Quadri, the multi-faceted historic 18th-century Grancaffè and restaurant in St Mark’s Square owned by the Alajmo family since 2010, reopens its doors after a major restoration. A transformation revealing the original magic of the place in a romantic and slightly surrealistic atmosphere imagined by Philippe Starck and crafted by selected Venetian artisans.
The restoration project was initiated by Massimiliano and Raffaele Alajmo based on the need and desire to preserve the extraordinary heritage of Quadri, and to create a legacy making its mark on both contemporary history and the history of Italian cuisine.
To operate this delicate restoration, the Alajmos called upon the French creator Philippe Starck. The brothers and Starck met 10 years ago and already collaborated on the creation of two previous restaurants, Caffè Stern a phantasmagoric bacaro in the heart of Paris and AMO a mysterious and elegant café located inside the T Fondaco dei Tedeschi building in Venice.
Philippe Starck and the Alajmo brothers named Marino Folin, architect and ex-director of the IUAV architecture university, to oversee the work of the best traditional Venetian artisans. Folin was also responsible for contacting local government officials in charge of preserving the artistic heritage of the city and getting their approval on all aspects of the restoration.
Naturally, Venice itself dictated most of the restoration decisions. One major issue was the phenomenon of acqua alta, the particularly high tides that cause temporary flooding. Quadri is located in one of the lowest parts of the city and the water that enters with each peak tide leaves its mark on the walls and furniture. Rather than fight the inevitable, Starck decided to highlight the effects of the high water by selecting unvarnished brass for the legs of the tables, the reception desk at the entrance and everything else in contact with the floor. The idea is that the metal will oxidize and change colour over time, revealing by the changing tide levels, the pulse of the city.
The acqua alta parameter is also illustrated in the new graphic identity of the place developed with GBH, a British creative agency that has long been working with Starck. One significant example is the brass lettering that hangs over the entrance on St Mark’s square. Letters were removed and taken to the only foundry left in Venice, Fonderia Valese. The lower half of the letters was left naturally oxidized, while the top half was polished to a gleaming gold, a visual reference to the fine-dining restaurant, Ristorante Quadri, located upstairs which is not affected by the water.
The restoration of the walls of the ground floor café and bistro, Grancaffè Quadri and Quadrino, was carried out by expert art restorers Anna de Spirt and Adriana Spagnol, who were able to peel back layers of paint to reveal the original stuccowork from the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Inside Ristorante Quadri on the first floor, Starck’s influence is evident in the décor and the recovery of original architectural details. The previously deep red wall covering is now a rich golden brown. Tessitura Bevilacqua, a historic Venetian fabric maker, produced both the old and new fabrics. During a visit to the poetically ancestral Bevilacqua atelier, Starck selected a fabric made in around 1550 as his model for a pattern that repeats across the room. Then the French creator twisted it to add humor and mental games into the idea of tradition and quality. The depicted faces are these of the Alajmo brothers, and horse-drawn carriages and gondolas give way to satellites and astronauts.
The large Rezzonico-style Murano glass chandelier from the 1930s was completely restored and hung alongside a new chandelier of the same dimensions and style, but with surrealistic dripping glass details. For both the restoration and the creation of the new chandelier, Philippe Starck called on Aristide Najean. The incredibly talented Frenchman who studied with the greatest Venetian glassblowers, has been living and working in Murano since 1985.
The painted carpets that lie on the floor of the restaurant were designed by Ara Starck. When painting the carpets, she created a complex game in which central figures move in a phantasmagorical world as a reflection of our subconscious and an invitation to dream.
And because Venice would not be Venice without mirrors, the Barbini brothers, a family of master glass blowers that has been working in Murano since 1570 and who produced all the mirrors that hang in the Palace of Versailles, were chosen to craft the entrance large mirror and the smaller ones in the bathrooms, all inspired by century-old designs.
The wooden frames that hold the large windows looking out onto St. Mark’s Square were also restored, thanks to the work of Venetian carpentry firm Capovilla.
Photo credits: Philippe Starck
Designer: PHILIPPE STARCK