My Modern House: textile designer Lis Carpenter and architect Stefano Carmi’s converted industrial workshop in Milan
Lis: “We used to live a ten-minute walk away from the Duomo – a very central location. It was also a converted industrial workshop, so a lot of people notice a continuity when they come to our new place.
“Our last neighbourhood was a very developed part of town, and we knew the community well, from shopkeepers to our neighbours.
“We were looking for a bit more space, so decided to move a little further out. It’s not drastically further away, but it took some adjusting to. What’s nice is that there’s a really vibrant mix of people from all over Italy, and large Chinese and Arabic communities. Like anywhere you move to, you just get to know your neighbours and settle in.”
Stefano: “This space forms part of an old industrial building dating from the second half of the 19th century. It was originally used as a curing warehouse for cheese. The cheese was brought in from the countryside to be aged here.
“Then, from the 1930s, it was used as a carpenters’ workshop. In Italy, this type of building, with residential units above an artisan’s workshop, is called ‘ringhiera’. Increasingly in Milan, these spaces are being turned into residential homes, especially ones near the city centre.”
Lis: “We were attracted to the fact it was a very raw, open space. It was like starting with a blank canvas because it offered a lot of scope in terms of what we could do with it. And we loved the courtyard outside.
“Our plans for what we wanted to do to it developed very naturally; probably over dinner or during a car journey.”
Stefano: “We knew we wanted to keep the space very open, and we wanted to retain and celebrate what was already here. That meant leaving the vaulted ceilings exposed, and maintaining the large windows to let in as much light as possible.
“Personally, I don’t like doing residential architecture – I stopped doing it in the 1980s. I don’t like getting involved in the politics or psychology of a family, whatever the size.
“Luckily our son, Oliver, is an architecture student. As with all architectural projects, you have to assign someone to oversee the project, so I very pragmatically let him take the lead!
“I’m more of a big-picture guy who thinks ‘yeah, just start it and it will be fine’. Oliver is more of a detailed-orientated architect, so it worked well, but not in a sentimental way!”
Lis: “As our last place was also a former industrial building, we didn’t really have to adjust our lifestyle to the space.
“Our life here centres around cooking. At the weekends, we always make plans with friends or family for long lunches or dinner. During the week, it’s more spontaneous.”
Stefano: “Our kitchen has a magnetic pull. People tend to gravitate around the island, which is nice because it brings people together.”
Lis: “We’re always city-based at the weekend. We love spending time at home reading, napping and just generally relaxing. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to start gardening … yet.”
Stefano: “And we love listening to music – there’s always music playing in this house.”
Lis: “One of my favourite places in the house to read and nap is the mezzanine guest bedroom, which is elevated above my studio. Being up there is very theatrical.
“At first I was a bit embarrassed because a house of this size is not typical in Milan; it’s a very big space. But I have my textile studio here as well. I used to have a shop but now I can work from home. It’s nice to be able to continue that tradition of it being a working space.
Stefano: “I would say that Lis is the queen of making this place looks beautiful. Because of the work she does, her eye is very attuned and she’s the master of putting everything together in a balanced way.”
Lis: “We inherited a lot of furniture from Stefano’s family when his father died recently. His father, Eugenio Carmi, was an abstract painter and sculptor so we also have some of his pieces.
“Because of that, we didn’t actually buy anything for this space. But because of the size, we were able to fill it with furniture that we didn’t have room for before.
“I’m a persistent buyer. My favourite haunt is a local junk shop that I make regular visits to. But it’s important to also let things go. You can’t be a hoarder!”
Lis and Stefano, how do you define modern living?
Stefano: “In a time in which people are building all sorts of walls – both metaphorically and physically – modern living is about taking those walls down. It’s about creating a space that is open, not divided, and having a kitchen in which you are able to cook everything; not just the cuisine of the place you’re in.”
Lis:“Yes, it’s about having an open space. But it’s also about filling it with beautiful things that make you happy to look at.”
If you were to move, what would be the first thing you’d take with you?
Stefano: “My collection of dragons, which I started when I was living alone in Tokyo and my family were living in Venice. They’re from all over the place – Bangkok, Hong Kong etc. – but there is also one from an antique dealer in Milan.”
Lis: “Stefano. Then art.”
Is there a property on The Modern House website that has caught your eye?
Lis: “They’re all so beautiful; it’s a difficult question. But I especially like the Hove mews house because it’s beautiful but you could still do a bit of work to it.”
Stefano: “The Hat Factory in Peckham – it’s been done really well.”