Architect, artist and designer, Francesco Della Femina is an eclectic and creative spirit. Born in 1966, from modest origins: “My father was a bricklayer, I miss him , my mother is a housewife, a woman whose strength equals an entire nation.”
While attending High School, every summer since 14 years of age, Francesco used to help his father. “I always liked to build.” A Degree in Architecture from the University Federico II of Naples, during his early twenties he worked with Livio Talamona, an experience to remember. After finishing his studies, Francesco started working on his own: “From the beginning, I realized that working in Capri is an opportunity to develop your skills, not just exploiting the fact that I come from there .” Two children, 7 and 9 years, an Irish wife, Barbie Ryan, expert in Marketing & Communication.
One of a kind style, Mediterranean by heritage, he finds inspiration in the traditional historical beauty designing original spaces using clean contemporary lines.
“The architecture of Capri, and Mediterranean architecture in general, has always fascinated me, architecture without architects made by farmers and fishermen, elementary volumes, wisely built , with unprecedented solutions; organic, measured, elegant, sinuous and sensual architecture: a sort of archaic track marking even my current projects.”
Familiar with creating original interiors he began designing bespoke furniture to suit clients’ needs and hence began his foray into furniture design. After attracting attention in the media for his interiors and design, he launched his first public collection in 2014 which was very successful. Elements of geometry create a delicacy and symmetry rendering even the grandest structures graceful (chairs, tables, lamps, candlesticks …).
Each piece is personally overseen by Francesco and made by skilled craftsmen ensuring the highest quality.
I met him in his studio, in the heart of Spaccanapoli. More than an office, its a living room, cozy and informal, an inspirational calling card. “Natural” but refined Materials, handmade furnishings. In short, it encompasses his style, and often includes selected works of art and craftsmen.
It was 2006 and Francesco decides to compete on a different scale and to build a bridge in the mainland, where he finds the perfect location at Palazzo Monte Manso, in Via Nilo 34, the historic center of Naples . “A place where I had lived as a college student, impossible to describe, full of immeasurable human energy and able to inspire me as much as the beauty of Capri had done until then.”
The space has an inherent atmosphere rich in creativity, a Seventeenth-century palace, that houses many laboratories and art galleries as well as a beautiful Seventeenth century church on the third floor , in whose perimeter there is one of the most precious jewels of Naples, the San Severo Chapel.
“My studio reflects the idea that I have always had: a place dedicated to the development of ideas and projects, I started working very young in Anacapri, at the Atelier of Via Vigna (maybe someone can still remember it) , there I used to paint, and I often hosted friends and visitors. My studio in Napoli is a creative workshop and at the same time gallery / showroom for design production, exhibitions or site specific” works of art ” .
It is like stepping into a classic Neapolitan apartment revamped with modern style, closer to the idea of a house than that of an office, but at the same time adaptable to various uses and decor. “Consisting of three main rooms – all with high ceilings, it contains everything that helps us shape our plans, samples of different materials, colours, fabrics, magazines, books, objects of art , common objects and -why not? – Flowers . When I imagine a place I like to think about it in its entirety.
Why did you move your studio from Capri to Naples?“I think that being an architect (like Interior and Design work) is a global activity and not purely local, and I always looked for the opportunity to work outside of Capri where I was born and raised and even outside of Italy.
I never considered this shift as a migration, rather a process of “osmosis” useful to enrich and qualify the work that I still follow on Capri. Vice versa my “Caprese” heritage enriches the projects that I follow elsewhere; today I think the same with regard to Naples from which I start moving to other destinations (Milan, Paris, New York, etc.), places where I can confront new realities, bringing the experience and energy of my land, and returning with a new vision rich in suggestions. ”
Your works are inspired by the Mediterranean. A Mediterranean-ness revisited, with sophisticated materials and furniture. Everything seems to be in its right place. How do you strike this balance?
“The Mediterranean spirit of my projects has never been paraded or contrived, it is a kind of genetic code that clearly belongs to me having been born and raised in the middle of the Mediterranean. Capri, from this point of view has given me so much, and I must say that many islanders do treasure this kind of pedigree: the habit of being surrounded by beauty , if cultivated with respect and supported by a solid foundation of knowledge, is certainly an asset, although unfortunately today we use the name of Capri or the adjective Mediterranean only for commercial purposes … “Mediterranean Style is like a language and it is the language that belongs to me, but it is not the only language that I like to talk, I have always been attracted by other cultures, influenced by different styles, as well as loving to travel and learn other languages mixing them with my own accent.
