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Via Garibaldi 12, Genoa. The spirit of the city in a 16th century building

Narrations, rather than objects – «It is as if we were collectors selling their collection, this is our Wunderkammer»

Genoa is full of hidden treasures, many of which are still to be discovered. «My family and I are originally from Busalla, a town in the hinterland of Genoa, which from the end of the nineteenth century became a holiday destination for Genoese noble families – says Lorenzo Bagnara, founder of Via Garibaldi 12 Lifestylestore. We opened the store in Genoa in 2001: we understood that with the opening of the Serravalle outlet, the market in Busalla would change. We were looking for a space that was as far removed from commercial as possible, but they kept offering us premises in via Roma, via XXV Aprile, via XX Settembre, and they never had the right characteristics. Via XX Settembre was strategically interesting but at that time it was beginning the transformation that would make it one of those streets that now you can find in every city. The choice of a first floor premises in a 16th century building in Strada Nuova was risky. In Paris around the same time Leclaireur had opened and it struck me. I was looking for it in rue Hérold and I couldn’t find it: even though it was at street level, they had buffered the windows, and the shop only started once you crossed the threshold of the door». It was a place to discover.

«The conviction grew in me that being hidden followed the spirit of the Genoese people, often shy, who did not want to show too much, especially while buying something of value. That idea of British understatement remains in the city. The jewellers in via degli Orefici, in the historic center, work at home. Inside the buildings there are cubicles where the goldsmith still carves and the watchmaker still repairs the clocks. It is a living artisan reality. Choosing Palazzo Campanella meant offering the Genoese people the opportunity to enter it for the first time. In 2001 the Rolli circuit, of which the palace was part, was not yet a UNESCO World Heritage Site – it would become so in 2004 – so the settlement was easier». The ‘Rolli di Genova’ are a group of sixteenth-century noble buildings which, at the time of the ‘Superba’ Maritime Republic, appeared on the lists of residences required to host well-known personalities in transit through the city. They are late Renaissance and Baroque buildings, whose interiors, despite the damage caused by the bombings of the Second World War, retain the original decorations of the Mannerists and Genoese Baroque authors. In the nineteenth century, the Rolli also hosted famous travellers during their Grand Tour, such as Byron, Stendhal and Dickens among others.

Since 2002 Genoa has made a great journey. With Genoa becoming the European Capital of Culture in 2004 large funds were made available, and many works were carried out in the historic center, traces of which are still visible today. Then the crisis hit and many businesses were closed, but 2004 represented a turning point for the city. Foreigners, however, do not yet know it. «Abroad there is confusion between Genoa and Geneva, and if you have to talk about something that hasn’t been discussed yet, talk about Genoa. It works. For many it is easier to say that you live near Portofino than to say that you are from Genoa. Yet this city is a deposit of stories and things that have not yet been published. At Palazzo Rosso in via Garibaldi, for example, there is an apartment created by the rationalist architect Franco Albini for the then director of the Civic Museums Caterina Marcenaro and it is one of the few places where twentieth-century design and a collection of seventeenth century art are mixed. In Milan it would be a house-museum, in Genoa it is an annex of Palazzo Rosso, and it is often closed. In this moment they are using it as a warehouse. We should do a photo shoot, people would ask: is this Albini? And why are there seventeenth century paintings on the walls? Everyone has seen Castiglioni’s house-museum, it has been published everywhere. Genoa still has many virgin places. Another example is Daneri’s La Casa del Soldato, in the Sturla district, taken from Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye, built by the Ligurian architect only five years later. Daneri got there immediately, he understood where architecture was going. Since 2009, the former lictorian house has been abandoned. I see these traces of the glories of the past that lie forgotten and I always hope that someone will give them new life».

The rationalist building designed in 1935 by architect Mario Labò that housed the San Pietro alla Foce restaurant, sited at the start of the skyway, will be redone in the original style and given to the Avis (Italian Blood Donors’ Association). In the 1930s it was one of the most modern restaurants in Italy. You would get to the basement by car, the concept being to unite the restaurant and the gas station: at the time, only the rich could afford cars, and that was a restaurant with a terrace for rich people. «The advice I give to those who visit the city is if you see an open door, slip in because you never know what you can find there. In the blog I Segreti dei Vicoli di Genova Antonio Figari speaks about how the city is a stone book, which compared to many other places has been preserved thanks to the sense of frugality of its citizens. Elsewhere, and in Milan in the first place, it was much easier to pull everything down and build it again. Here, in the nineteenth century, when houses were needed for the bourgeoisie, new neighbourhoods were created because it was too difficult to readjust the historic center: and thus Carignano, La Foce and Castelletto were born. In Genoa we always have the challenge of having to build on slopes, we are constantly tested, this makes us sharpen our wits».

Via Garibaldi 12 has remained a family-run shop, a very Genoese trait, «it’s me and my mom and dad; my brother, on the other hand, has his own company – Gio Bagnara – with a single-brand shop in Venice, near the Gritti Hotel. He positioned himself there because his product sells mainly to foreigners. Our family comes from commerce, my grandmother’s hardware is from 1939 and we have always liked to sell a little bit of everything. It is as if we were collectors selling their collection, Via Garibaldi 12 is our Wunderkammer. I always look for the particular, specific thing that makes the difference. If I notice that an object at a trade show is present in different stands, I avoid it because it means that everyone will have it within a short time. I am often only interested in a piece of a company’s catalog, and this causes me a lot of problems. Flos, for example, also asks me to take the Castiglioni’s Arco lamp, which I do not care for because – although it is easily sold – it has been seen since 1967 and has been sold at all the Cambi and Boetto auctions. It gives me more satisfaction to sell an Anastassiades lamp. I am looking for the gem, I want to sell objects that have a story to tell, because a fundamental part of the sale is the narration. We just took Versace’s saucers, but I asked, at least for this Christmas, to have the exclusive in Genoa. Even with the books we do a skimming operation, I want my client to find a selection already made. I buy few copies because, after selling those, I like to change».

«For us, Palazzo Campanella was an investment, a bet: ‘at least it will be a beautiful home’ we said to each other, and the idea was fascinating. This place has very different spaces, a feature that you don’t find in other cities. In Paris or Venice in the historic buildings there is the same style». The door is from the sixteenth century, the neoclassical lobby from the eighteenth century, the room with stuccoes with a Romanticist touch from the nineteenth century, in the gilded room the frescoes are from the fifteen hundreds, and above it there are tstuccoes from the eighteenth century. This is the uniqueness of Genoa.

In the introduction of Wallpaper’s first guide on Genoa it is written that the city is not like Venice, with the same style from start to finish, because in Genoa you will find a mix of styles that is rare.

I studied Cultural Heritage and I was lucky there were only thirty of us in the class: we were always located around the historic center. I already knew it well because my parents took me there as a child, my father was part of the Brotherhood of Busalla and on Holy Thursday there was the Processione delle Casacce at night. My childhood memory is an old town centre in the dark, lit by torches, walking along via San Siro and via San Luca with the residents blaspheming from the windows and you would feel protected only by being part of the procession. When I was a child cars drove through Via Garibaldi, in Piazza Matteotti there was a parking lot – it was another city.

Whenever I hear criticism, I think of the long way we have gone. I think of the ancient port, which was built in 1992, there was no sea there, you didn’t think there could be anything beyond the skyway. From 1992 to today the city has grown and has better understood its potential. 

Text Marta Mazzacano