With major U.S. projects in the works, the high-output, low-profile designer talks Shaker chairs, Porsches and the best food in Milan
AT 55, Piero Lissoni has spent nearly three decades heading Lissoni Associati—his 70-member architecture and industrial design practice—while art directing the luxury brands Boffi, Porro and Living Divani. Based in Milan, Mr. Lissoni may be less known than fellow European design-minds like Philippe Starck or Marcel Wanders, but his projects, steeped in quiet elegance, bring order and beauty to the everyday. Black lacquer and gray oak elevate his Duemilaotto bath into a spare-yet-serene sanctuary. His modular Aprile kitchen for Boffi gracefully marries wood, steel and stone. Mr. Lissoni’s reach extends far beyond la casa, however. There are Paris, London and Istanbul flagship boutiques for Benetton, luxury suites for Taj hotels and showrooms for Piazza Sempione and Elie Tahari. The six-month-old Conservatorium Hotel, with vibrant modern interiors by Mr. Lissoni, has quickly become Amsterdam’s most stylish hideaway.
Now Mr. Lissoni is shifting his attention to America. This fall, he and business partner Nicoletta Canesi debut their first New York project, a Sky Lounge atop Times Square’s AKA Hotel. Next up: a residential building and waterfront hotel in Miami. While he was characteristically discreet about the details, the results will likely exhibit a sensitivity to site and surroundings. Mr. Lissoni’s work—whether a renovation of Milan’s 90-year-old Teatro Nazionale or the interiors for Jerusalem’s Mamilla Hotel—always attains a sense of place. “I only create buildings that are human in scale,” said the designer, an avid chef and dog-lover who travels 200 days each year. “Because there is a price to pay for every great piece of architecture.”
Italian design needs to be made in Italy. There’s something about Italian factories, manufacturers, entrepreneurs that cannot be replicated abroad.
I like well-designed shoes that are made to last—brands that are understated and never “blingy.” Some of my favorites are English shoemakers with histories such as Tricker’s, Loake and Crockett & Jones.
One of the last great gifts I received was an iPad case by Bottega Veneta, given to me by its designer, Tomas Maier. My wife is crazy for everything he touches. I never wear obvious labels, so I like that their logos are discreet.
My favorite restaurant in Milan is Alla Collina Pistoiese, right near the Duomo. The restaurant has been run by the Gori family for over 70 years. They serve simple Tuscan dishes such as a perfect pasta with fresh tomatoes and pecorino cheese.
One of my favorite buildings in the world is Berlin’s Neue National Gallery by Mies van der Rohe. I like the transparency and spatial proportions, the technical problems he solved when developing its design.
I love the pure forms and humanistic sensibilities of Shaker chairs. I am also very fond of chairs designed by Ray and Charles Eames, especially their Wire Chairs from the early 1950s.
I know it sounds odd, but for me New York feels like the most “European” city in the world. It’s this incredible salad of cultures. When I’m in New York, I feel like a citizen of the town.
What I love most about Amsterdam is its dynamic weather. In Milan, a cloudy day stays cloudy all day. But in Amsterdam you can wake up to blue skies, have lunch covered by sexy clouds, then experience a rainstorm followed by blue skies again.
I’ve designed homes, factories, chairs, kitchens, watches for Alessi—even a small residential tower that we’re now doing on Fifth Avenue. But I would still love to design some sort of new electronic gadget.
Gifts should be chosen with passion and from the heart. My daughter recently gave me a boomerang she fashioned out of wood found in the sea.
I never wear new shoes or clothing outside without wearing them around the house for a few days first. It feels vulgar if I don’t.
In Venice, I love the Ca’Sagredo hotel. It inhabits a beautifully restored 15th-century palazzo facing the Grand Canal filled with massive rooms covered in frescoes. I think it’s my favorite place in the entire world.
When I was young I dreamed of going to Patagonia. It seemed like the end of the world—I’d like to visit alone with just a backpack and a bicycle.
I have three golden retrievers—Sophia, Satisfaction and Summertime. They are like daughters to me.
When I travel, I bring books—poems by Paul Éluard, thrillers by Jeffery Deaver, detective stories by Andrea Camilleri.
I love classic Porsches from the ’60s. My favorite is the 356 Speedster. It’s like the mother of the Carrera, which I drive in Milan.
I am imprecise and always delayed, which is why I completely believe in Einstein’s theory of relativity. I believe time is flexible because I’m always trying to fit six different things into a single hour.
—Edited from an interview by David Kaufman