In all my works I always identify pre-existing starting points, from the beginning I always try to fall in love with a place or a space, to possess it as much as possible, I like to measure it in person, going alone, listen to everything that the space itself has to tell me, and at the same time I need to know the people who live there, understanding their needs, preferences and hopes. At this point, comes the invention, the idea that guides me to develop what has already been suggested to me by the so called “genius loci”.”
Architecture from Capri: many iconic villas of yours on our island boast your imprint. Tell us about some of them.
I ‘m going to talk about two of them: Villa Le Scale, one of my first projects, and about Casa Dabu, one of the last.
Regarding Villa Le Scale, I was commissioned to restore this historic villa of Anacapri, famous also for its garden and its impressive staircase which gives the name to the place. The main challenge was to design a stylish, scenic swimming pool , nestled into the rocks of the garden as if it had been part of the house since the time of its construction. I did so by using a pre-existing cistern located under the steps that ran the length of the garden that used to be an eye-sore in the otherwise scenic garden. The result was surprising: the pool was constructed without interrupting the natural architecture of the villa by keeping the steps as the entrance to the pool, making them a feature as opposed to a limitation. Later I redesigned the interiors making independent individual rooms, furnishing them with unique pieces thanks to the collaboration with the owner who provided many antiques and works of art .
With this transformation,Villa Le Scale regained its former glory and has become one of the most popular and exclusive residences of the island, photographed and reviewed in numerous books and international magazine. It is now part of the famous chain “Relais & Châteaux “and “Residenze D’Epoca “.
Villa Dabù is instead a relatively small project, but with a global approach: indeed I took care not only of the architectural aspect but also the interior and the decoration. Also, I personally designed many of the furnishing elements ( beds, tables, chairs, lamps, sinks, etc.). The owners were looking for the ideal location to create a home away from home to escape the hustle and bustle of their chaotic lives. Their requirements were clear: it had to be simple but not rustic, modern but not sterile, provide a familiar environment where they could feel comfortable and enjoy what they appreciate the most – the ocean, and above all it had to be peaceful, relaxing and exist in harmony with the locale, wherever that would be.
So I proceeded to redesign the layout of the rooms, maximising the opening to the outside space and ensuring the spectacular view of the sea from every room in the home. At the same time I furnished the space with the essentials, never forgetting good taste and attention to details , by adopting a style obviously Mediterranean but very modern. Some of the items of furniture designed for this home then became pieces of design of my current collection, while others are unique pieces of great impact ( the bedroom “Bed with view” , whose headboard is a printed photo of the actual sea view behind that wall); or the dining table “Tablock” with the chairs that are hidden when closed within the table ).
Most of the furniture was designed and handmade by me to optimise space: such as the Kitchen Table (Tablock), both a table and sculpture – the 6 chairs close into the table so that it becomes a sculpture block.
This project has been rewarded with many accolades, and above all with a considerable article featured in the popular magazine ADRussia in March 2015, obtaining its cover!
Selected materials and traditional working techniques are the result of a careful and meticulous research. What are the criteria you adopt when selecting the raw materials and fabrics?
Materials are paramount, “I work with solid brass, wood, stone, antique ceramics, iron as well as exceptional fabrics.” Each piece is custom made by skilled Italian artisans who work with Francesco to ensure the finest quality and finish.
In a world where the techniques and materials of construction have dramatically increased, we need a constant commitment to be updated .”
Francesco is an architect who can ‘t just stay behind his desk:
” I like to draw and design, just as I love to spend hours in the shops of the artisans who make my pieces or on construction sites with bricklayers to look for the right curve of an arch or develop the performance of a scale, analyzing their methods and developing them in new ways. It helps to involve people who collaborate with me, in order to give things an added value. “At the same time, it is essential to attend fairs, visit showrooms, antique dealers and junk shops looking for vintage pieces, frequent markets (one of my favourites is the fabric market of Paris’ Marché Saint-Pierre” ), art galleries, exhibitions etc…Consequently it’s easy to get confused by the multiple products on offer, so before doing research for a project I always try to establish a sort of framing. This means that, along with those working on the project and the client, we build a “mood board” where we outline briefly the style, the colour palette, the feelings, the tone, and all the features that can help us later on, in design choices but especially for furniture. Then of course comes your own taste: matching materials, colours, fabrics etc… never predictable, every element has to contribute somehow without losing sight of the overall harmony.
