp, designed by Tord Boontje for Artecnica, which creates the effect of a cascade of flowers and buds in various shades of pinks. And when it’s time for a break, there’s a king-size double bed which occupies the cosy space and is available for the numerous guests that come to stay.

Finally we come to the bedroom, separated by a simple sliding panel, and characterized by other small idiosyncracies. Say the designers, “We do not like the classic bedside tables and the bedside lamps associated with them. Instead, we prefer the simple and elegant wall lamps from the Tolomeo series. These are in black – to contrast with the total white colour scheme. The wardrobe has been replaced by a simple storage spaces with divisions and enclosed by large red velvet curtains that recreate the atmosphere of a movie from the ’20s.”

We couldn’t finish without mentioning that the entire loft is watched over by two guardian owls who live on one of the exposed beams. And by Merlin the cat, of course.

For more info about the designers and their work, visit