Fabio Fantolino represents one of the most interesting figures among the type of designers who are defined as interior designers and who have collaborated enormously in spreading the Italian style. Talking to Fantolino we understand well that what could be thought of as a profession based mainly on a designer’s taste is actually based on very technical knowledge. The project commences after a deep analysis has been carried out on site where the intervention is to take place, and after as much information as possible has been gathered from the customer. It is thanks to this background research that Fantolino acquires that compositional security and freedom that allow him to define every single detail, even to the point of thinking about the positioning of ornaments and accessories with the furniture or the hanging of paintings on the walls. As he himself will explain, each visible subject collaborates to create a balance within the architectural composition and its location must be carefully considered.
Where do you start when taking on a new project?
One of the first things I do is to try to understand where I am and what surrounds are conveying to me. At the same time, I compare myself with the customer simply by trying to get to know him. All this information is the starting point of my reflections that I often observe not whilst sitting at a desk, but in moments of relaxation when the mind is more predisposed to imagine. This phase of the project where sensations, images and reflections intertwine continuously is not rationalised, but it is fundamental in choosing which way to move forward.
Many of your projects are homes; how do you relate to the client to better understand their wishes?
Well, one of the first things I do is try to figure out who I have in front of me. How they dress, what social activities they engage in and how they relate to me. From the first meeting I ask them to fill in a detailed technical questionnaire where they list all the things they would like to have.
In practice, do you ask them questions about the use of the house?
Yes, for example how many rooms they would like, and in which would they wish to have a matching bathroom. Or if they would like a walk-in closet and if so, would they prefer it to be open or closed etc. The questions are also about how the spaces will be utilised, if they prefer to eat in the kitchen as well as in the dining room or living room. Once the questionnaire has been completed, we start talking about the aesthetic and design aspects in general to understand if there are any things they particularly love or hate. I also ask if they can show me or describe to me some environments that have had an impact on them. Images are very important for me to understand who I am dealing with and what they want.
Then you move on to defining a layout?
Not just one layout, but many. And each one will have to satisfy the customer’s requests albeit in different ways. All these solutions will be shown and compared together.
Why, if all the layouts meet the customer’s requests, is it necessary to show them?
Because the rationalisation of an environment is the consequence of the compromises found between the various spaces. To give you an example, in the first layout I have a large room with a small bathroom, in the second I have the same room, only smaller, but with a more spacious bathroom, perhaps with a bathtub. With this process the customer has all the tools to understand and choose the options they prefer. Once the final layout has been decided we begin the creative phase.
Can it happen that a client is a long way off your way of thinking as a designer?
Our methods and design taste are very versatile, whilst maintaining explicit in character. This allows us to carry out projects that reflect us, yet at the same time satisfy the needs of various types of customers. The red thread that unites all our projects is certainly contemporaneity, even if this can take multiple facets and adapt to the most disparate places. We are currently working on some renovations of eighteenth-century houses, which contain many frescoes within them. Certainly, if a customer asked us to copy or emulate a style made centuries earlier, we would have to say no.
In your projects, the placement of each item, even the smallest, seems to have been designed to relate to others in order to create harmony. Could this be a correct interpretation?
I must tell you that very often customers rely totally on us to the point of even asking us the appropriate placement of their ornaments or home accessories. In our opinion there must be total harmony between all objects and materials present in each environment. Lamps, as well as small home accessories, however, have a remarkable ability to influence this balance.
What is your relationship with materials? Do you have any preferences?
We absolutely can’t do without wood, and very often we also use marble or stone. I believe that the use of natural materials gives a certain type of elegance to the environment and makes people feel good.
In your projects, lighting does not just illuminate, but becomes itself a project subject …
Each of our projects has multiple types of lighting. The first are the technical lights, very often made with spotlights that serve to illuminate areas and create a certain type of atmosphere. These lighting bodies must be placed at the appropriate distance from each other and arranged very carefully in order to create breaks in the shade. We obtain this effect when they are projected onto a wall from the ceiling, or if they illuminate an object and slightly hold one nearby. The second type of lighting are designer lamps that almost always illuminate themselves. Another type of lamps that we frequently use are pendants, whilst we rarely use LEDs.
Do you have authors or stylistic currents to which you feel particularly attached?
I wouldn’t say any specific authors. The currents with which I always feel connected, even when I don’t want to, are the colours and shapes of the 60s and 70s.
Would it be fair to say that Fabio Fantolino tries to give his own interpretation of elegance?
Each of us has our own interpretation of elegance. Mine is a type of elegance that is not close to luxury, but to culture. To underline this concept, I often insert pieces of my design history into my projects.
How important is it for a designer or an architect to be in Milan?
Milan is certainly one of the cities on the international scene with the highest level of culture linked to the world of design. Many companies use Milan as a launching pad to present their news or open a showroom. Many international entrepreneurs live and invest in this city and often involve local studios. Today it is true that thanks to the internet it is possible to be in the know, despite being in the most remote places in the world, but I think it is quite another thing to have the opportunity to live and work in a city where design is the dominant culture.