In late July New York-based photographer Martien Mulder spent the weekend at Potter’s House – the creative engine and periodic residence for renowned landscape and garden designer Luciano Giubbilei. They sat down to discuss the surprising turn of events that led to Luciano's custodianship of the house, and how it has deeply focused and energised his wider practice.
Recalling how he came to purchase the former house and studio of ceramicist Maria Antònia Carrió, Luciano Giubbilei exclaims: ‘there is something about beauty that is difficult to resist’. Fast forward six years, Potter’s House serves not only as Luciano’s personal creative retreat, but also as a nucleus for artistic exchange between nature and culture – hosting both an archive in preservation of the legacy of Maria Antònia and a residency programme for contemporary makers.
Located in the Castilian town of Son Servera in north-eastern Mallorca, the house is a masterclass in majestic simplicity. Combining chalky gessoed walls, atmospheric light and shadow, and a harmonious composition of structural and softly textured planting, Luciano’s renovation of the interior space and garden is an extended expression of the understated elegance and poetic aesthetic so closely associated with his eponymous studio.
Although the house itself is indisputably picturesque, it is perhaps the undisturbed dialogue between it's past and present, beginning with Maria Antònia and proceeding with Luciano, that has seen Potter’s House become a place of pilgrimage for design enthusiasts. For Dutch-born photographer Martien Mulder, whose own work infuses a similar quietude, her visit in late July looked to capture the spirit of the place: to find its essence in imagery and in conversation.
Read the full interview below.
Luciano, you moved from your hometown Siena to London almost 30 years ago to become a garden and landscape designer. How would you describe your approach?
I am preoccupied with composition, and how composition makes you feel. My approach centres around spacing, repetition, scale and the transitional moments within gardens.
Something I find striking about your work is how you champion collaborations that highlight the relationship between the landscape, art, design and craft – can you talk about where this stemmed from?
From the very beginning of my career I collaborated with artists. The first [collaboration] came about through a client in London who presented me with a work by British sculptor Stephen Cox. I remembered seeing it as a student at CASS Sculpture Foundation and it was a sculpture I really loved. Working on a project with an artist whose pieces had inspired me during my studies opened my eyes to the serendipitous way in which things happen in life.
One of those serendipitous moments is your story with Potter’s House, how did you first come across the space?
Yes, that is a great example. I have been going to Mallorca for about 25 years, and became good friends with [the artist] Guillem Nadal. At the end of July 2017 he and his wife brought me to visit the ceramicist Maria Antònia Carrió at her house and studio.
What was it like when Maria Antònia lived there and what was your first impression?
The house was very beautiful – from her ceramic works, to her books, to the garden– and she lived a very simple life there. There was an immediate connection between us. She described how difficult it is to make beautiful things, which is something I deeply related to. We spent the day looking at plants and at her ceramics and I purchased a few of her pieces.
How did you then end up owning the house?
On my return to London I wrote to her to say how much I had enjoyed our meeting and my desire to return. Unfortunately she passed away four months later. One of her friends made contact through a friend of mine relaying that Maria Antònia had said “there was an Italian garden designer who came to visit, and I would like him to have the house.” When the offer came through I was hesitant. I wondered if I would be able to commit to such a space. But there is something about beauty which is difficult to resist. I thought about it for about three hours, before calling back to say: ‘How do we do this?’. There were lots of practicalities to work out, but I was emotionally already there.
I am so glad you were open and ready to take this on and continue her legacy. What was your intention for the space?
The house was already beautiful, but one of the ideas that immediately came to mind was how to restore the purpose of the place. You can restore a house or its interiors, but purpose is something different. I was interested in the studios and what Maria Antònia had set out to do there.I wanted to use the studio downstairs as an archive for her work, and the one upstairs as a residency studio for contemporary artists. I work a lot with artists in my own profession and what I love most is the conversation. I am fascinated with how people become anchored in their practice, and their commitment to their work. So my first response was that the purpose should be to invite other artists into the space.
It’s interesting that on the one hand [Potter's House] offers quietude, a retreat, a deep sense of peace. On the other hand it sort of activates connections and artistic dialogue. How would you describe the energy?
Spending nine months living there during the pandemic I was able to develop a strong bond with each part. The house is unassuming from the outside. Maria Antònia kept the shutters closed. They were simple shutters like you would have in any other house, but the moment she opened them you entered this other world, with its entirely unique atmosphere. Upon entering you have this immediate focus of green at the end of your view that I was instantly drawn to. There is also something grounding about being on the white ceramic floor. You feel everything with your feet. I find it extremely relaxing.
As you say, you were drawn to the garden right when you came in, I had the same [feeling]…
The garden is very much the centrepiece. Everything looks into the garden, apart from the top terrace that looks out to the sea and church. What you have therefore is a hortus conclusus, where you are gardening within four walls. There is an extreme comfort in gardening in such a confined space.
What about the body of water?
The bathing pool sits in the centre of the garden completely bordered by plants. It was always this way. When Maria Antònia lived here she described swimming surrounded by the plants, and having this feeling of being within the plants.
It is incredibly beautiful and inspiring how you have created a sense of continuity with what Maria Antònia started…
There are many old plants, such as the fern, which were hers. I wasn’t looking to change it, only to improve it. For me it is about identifying the plants that are the most important to keep, and then figuring out the best way to make the composition work as a whole. That’s something I learnt at the very beginning through my dialogue with Maria Antònia. We met for less than 24 hours, but that connection changed the course of my life. I make gardens in a different way because of her and because of the house.