Giuseppe Terragni - Modern Masters London Tuesday, April 26, 2016 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Stecchini family, Casa Stecchini, via Ferrari, Como, 1936-1937
    Thence by descent
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Literature

    Raffaella Crespi, Giuseppe Terragni Designer, Milan, 1983, figs. 96-97 for a technical drawing of the interior
    Ada Francesca Marcianò, Giuseppe Terragni, Opera completa 1925-1943, Rome, 1987, pp. 168-69 for technical drawings of the interior, p. 319 for project notes
    Giorgio Ciucci, Giuseppe Terragni, Opera completa, Milan, 1966, pp. 500-501 for technical drawings of the interior
    Giovanna D'Amia, Giuseppe Terragni, beyond rationalism, Como, 2003, pp. 54-55

  • Catalogue Essay

    Good Night and Good Luck
    Elisabetta Terragni, March 2016

    Giuseppe Terragni rarely let an opportunity go by without testing his ideas. How could he turn down a commission from a young entrepreneur when his client’s father had already entrusted him with the task of designing a family tomb in the Como Cemetery? Terragni entered into the story of the Stecchini family and remained a respectful visitor after shaping the most intimate settings for them. The bestowal of trust, to build a memorial to the departed Stecchini, was now extended to shaping a place for the living. A tomb lasts for generations, while apartments are often changed, but having designed the former, Terragni was now to move even closer to the family with the latter. Perhaps the ephemeral dwelling might even outshine the perennial resting place.

    The Stecchini Tomb had held its silent vigil for years in the local cemetery on the shady Western slopes of Como, when Terragni reentered the family’s orbit in 1936 to renovate their villa on the sunny Eastern side of town. The Stecchini occupied a villa in which Terragni was only expected to improve circulation and existing spaces. Following his natural inclination, however, the project grew more elaborate as soon as he put his mind to it. He may have been toying with the possibility of refurbishing the whole house, but he certainly dedicated a lot of effort to the design of the bedroom. The master bedroom turned into a nutshell, cradling his fondest ideas about making things. In 1936 Terragni was not a twenty-six year old architect trying to sharpen his vocabulary, but a master with his own language: The Casa del Fascio, his defining building in Como, is about to be finished and he is already in the throes of another project, the Sant’Elia Kindergarten, soon to be recognised as another masterful accomplishment. In the design of these two buildings, Terragni had neglected nothing, caring for every detail, yet keeping his guiding idea on a firm keel: lucid in every part and tightly interlocked, no technical contraption is lacking, every choice made with utmost precision. Naturally, his attention does not slacken when it comes to furnishings, chairs, tables, blackboards and lamps. Every one of them is custom-made by trusted fabricators. He designs them down to joints and grooves, often at full scale, because only flawlessly executed does he consider his ideas fully realised. There is no break in scale or character, no distinction in quality among the parts. It does not matter whether he scales a school for children or caters to the expectations of a businessman. Physical stature varies, but accurate measure remains the key to the reality of experience in both. What an occasion to bend tubular steel, match it with glass and wood to different postures and proportions, and finally cast a colour over them. While many pieces display the hard materials and edges that became the hallmark of the decade, Terragni’s preferences run to surprisingly soft hues. Aquamarine for metal, darker stains for wood furniture and black upholstery with a filament of orange suggesting an almost Pompeian tonality.

