Message from the darkroom: a look inside the secret apartment of Carlo Mollino
Fulvio Ferrari, the Italian chemist-turned-creative, had chosen to dedicate his life to the pursuit of magic and mystery long before he encountered the work of Carlo Mollino—but in the late Italian architect and designer, a man as accomplished as he was enigmatic, Ferrari finally met his match. Says Ferrari, “In this world, you can open new doors, which open new doors”—and quite literally. As the proprietor and preserver of Turin’s Casa Mollino, Ferrari has been granted unfettered access to an apartment—or, rather, a universe—that Mollino spent eight years furnishing and decorating, all the while never once revealing its existence.
“It changed my life,” Ferrari recalls of the moment in 1999 that he was handed the keys to the sweeping first floor of the 19th-century riverside villa. “I became a detective, and, with my son, we started reconstructing the interior to understand what Mollino was doing.” Eventually, Ferrari, who had discovered a box of nearly 2,000 of Mollino’s never-before-seen Polaroids, found his answer on the cover of Message from the Darkroom, Mollino's 1949 collection of essays on photography, which depicted the stone bust of an ancient Egyptian queen—an image that seemed entirely unrelated to the contents of the book. “I understood this was a hidden message,” continues Ferrari, who, with the help of the then director of the nearby Egypt Museum, unearthed the ultimate finding: "Mollino was constructing a fantastically beautiful house facing a garden of roses and the river for his afterlife.”
After many years spent hunting down the missing elements, Ferrari has resurrected the Via Napione apartment, which served as the backdrop for Le Monde Beryl’s Camille Vivier-lensed campaign, in Mollino’s lasting, labyrinthine vision: Today, just as Mollino prepared it before his 1973 death, Tridacna clam shells flank the balcony and Japanese paper lanterns hang overhead; gilded mirrors (now corroded) add to the unending allure. Calling to mind a lotus flower, a marble dining table, seen in Yuri Ancarani’s short film Séance, is joined by eight Eero Saarinen for Knoll Tulip chairs.
“Everything here is a symbol,” Ferrari confirms; in other words, such seemingly disparate decorative accents are all, in fact, pieces of Mollino’s grand puzzle—one whose intricacies continue to enthrall and entice Ferrari, as well as anyone who walks through its doors. "The interior is a kind of medicine for visitors because it’s full of surprises,” muses Ferrari. “It’s like a very big book in which everyone can read a few lines that will help him better understand his or her life.”