“I literally grew up my whole life in an apartment that he decorated,” Cabana founder Martina Mondadori tells AD PRO of the late, great Italian designer Renzo Mongiardino. As it happens, Mongiardino is inspiring Mondadori more than usual this week, thanks to the launch of her latest tabletop collection.
The line, which is as wonderfully patterned as Cabana fans might expect, hinges on some of Mongiardino’s own discoveries. “The linens patterns were originally 19th-century wallpapers that he found in Genoa,” Mondadori notes of the Wisteria and Lime Tree patterns. Explaining the backstory further, she adds that the purveyor was “shutting down, so he bought all these rolls and kept them in his studio.” Flash forward to about a year ago, and Mondadori stumbled upon them herself. “[You] can’t believe they were designed in the late 19th century,” she says. “They’re so fresh.”
Indeed. They are also evidence of Mongiardino’s expert eye, something that’s long been on Mondadori’s mind. “He’s been a great inspiration for Cabana when it started,” she says. “Not only for his way of mixing patterns, but also for how he mixed geographical and historical references.” That sensibility is evident in this new collection as well, thanks in part to embroidered linens made by an Egyptian co-op of women working just outside Cairo. It’s also an offering that evidences Mondadori’s Italian roots. “The collection blends warms colors,” she says. “I think that’s something that’s always in the back of any Italian’s mind.” When speaking of that collective quality, Mondadori cites the tones of Italy’s city streets and palazzi, noting too that it’s a palette she’s carried over into her own London home. “There’s a way of looking at things through that lens,” she muses.
But beyond a patriotic tendency is a set of personal memories, coming back to the Milanese home in which Mondadori grew up, and in which her mother still lives. “He would always be around the house; he was my mom’s friend,” she explains of Mongiardino. As Mondadori recalls, the decorator was over for lunch one day when he noticed a set of Imari plates. After asking her mother how many she had and hearing that there were only six of these flea market treasures, he replied, “Well, I’m sure you can find more, let’s hang them.” The room slowly filled up, as part of an ever-evolving interior that featured the likes of Laura Ashley fabrics colorfully stenciled over by Mongiardino’s assistants.
It’s a fitting memory for someone known for her own plate designs, and particularly for someone who’s just whipped up a new batch of tableware inspired by the man himself. When asked what would be the one question she would ask Mongiardino today, Mondadori replies, “I would ask him how he would move away from classical, timeless interiors, and if and how he would do it. It would be interesting for me to understand his thinking on that, on how he would incorporate contemporary design.” Referencing the work of Martino Gamper as an example, she adds with a laugh, “I’d be curious to at least challenge him.”