“We met at a ball in Rome at 5am,” remembers Roberto Palomba of the first time he laid eyes on his future wife and business partner, Ludovica Serafini. “I was in a tux, she was wearing a red Valentino gown. We were very young, she was very beautiful and I was not. I was completely in love. It took me eight months to kiss her, then she married me.”
Though the couple still enjoys an occasional up-until-5am party, their best action occurs during daylight hours at Palomba Serafini Associati. Located on the ground floor of their two-bedroom apartment, the Milanese architectural and design studio is the birthplace of this duo’s prolific output, ranging from modern couches, lamps and drinking glasses for top design companies such as Cappellini and Poltrona Frau, to home interiors for private clients, to award-winning bathroom designs for Boffi, Dornbracht and Zucchetti. Kos.
Conceived by the couple themselves, the glass-walled office features an open workspace with double-height ceilings for their 25 cool, design-kid employees, plus a large private office that Palomba and Serafini share. A jungle of plants drink benefit from ample skylights above, while an enormous blown glass chandelier shaped like a jellyfish by Jacopo Foggini swings overhead. The vibe is cozy, creative and familiar, with fashion mood boards displayed for inspiration and two dogs patrolling the scene. The couple take their client lunches upstairs in the comfort of their own apartment, using plates and cups from Driade they designed themselves.
Their practice, which they opened in 1994 while living in the countryside in Verona, has showered the duo with industry praise and awards like the Compasso d’oro, Italy’s top design prize—which they’ve won twice. But Palomba and Serafini are best known as bathroom gurus who turn the practical into an art installation. Beginning in 1997, with their ground-breaking work for the Italian manufacturer Flaminia, they have transformed the snoozy bathroom sector with now widely copied inventions like round column-less sinks and suspended, tank-less and tubeless toilets, all available on a commercial level. “Before that, if you wanted something designed well for the bathroom, you had to have an architect draw it for you,” says Serafini. “Then you had to custom-make it.”
Last year, the duo shook up the sector once again when they debuted high-end plastic bathroom furniture for Kartell. The unconventional project, in which Kartell’s plastic was married with a cutting-edge ceramic from Swiss producer Laufen, was a hit during Milan’s Salone del Mobile. Featuring mobile cabinets, mirrors and storage units, it showed how the bathroom could relate to the house as a whole. “New materials allow you to create new design ideas,” says Serafini. “Using light and color in the bathroom changed all the rules of the game for us.”
Currently juggling 20 projects, including an upcoming museum at Pompeii and a new Maserati home collection by Zanotta, Palomba Serafini’s workload continues to expand. But baths remain their baby. “We hope that more home design companies will start to create bath designs,” says Palomba.
“The world will be more beautiful,” agrees Serafini.
“At the very least,” adds Palomba, “We can all take a wee feeling more relaxed.”
– J.J. Martin
- Creative Director- J.J. Martin
- Photographer- Chiara Quadri