Encounters with Italian law are frequently less than elegant, but one northern notary’s offices present a very civil partnership between clean modernity and solemn tradition.
A notary’s office is usually the last place to look for eye-catching design – typically, its stuffy interiors are where staff battle vast quantities of paperwork. But Studio Volpe-Bima in Turin, designed by Ufficio di Architettura (UdA), turns that on its head. The notary’s employees occupy three floors of a 19th-century palazzo on one of the city’s many arcade-lined avenues. UdA’s brief called for a first-floor renovation. The architects had an uninvasive approach. “For us, it was important to maintain the distinct atmosphere of the place,” explains Andrea Marcante, a partner at UdA.
The lobby retains its mosaic floor and stucco ceiling, while three walls are now coated in warm grey paint. Instead of a standard reception desk, there’s a block with a light box on top of it. Air-conditioning units, radiators and cables are all hidden away. Lighting is mostly concealed, making a clean, clutter-free space. For transitory spaces such as corridors, dark hues dominate. The mood is softened by glass panels that echo the parquet floors’ geometric designs. UdA also had chairs and ottomans made with the same motif for the waiting area: “We wanted a dialogue between past and present.”
In the conference rooms, UdA made its own varnished wooden tables, as those on sale were “too cumbersome”. Sliding doors were added to the rooms, one draped in coffee-coloured Alcantara fabric, a tactical move to bring in texture which passersby enjoy caressing. Inside one of the boardrooms, instead of big blank walls, you’ll find mounted miniature snapshots of daily life by Japanese artist Masao Yamamoto. It provides a warm human touch to the formal setting.
Major work occurred in the whitewashed, open-plan canteen and kitchen. UdA preserved the original vaulted ceiling, a section of which is left exposed. The room’s centrepiece is a monolithic table of treated frake wood from Africa, whose 26 chairs slide neatly underneath. Unlike most corporate lunch rooms, the space feels strangely like a cloister. “It’s very monastic,” says Marcante. “As a notary’s job is repetitive, this area helps the employees’ well-being.” During the day, staff congregate at the end of the lunch table adjacent to the kitchen’s heavy steel counter and stools, where they pop in for espresso. For loo breaks, they visit what Marcante calls the “magic box”. No dull lights here; instead a starry glow is derived from light passing through the fuzzy outer glass, reflecting off a custom-made sandblasted mirror.
In the boss’s office, an open work-station stands in for the heavy-set desk. Smart 1950s Italian office chairs sit next to a pair in curved wood by Joe Colombo. As a whimsical addition, there’s a Font Clock by Established & Sons.
As legal practices go, udA’s exemplary work for studio Volpe-Bima has done much to reinforce Turin’s design capital message.
Founded in 1992 by Valter Camagna, Massimiliano Camoletto and Andrea Marcante, Turin-based UdA designs mostly private residences and store interiors in northern Italy. Overseas, they build multi-generational family compounds for clients in the Gulf and recently signed with French hotelier Accor to decorate properties in Kuwait and Bahrain. Currently, they’re transforming a 6,000 sq m factory, located near Turin, into 20 apartments.