    Customarily Terragni worked on small sheets of paper of unvarying size, tracing few lines and often jotting down notes and questions about materials, colours, and fabrication. Thereafter, a precise set of ink drawings rendered plan, sections, and axonometric views. When he started to deal with a new set of problems, measures change, planes shift, and volumes settle into symmetry. Isn’t this precisely the way he is working in architecture, too? Looking at one of his pencil drawings, it can be difficult to guess the scale and purpose of what he drew. As he slides and pulls one element from the initial set through a succession of sketches, he opens up gaps, distances or compresses the parts, building an ensemble that barely holds still. Soon the pieces appear suspended or fixed, some of them denied the movement of others. A dynamic balance counteracts the static distribution of parts. The Stecchini project is no exception. Terragni is creating an interesting occasion to stage his pieces in the layout of the house, so as to turn the ensemble of the bedroom into the fulcrum of the residence. The bedroom becomes less a retreat than a stage for its occupants and the display of their social standing: It is a modern bedroom for a modern couple. As a first step, Terragni detaches the furniture from the walls, seeking to build a calibrated space that never quite settles into equilibrium. We sense a dynamic between the matrimonial bed, raised on a curving platform (recalling Terragni’s project for a tailor’s shop in Monza), and the obligatory vanity for the lady, dressing rooms for each, and the separate entrances between the couple’s armoires. Gendering the parts and providing distinctive elements for each spouse, produces an architectural ensemble that escapes the grip of symmetry and defies a purely formal equivalence of its parts. Instead, an articulated correspondence also provides for different requirements inside the cupboards. Their externally symmetrical doors reveal in fact a highly differentiated set of internal compartments and drawers in response to the sartorial needs of husband and wife. The bed is framed by a headboard, built-in bedside shelving, and awaiting a large canvas that was however never installed. Terragni had worked closely with his boyhood friends, the painters Manlio Rho and Mario Radice, when he mounted images in the Casa del Fascio and elsewhere. Surely, at this stage of their own evolution as abstract painters, a canvas by either would have been based on a dynamic conjunction of shapes and colours, echoing the architect’s layout of the bedroom as a whole.
    On a single sheet, Terragni combined an axonometric view with a continuous unfolding of its wall surfaces below. Viewed in conjunction with one another, these drawings affirm the idea of a space containing two ‘islands’: the bed (with built-in headboard, picture, and night tables) and a free-standing cupboard, fully exposing its four sides and setting off an alcove behind it. It is clear that lining the room with built-ins and isolating the cupboard (not to mention curtains, likely from the owner’s mill) introduce subtle subdivisions within the room. The bedroom acquires a fully architectural character as its component parts interact across its space and around the owners.

    The clients must have walked a fine line between their desire to lead ‘modern lives’ and the conventional patterns prevailing in their patrician family. Inasmuch as Terragni’s asymmetrical layout did not cave in to the existing space, but injected a strong note of dynamic distinction, he may have strengthened the couple’s sense of breaking out of the bounds of the turn-of-the-century villa. Countering the uniformity and a certain heaviness in the villa’s architecture with machine-milled materials—although flawlessly assembled—, fresh hues and a dynamic set of pieces, he managed to create lightness and variety where convention and symmetry held sway. The project itself, however, remained incomplete, because the clients may have lacked the courage of espousing a lifestyle as up to the times as the architect’s proposal. Maybe this is a bedroom in which to spend soul-searching hours and form a new view of the day before dawn.

    Elisabetta Terragni
    March 2016


Bedroom, designed for Casa Stecchini, Como

designed 1936-1937
Bubinga-veneered wood, bird's eye maple-veneered wood, bronze, patinated bronze, gilt bronze, steel, chromium-plated steel, Bakelite.
Single wardrobe: 190 x 117 x 58 cm (74 3/4 x 46 x 22 3/4 in.)
Double wardrobe: 190 x 220 x 58 cm (74 3/4 x 86 1/2 x 22 3/4 in.)
Large cabinet: 90 x 191 x 37 cm (35 1/2 x 75 1/4 x 14 1/2 in.)
Small cabinet: 90 x 70 x 32.5 cm (35 1/2 x 27 1/2 x 12 3/4 in.)
Bed: 90 x 208.5 x 221 cm (35 1/2 x 82 x 87 in.)

Comprising two adjoining wardrobes, one single wardrobe, large cabinet, small cabinet, and bed.

£50,000 - 70,000 Ω

Sold for £62,500

Contact Specialist
Madalena Horta e Costa
Head of Sale
+44 20 7318 4019

Modern Masters

London Auction 27 April 2016