T he Milan casa of Martina Mondadori, editor-in-chief of ultra-swoonsome interiors magazine Cabana and founder of Casa Cabana, the homewares and product line is a masterclass in eclecticism. Like the magazine, Mondadori’s home is a sumptuous visual feast of textiles, patterns and colour, that has scarcely changed since her childhood. And the bi-annual publication she co-founded in 2014 with Christoph Radl and Gianluca Reina, consistently celebrates this aesthetic in print, with page upon heavenly, heavyweight page of layered interiors, flamboyant furnishings, and covetable collectables.
This autumn, Sotheby’s is collaborating with Mondadori on the inaugural series of Classic Design sales in London and New York. And within this collaboration, we're not only highlighting Mondadori’s exuberant signature style, but revelling in the joy she clearly finds in juxtaposing esoteric colours, textures, and forms, to dazzling effect.
We met Martina in Milan, in her gorgeous childhood home, to ask about her love of design, how a global palette influences her style and interiors expertise, life in London and Milan and why Cabana magazine is indubitably setting the agenda, across the design world.
Along the way, Martina shares with us her pick of Classic Design’s auction highlights, as well as a plenitude of rich textures and patterns, from the exciting Casa Cabana homeware collection.
A Life Less Ordinary: Martina Mondadori
Where did your interest in design stem from?
It all started in my childhood. My parents divorced when I was really young, so I grew up with both my father’s style and decorative taste, as well as my mother’s, in the house where we are now. This house was decorated by Renzo Mongiardino, who was not only a great Italian designer but one of my mother’s closest friends. He had decorated my grandparents' home, so my mother had also grown up with this style of Mongiardino interiors – it was a family tradition. On the other hand, my father gravitated towards a mix of antique and contemporary. He was a great collector – everything from flea market finds to ceramics, textiles, important artefacts, Roman antiquities, and, of course, contemporary art. He really layered and mixed it up in his interiors. That eclecticism helped me to understand design.
'Italians respond to certain warm colours, such as the warm ones used in Italian frescoes. It’s part of our DNA'
Design is such an integral part of Milan’s fabric, isn't it.
Industrial design really started in Milan, it’s always very present. Growing up with such layered interiors informed my way of looking at design. I also think that history, museums and the art that surrounds you in a country like Italy inevitably becomes a visual alphabet through which you 'read' the world. Italians respond to certain warm colours, such as the warm ones used in Italian frescoes. It’s part of our DNA.
How do the Italian and British differ in their approaches to design? Is there such a thing as ‘British’ and ‘Italian’ taste?
Historically, great British homes have been strongly influenced by Italian architecture – for example, Chatsworth or Chiswick House. Where Italian and British taste differs, is that when British taste is good, there’s simply nothing like it. There’s an effortless ability to mix high and low – a perfect mastery of non-perfection. This English eccentricity comes out in certain interiors and there is an innate appreciation of the past and traditions. I’m also fascinated by how a lot of British decorators, from the 1960s up until today, were first and foremost antique dealers. I think of Christopher Gibbs, Geoffrey Bennison, or Robert Kime: a room would always start with a great piece. Whereas in Milan, with someone like Renzo Mongiardino, the room would be a stage.
'When you have interiors that are classic and add a one-of-a-kind antique piece, it is timeless, because it never ceases to be relevant'
What does the term ‘classic design’ mean to you?
Classic design is whatever becomes, or feels, timeless. When you have interiors that are classic and add a one-of-a-kind antique piece, it is timeless because it never ceases to be relevant. At the same time, you can really play with antique design, it doesn’t have to feel pompous or lavish. You can have completely modern rooms that feel bare and empty and are furnished with an amazing 18th-century console – and it’s that contrast which is interesting. You can and should play with classic design – make it fun and unique. Sotheby’s new Classic Design category, first of all, is a guarantee of quality. It’s a stage to see and browse all these pieces across different eras. I think the most interesting interiors are the ones that mix old and new, so I think Sotheby’s auctions are the perfect place to source these pieces.
How do you see our redefined Classic Design category addressing clients' evolving tastes as well as broader market trends?
After the pandemic, we all see our homes in a new way. They’ve been our shelter, they have been our world. We’ve learned to live in our spaces in a different way, and collectors are increasingly looking for timeless pieces that can be passed down through generations. [Interior design] is almost like a waltz, between fitting the piece into the right room, and the designer knowing their client.
'Every piece has a story, so I always imagine the journey that this object has gone on, the hands that it has passed through'
What are some examples of styles, textures and colours that you personally have found unexpected or surprising to work with?
I love to mix great fabrics with fragments of antique textiles, or one-of-a-kind pieces you might find at auctions or at antique dealers, or while travelling. Every piece has a story and I always imagine the journey that this object has gone on, the hands that it has passed through. This really adds layering and history to any room. I tend to have at least one piece of antique textile in every room.
Cabana initially began as a series of mood-boards. How did it evolve into a magazine?
When I moved to London from Milan in 2012, it was at first difficult to make new friends and settle young children. I’m naturally a very enthusiastic person – so I was enthusiastic about my life, but at the same time, it was tough. Part of how Cabana started was me suddenly feeling homesick not only for my country, but for this house in particular. I was looking at it with different eyes and thinking how special it was. At the same time, I was discovering my adopted country. After we dropped the kids off at school, I would get on a train and visit all the beautiful stately homes in England. So, Cabana was a series of moodboards initially, mixing Italian and English interiors.
Why do you think Cabana has been such a success?
Even before the pandemic, we’ve been living in uncertain times. I think having cosiness around you and rediscovering the past, is reassuring. We’ve seen a resurgence of this. Take, for example, how the most important designers today, such as Alessandro Michele at Gucci, are bringing vintage back onto the fashion stage. So, I think Cabana magazine was bringing back something at the right time.
'Craftsmanship across different places and times in history is part of my vision with Cabana'
You’ve also launched a homeware line, Casa Cabana. How does it align with your editorial work?
I’ve always been a keen traveller and what I love doing the most. When I can’t physically travel, then I become an armchair traveller. For me, it has always been about discovering and collecting local artefacts, going to flea markets or visiting local antique dealers. Craftsmanship across different places and times in history is part of my vision with Cabana. Moreover, the dining room has always been in my life and my childhood – it’s a crucial part of the house. The Cabana homeware is focused mainly on tabletop and is either sourced or made with artisans around the world – 60% of which are Italian. Casa Cabana is about these pieces, but it’s also about the happy atmosphere of gathering friends around the table and sharing these unique moments.
The Spanish idea of sobremesa – the time spent at the table after a meal – comes to mind.
When photographers go and shoot houses, I always say there are three things I’d love to see: the kitchen, the bathroom, and, if possible, a dining room after a meal. There’s life to that, as there is always life in the kitchen and in the bathroom. That’s where real life happens in a house – not stage life. There is an intrigue in seeing how a table looks after a party is over, in imagining the conversations that have happened there.