The Sottsass’ bedroom for Casa Lana for auction in London

The bedroom of the apartment designed by the architect in 1967 and documented by Domus is going for auction in the English capital. The Lana family tells the story of the room, one of the few missing from the permanent installation at the Milan Treinnale.

“A room within a room”. With these words Domus 457 in December 1967 introduced, through the words and photographs of the author himself, the peculiar project by Ettore Sottsass Jr. for an apartment in Milan.

Casa Lana – named after its owner, the lithographer Giovanni Lana – is a living concept in which the study of the behavioural habits of the 1960s Italian family unit meets modular design and a certain fascination for Japanese interiors.

Originally located in Via Cola di Rienzo, Casa Lana has recently undergone a rediscovery after its central nucleus became, in January 2022, the subject of a permanent installation at the Milan Triennale.

Casa Lana: a "room within a room" according to Domus. Photo: Domus 457, December 1967.
Casa Lana: a “room within a room” according to Domus. Domus 457, December 1967.

“When in 2017 I took my father, at the time over 90 years old, to the Triennale for the exhibition dedicated to the centenary of Ettore Sottsass, I realised the great cultural value of our house,” says today Donatella Lana, daughter of Giovanni, pointing out the oblivion in which the project had slipped over the years.

“I didn’t want this value to dissipate. I desired it to remain intact and in Milan, a wish that met the enthusiasm of Stefano Boeri [president of the Triennale]”.

A bedroom for a couple in love

The opportunity to once again shed light on the old home of the “young yè-yè girl”, as described by Sottsass on Domus, comes on the occasion of an auction. Precisely at Phillips London, where the bedroom of Casa Lana will go up for sale on November 2nd. 

A peculiar environment, whose protagonists undoubtedly are the bedside tables, organised on multiple levels. A lower part that “serves if you are in bed” and a higher one “for all those things that take up space”, which re-proposes the Japanese-inspired reticulated pattern that also defines the living room and that stands out as the design solution bringing the house’s environments together. 

The room is compact in scale, Sottsass jokes, because it is the consequence of times when “everything is calculated on the basis of income and amortisation, and because of the amortisation of money there also is the amortisation of the people”.

The result is a decorative simplicity, also dictated by the fact that, Sottsass continues, “this landlord and his wife love each other, they keep each other company, therefore one imagines the bedroom of two people in love as something very pure [ ...] it is anger that makes people insatiable.”

The bond with Sottsass

On the other hand, Casa Lana was a place that gathered and conceived the creativity of the 1960s and of its Milanese cultural scene.

“I remember many friends who frequently passed by. All people who, to the eyes of a child, looked quirky, being the house close to my father’s lithography workshop, where he carried out jobs for art galleries and printed exhibition catalogues. I then realized that the person who spent the most time in our home was Ettore Sottsass, who would study our family habits to brainstorm the appropriate furniture to design,” says Donatella.

Donatella Lana ritratta nella sua camera da Ettore Sottsass su Domus. Foto: Domus 457, Dicembre 1967.
Donatella Lana portrayed in her bedroom by Ettore Sottsass for Domus. Domus 457, December 1967.

The project, which was started in 1963, lasted four years. “Every time the architect went on a trip, he would change his mind out of my mother’s desperation.” Trips from which Sottsass returned with new ideas and gifts for Donatella.

“I remember Irene, a papier-mâché doll that I still own, a snake-shaped kite, a beautiful silk pendant, and the funniest of them all: a clay whistle...little things that seemed like treasures to me.” They can be contemplated in the photographs of Donatella’s bedroom published on Domus 457.

“The most surprising thing was the time he [Sottsass] dedicated to me. I still have a letter, with some of his drawings, that he wrote me when I was on holiday with my mother to tell that they had started the refurbishment of the house by knocking down a wall, which drove my father desperate,” recalls Mrs. Lana amused.

The house is a square

The house – which at the time represented a real shock especially for Giovanni Lana’s brothers who were far from the art discourse – was intended as an intimate space but rich in stimuli, “a small square where to hang and meet,” wrote Sottsass. A square to be intended the Italian way, as a piazza, but also a square in its shape.

