We don’t believe it’s a job well done to take expensive materials and make something beautiful; we prefer using modest materials and putting a smile on people’s faces,” says Morten Thuesen of his and partner Letizia Caramia’s design sensibility. “Both of us are a little tired of hearing all these intellectual references – sometimes it’s just nice that a product can ‘be’.”
Taking centre stage in the couple’s home in the storied Porta Venezia district of Milan is their affectionately named Carolino, meaning little trolley, which the pair made from leftovers in Caramia’s parents’ workshop during a Christmas lockdown when they wanted a wheelie tray to carry food and drinks between rooms. Beside it stands the stools they conjured at the same time from plywood and construction pillars. If it sounds like a high-achiever’s version of Jenga, then it’s an endearing one: the pieces took pride of place in their exhibition at the first post-pandemic Salone del Mobile fair at the showcase’s hotspot venue, Alcova, in 2021 to critical acclaim.
The couple are used to thinking outside the box. For the past nine years their design company, Older, has taken one of Italy’s most revered forms of identity, the uniform, and challenged its purpose and conventions. “When we started, people thought uniforms were the most ridiculous thing you could spend your time on because they’re not flashy or extravagant, but that was the point,” says Thuesen, who met Caramia when they worked in the design team at Alexander McQueen in London 11 years ago. “We’re not interested in ostentatious ornamentation and luxury in that sense. [and] We don’t believe the world needs another luxury brand. We’re invested in trying to change an industrial product into something sustainable and innovative.”
Their question is, instead of the uniforms in hospitality settings being an afterthought, what if the uniforms became as important a consideration as the architecture, the furniture and what is on the menu? Cue their concept “Furniform”. A decade down the line, they count Tate Modern, the Noma Group and LA’s Chateau Marmont as clients.
Given their motivation to turn industrial attire on its head, it’s no surprise the Lombardy city enticed them to relocate from Paris in 2019 and fuelled their expansion into product and furniture design. Milan is, after all, a place that finds its sweet spot between austere architecture and an innovative spirit. In addition to allowing the pair to be closer to their production and manufacturing (they make everything in Italy, including weaving their own fabrics), the city had a formula that proved irresistible for their burgeoning brand. “You have a great tradition for fashion,” explains Thuesen, “the same for hospitality and food, and then, of course, it has a big scene for innovative architecture and design, so we wanted to put ourselves in the middle of that thing.”
Their top-floor, neo-classical apartment building puts them at its centre. The space is reached by a communal Stigler-style lift that befits all old Milan buildings such as theirs and acts as a poignant introduction to the environment the two have created which interrogates industrial concepts of old and brings innovative interpretations of new.
When they decided to relocate, they needed a space that could accommodate their growing home-cum-studio, which they share with their eight-month-old son, Elio, and their growing design team, which works by day in a room adjacent to their living room and has since expanded into a space on the ground floor; a modern-day iteration of the traditional Italian “casa bottega” concept (meaning a space for one’s family and one’s work). The apartment, which had been empty for 20 years, was gutted when they first arrived. Caramia’s dad and an artist friend were enlisted to help the pair paint every time-stained yellow wall a fresh shade of gallery-white that now plays a blank canvas to Thuesen’s photography.
The couple camped on a blow-up mattress and bought an electric plate to cook on and a mini-fridge to keep their beer cold as they waited two months for their industrially sourced, stainless-steel kitchen to be installed.
The kitchen is now evolved into the heart of the home. “It’s an ensemble of stuff,” says Caramia of the room that features furniture the pair designed with pattern-cutting paper. “When we were living in Paris, if we needed a table, we’d say, ‘Why don’t we just make one?’ The ones we wanted were too expensive for us anyway, and nine out of 10 times we applied the same logic we already know from the world of constructing garments,” chimes Thuesen. “We like the idea of naivety anyway. If you make a table for the first time in your life, you’ll make mistakes, but some of those mistakes can be crucial in the development of design.”
Plus, he adds, “We are not interested in perfection. We use the materials we have and have fun making things that we hope will inspire future generations to think about how the supply chain is put together and how it can become the inspiration for design.”
Elsewhere, their prototypes pepper the parquet floors. Their transparent Zhora chairs (named after the Blade Runner replicant) are made from hand-bent stainless steel, inflatable PVC and the ropes that have become a signature of their uniforms; a set of sculptural marble carafes that sit atop the mantelpiece were made in collaboration with their friend, the artist Francesco Basini Gazzi; and their modular sofa system is made up of three cushions held together by large elastic straps that works as a standalone sculpture, three seats or one (the slogan, Wide Eye Wake Up, is a message to Europe to stay alert to the rise of right-wing politics).
In the entranceway, an industrial projector light originally used in a Benetton store throws the space into a neon-blue-lit light, and in the bedroom Joe Colombo’s iconic 1969 yellow tube chair and Hvidt & Mølgaard chairs nod to both Thuesen’s Danish and Caramia’s Italian roots.
“All the pieces that aren’t made by us are 70 years old, or more,” says Thuesen, an avid user of secondhand auction sites, such as subito.it and leboncoin.fr. “Getting older is a beautiful thing to us. That’s why we called ourselves Older, as we embrace the idea something ages well.”
For more information, go to olderstudio.com