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Publication Date: 2011-11-07

Behind the Design

Q&A with James Magni of Magni Home Collection

If Nick and Nora Charles—the stylish husband-wife of The Thin Man movies of the 1930s and ’40s—were with us today, they’d likely call on Magni Design in Los Angeles to do up their apartment. Equal parts theater and restraint, James Magni’s furniture and interiors channel the worldly, luxurious era of Mr. and Mrs. Charles: post-Deco French, the coolly rational International Style, even Asian influences.

Q: How would you begin to describe your design style?

A: Architecturally disciplined and contemporary—spaces that are dramatically lit, well appointed with art, and furnished with luxurious pieces.

Q: Your look has been called ‘global modernism.’ When did that come about?

A: About 17 years ago. I was traveling a lot, as well as being introduced to the Internet. My a-ha moment came while looking at children on their computers and realizing the world would be about including all cultures. An article written about Magni Design at that time coined an expression, describing our work as “global modernism”—meaning a modern take with global influences.

Q: You certainly hop the globe. What areas seem to influence you the most?

A: Kyoto, Japan, and my family’s home of Sicily. I love the discipline of Japan and, in juxtaposition, the ease of living that the Sicilians have. There is an interesting combination that occurs with opposites.

Q: You’re also an architecture buff of the highest order. How do its principles work their ways into your designs?

A: I majored in architecture, so each project is studied as a piece of interior architecture first. Then the geometry, scale, and repetitive modulation of the building carries into all aspects of our work, including the furniture.

Q: What are some favorite items in your Dering Hall storefront?

A: Our Amsterdam Side Table, the Agnes Armchair, and the Chiesa Desk/Console. They are all handcrafted, and made from luxurious materials.

Q: For you, what are the keys to a well designed room?

A: Appropriateness, scale, and location—and consistency in the architectural message or language. I think a well designed room should move you intellectually as well as spiritually.

Q: What Magni Design pieces do you consider ‘musts’ in any room?

A: Cast-glass pieces like our Jewel Sconce, or our hand-cast bronze and glass lighting. Also, our exquisitely crafted case goods, with LED lighting and cast-glass panels.

Q: What are some pieces in your Dering Hall assortment that might not seem to go together, but do?

A: I’d put our Deneuve Bed with our Jewel Side Tables, and our Paris Bench at the foot.

Q: Taking that further, how would you mix Magni Design pieces with other pieces that are seemingly quite different?

A: Utilize our “art pieces”—like the Colette Side Table—with a basic upholstered piece. Conversely, use our architectural case goods and dining tables mixed with someone else’s statement chairs or mirrors. Or, use our art pieces mixed with others’ art pieces for a curatorial approach of ‘all furniture as art.’

Q: Who are two design legends whose style you greatly admire, and why?

A: Mies van der Rohe and his vision of “less is more,” his discipline of editing out extraneous information. And Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann, for his luxuriously handcrafted exotic materials: perfection.

Q: You live and work in Los Angeles—a rather cinematic city. What are its strongest impressions on you, in regard to your work?

A: The climate inspires one to diffuse the line between indoor and outdoor living. It heightens the dramatic aspects of our contemporary work when entering large open spaces, moving through covered spaces, then back out to semi-covered spaces—with infinity-edge pools, big open skies, and the ocean below.

Q: Being the inveterate traveler, what are your next destinations?

A: Working in Russia and overseas, and spending more time in Italy. My family lives in Sicily and my cousin is an architect there. The Italian way of life is so calming and inspirational. Of course, traveling more to beautiful spaces by the sea, specifically the Maldives, Phuket, Bali, and New Zealand. For me, traveling influences and recharges my creative being.

- Rob Brinkley


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