Growing home

Fashion designer Laura Urbinati turns a warehouse and a 'horrible' flat into a perfect residence and headquarters


Story Joanne Lam Interview Francesca Davoli / Living Inside  Photography Fabrizio Cicconi / Living Inside


Italian fashion designer Laura Urbinati, renowned for creating clothing for women who are natural, laid back and do not try to hide their wild streak, "fell in love" when she first laid eyes on what was to become her sanctuary.

Urbinati's clothing integrates geometric lines and bold patterns with splashes of vibrant colours - and her home and office certainly take a page from the same book.

Originally from Rome and later trained in the United States, Urbinati ultimately chose to return to Italy, settling down in Milan. When she first arrived in the fashion capital, a friend recommended an abandoned warehouse as her workspace. The crisp white minimalistic space appealed to the designer and she quickly embraced it as her new headquarters.

"I fell in love with [the warehouse]," the designer remembers. And with luck on her side, the rest fell into place.

"Five years ago, I found out that a small apartment [with a huge terrace] on the first floor of the same building was on sale," she says. "It was in horrible shape, but it didn't take me long to decide to buy it."

Urbinati happily worked downstairs in her studio for two years while living in the apartment just a few steps above. Then, the space close to her office and directly below her home became available.

The designer's next step was obvious. She snapped up the space and began plans to combine the areas. In the end, Urbinati chose to install a winding staircase to connect her home with the studio below.

In doing so, she created a sanctuary with two distinct personalities. The ground floor - an area for work and social life - is dedicated to entertaining friends and family at the weekends. The first floor is reserved for quiet, private family life.

"The upper floor isn't that big," the fashion designer says of her living area. "But, the terrace [gives it a more spacious feeling]."

The terrace certainly does help open up the apartment, adding warmth and brightness through floor-to-ceiling windows. For Urbinati, it was also a chance to "recreate a corner of Puglia", a region in southern Italy also known as Apulia. She filled the outdoor space with plants and flowers to create a rustic Mediterranean enclave.

To make the most of the beautiful area, the fashion designer created an outdoor sitting area allowing her to soak up the sun in her downtime, and a dining area leading directly from her kitchen.

The use of understated rustic furniture, such as wooden white tables and chairs and rugs and cushions of subdued colours, keeps the focus on the greenery.

Urbinati's house reflects her design aesthetics, and the decorating process came naturally. "I never have time to go shopping," she says. "The furniture in this house is the same as what I've had with me over the past 30 years - from Rome to Pesaro to Los Angeles." She collected most of her furniture and knick-knacks from vintage markets across the globe. The result is an exotic blend of culture and style against white walls the designer has deliberately left blank.

The downstairs floor is covered with rugs of varying sizes with different geometric motifs. "The rugs were bought in Ibiza from a friend who imports them from Morocco," Urbinati recalls. The rugs, which share a subdued ivory and black palette, bring unity to the flow of the downstairs space, which in all its entity is one large room divided only by rustic, gravelly pillars.

"The rugs turned out to be the perfect trick for softening [the room's] emptiness," she says.

Another distinctive feature is the vibrant colours of the armchairs and sofas. Strategically placed against understated wooden furniture and white shelving, the bright reds and purples stand out against the abundance of sleek whites.

Urbinati also mixes and matches a kaleidoscope of prints and patterns in her cushions, adding a slice of life and energy to a largely unembellished space.

For the fashion designer, despite the minimalism, it really is a home filled with heart and soul. "I love this house," she says. "It was born out of a path of life and experiences." It is a strong yet fitting statement to make, since she acquired her house and her furniture in such a serendipitous way. And she's in no hurry to change her approach: "I'm missing some pieces of art, but I'm sure they will come."


“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” Leonardo da Vinci famously mused. Here are some tips to create your minimalistic home:

● Choose natural materials. Natural materials, such as wood and wool, add warmth to the space without adding clutter.

● Pick an accent colour. An overabundance of colours can make a room too busy. Pick a statement colour and play with different shades and hues. Match it with neutrals and one or two complimentary shades.

● Less is more. Empty space on walls goes a long way. Use only one or two pieces of statement art.

● Embrace lines. Whether horizontal, vertical or inclined, geometric lines (rather than curves) help create a clean, minimalistic look.