The community dimension embraced was accentuated by the modularity of the central environment, which the lack of corridors and superfluous doors made appear quite compact. As well as a living room which, delimited by four wooden walls and located in the center of the apartment, enabled daily tasks to be carried out all around its perimeter with versatility.

Sottsass enhanced the use of small spaces by carefully projecting the lighting, so that “the children’s eyes are destroyed as little as possible when they read all those things that they are made to read”.

“I recall the joy of my young friends because you could roll on the carpet, get in and out of the holes. For example, the one by the entrance was a fantastic passage, as well as the grates that could be removed,” says Ms. Lana.

Una casa che è come una piccola piazza. L'atmosfera Beat di Casa Lana nelle immagini di Domus. Foto: Domus 457, Dicembre 1967.
The house is like a small piazza. The Beatnik atmosphere of Casa Lana in the photographs published on Domus. Photo: Domus 457, December 1967.

“People loved to come to ours for the explosion of colours. The house was certainly lived vertically, by sitting on the carpet. Indeed, for many years guests had to leave their shoes at the entrance.”

In the photo report published on Domus 457, one can see the bohemian and proto-hippie dimension of the apartment, including bare feet, people at the piano, art on the walls, with chats and drinks flowing. That is how Sottsass often presented his works in the Sixties.

“On the one hand there was the architect Sottsass and the Beat world, on the other the Protestant and Puritan world in which I was raised by my mother, who was Waldensian,” explains Donatella.

A culture-loving family

Talking about Casa Lana brings back memories of Donatella’s father, a craftsman born in a humble Milanese railing house, a lover of culture and of the music of troubadour Giorgio Gaber. He loved art too. As Ms. lana recalls, the house before Sottsass’  project always looked empty, because her father would collect paintings, stack them but never hang them to the walls. 

Sottsass notes this behaviour too, commenting how in the refurbished apartment the landlord would accumulate artworks in the loft “because he loves art so much that he doesn’t eave it there in a constant self-contemplation, but constantly moves around it as if the paintings were objects to place on furniture”.

Memories of Donatella’s mother flow too. She used to sit at the piano in the corner of the house that now appears as the most worn out, because technologies changed and with them the phonographic supports installed.

“Once Sottsass came back from India with a present for my parents: some sitar vinyl…they were so boring to sit through!”, laughs Donatella.

The living room of Casa Lana. Photo: Domus 457, December 1967.
The living room of Casa Lana. Photo: Domus 457, December 1967.

“The architect Sottsass, being taller than me, would instill a little bit of fear in me. Once he asked me what music I liked to listen to, so I replied 'Bach!’. I certainly couldn’t say [Italian pop singer] Lucio Battisti...”

The house was always lived to its fullest, albeit with the determination to treat it with the greatest of respect. Before being perceived as the work of a famous designer and architect, it was first of all a gift from a friend. 

A new life for Casa Lana’s bedroom

If Donatella kept her old bedroom for herself, her parents’ can be admired at Phillips London, Berkeley Square, until November 2nd when it’ll be auctioned as part of Phillips Design alongside rare and valuable works by the likes of Domus’ historical editors Gio Ponti and Alessandro Mendini, Gabriella Crespi, Studio B.B.P.R., Ico Parisi, Hans Coper, Ignazio Gardella and more.

“The Phillips Design department already has a strong bond with this project by Ettore Sottsass and, in particular, with the Lana family since 2021, when we decided to gift to the Milan Triennale the Sottsass’ ceramics for Casa Lana, which can now be admired at the Triennale,” comments Domenico Raimondo, head of Design, Europe, at Phillips London. 

“The staff at Phillips has been lovely,” concludes Donatella, “I’ll be delighted if someone will appreciate the bedroom, hoping that it can find a new life.”

Opening image: The bedroom of Casa Lana, Ettore Sottsass Jr., 1967. Domus 457 December 1957

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