Every project is bespoke. Have you always enjoyed free hand? What happens when the demands of the customer does not fit your vision?
“The very fact of conceiving each project as “tailored” guarantees me, almost always, the opportunity to achieve something that suits customer expectations. In short , the design of a house or any other space for me has to be “tailor-made”, and just like a dress, a custom home will perfectly meet the needs of the customer.
On the other hand, it often happens that clients do not really know what they want and ask for unsuitable things. In this case I try to understand what are their wishes and needs by providing subliminally compatible solutions… After a few days when the client asks me for what I had (covertly) suggested then I know I’m on the right path!
You seem to have understood, ages ago, the ‘importance of being ahead of the game with digital communication and printed magazines. Tell us about this aspect.
“Since childhood I’ve never been a great communicator, I have learned through experience that communication is essential to the success of a project and especially to assert your professionalism. Until a few years ago communication was a prerogative of those who boast great communication skills or who had political and economic power. Today; things seem to have changed.
In my opinion, the first fundamental condition is to offer a good product that is able to attract people for its own characteristics, then communication does the rest.
For example, in 2014 I put together a collection of home accessories produced by me, initially I invested in the quality of these products, then I tested their value by taking them to some important trade fairs (Homi, Milan Furniture Fair, ICFF New York, etc… ): the result was successful. I noticed the interest of experts and the press. In parallel, I have always supported a growing business communication in the network, I have already re-done my website twice, trying to keep it up to date as much as possible, I’m quite an active user of social networks, especially on Instagram, FB and recently Twitter, but also Pinterest and other portals linked to architecture and design. I’m currently figuring out the world of blogs, its just a matter of finding the time!
All this takes time but certainly bears fruit: some of my projects have been featured in The New York Times Style Magazine and Elle Decor America and I am sure that this interest will continue to grow until I am able to ensure a constant and effective communication with products and images capable of catching real ( and not only virtual) interest.
Achieving these results has been possible thanks to a constant commitment, but above all because of the great support I have received from so many friends and associates, first of all: Barbie, my wife, and others such as the Architect Paolo Maria Russo, the photographer and friend Umberto D’Aniello, the stylist Antimo Assuntore, photographer Antoh Scotto, and many others.
When I ask him the provocative question ” Which Villa of Capri you would have liked to include in your portfolio?” ( I would have expected a response like “Casa Malaparte” or “Villa Lysis,”) Francesco replies thus: ” I have restored many Villas and I keep on receiving new commitments, but the entire building heritage of Capri should be restored. After years of speculation and unauthorised development I think it’s time to understand that Capri should mainly invest in quality and thus on the building renovation.
As a new challenge, he adds, at this time I’d like to make a contribution in the field of hospitality , a hotel or restaurant, also because in my recent projects we are developing the “format” and “concept” for the adjustment of “luxury hotels”, according to customer requests from Europe and the USA, from the new high target tourism (Russia, Middle East, Asia and South America).
Capri, an icon of style of unquestionable value, nostalgically linked to the glorious 60s. A megabrand that can generate much more value. How do you decline this aspect in architecture and design?
“The immeasurable and evident value of Capri requires a great effort to preserve the primacy which luckily it still holds. But since the wheel of fortune does not always turn on the same side, we need to go the extra mile to give visitors more than what they expect.
Many entrepreneurs have realised it and are investing a lot in their facilities and services because they know that discerning requests must be met by offering the best of what Capri has to offer.
When I had to choose a logo for my design products, I preferred to choose my name, Francesco Della Femina, using the name of Capri would have seemed a useless trick. My aspiration is to make a product of quality, regardless of the fact that I am “Caprese” or “Milanese”, and I think that putting your signature on a product is synonymous with a personal guarantee.
After that, the quality of the product will show its uniqueness, origin and features.
Last summer we conducted a survey of a small sample of regular tourists of Capri, especially foreigners, for an upcoming project, trying to figure out what qualities they most appreciate on the island: why they come back every year, staying in expensive hotels always re-doing the same vacation? Well, what really matters is the direct and personal relation they have with the people of Capri, that makes them feel part of this island, not the thousand products and boxes with “Capri” written on them. ”
AnnaChiara Della Corte
Italian version: CapriFocus