As their sculptural furniture start up celebrates its first birthday, Studio Mignone’s Isabella Wood and Aldo Mignone invite us into their lemon tree-lined world of family, collaboration and very colourful concrete.
“It’s all like a village,” Mignone explains as he emerges from a shed set a few houses back from The Parade. Norwood and Kensington were once peppered with market gardens, workshops and fruit tree-filled backyards tended to by generations of Italian and Greek families. Many have been gradually replaced by townhouses or units, but this cluster of workers’ cottages, sheds and abundant citrus fruit has been the heart of Mignone’s family since his grandfather, Aldo Sr., purchased the main house in the 1950s.
“I remember coming here with Nonno as a little kid, because they looked after us like second parents,” he recalls. “We spent a lot of time here, old Holdens everywhere, so it’s nice to come back here and start our own business in the same place.”
Mignone left the family village in his mid-20s to pursue acting in Sydney, having made his screen debut in locally-made, SBS-backed cult hit Danger 5. He found his way to a starring role in a Channel 7 period drama, but it was meeting Wood that proved most formative.
Living in a “gorgeous” 1920s apartment building in Potts Point, the pair discovered a shared love of terrazzo and design that laid the foundation for their current collaboration. “Then we went to Italy which sparked our love for terrazzo and Italy and Al’s family heritage,” Wood explains. “When Bels was pregnant with Valentina we started thinking about design, and drawing things inspired by our building – not really hip to the idea of how much [terrazzo] was taking over in the design scene,” Mignone says.
The subsequent birth of the pair’s daughter saw them relocate to Adelaide to reconnect to Mignone’s family traditions – and start their own. “That’s when we decided to just give this a shot making some shit, and just started doing it. We both decided we were at points where we wanted to do our own thing, to see what happens while we have the space, and the family village really provided the right kind of space.”
Working from two sheds sandwiched between a chicken coop and banana trees, the pair set about learning the art of concrete and terrazzo, and how to mould this versatile form to their own creative sensibility, marked by smooth lines, plentiful glass, and evergreen pastel colours inspired by the art of David Hockney, the films of Luca Guadagnino and the colour palette of Aldo Sr.’s original 1950s kitchen.
“It’s a deceptively simple looking thing,” Wood says of the pair’s concrete habit. “[But] it is a wild material, there are so many elements – the way it takes the water, the temperature on the day, the humidity, all these strange things about the material that are so engaging for us. For furniture, it’s a material where you can just do wild things. You can paint wood a certain colour, but this is integrated into the colours. It’s experimental, but things look really amazing when they work.”
For Wood, a National Art School graduate with experience in painting and photography alongside stints in luxury retail and advertising, and Mignone, whose acting career has long been complemented by side hustles in cabinet-making and design, their work as Studio Mignone has been a special kind of collaboration, marked by long days in the workshop as a soundtrack of George Michael and The B-52s pumps from an old boombox.
“We work together on designing, coming up with ideas,” Wood says. “We experiment, we fail, we make things. It’s like an artistic process; things emerge, they evolve, they unfold. We don’t sit down and say ‘we’re going to make this’ and figure it out in our heads first. It’s a holistic approach, it’s experimental – maybe that’s my art background.”
The pair’s first line, the Curve Table, features an oval-shaped panel of glass suspended over two half-moon pillars, while the more recent Soft Table has a Norwegian marble surface that gently melts into four concrete cubes as if made of plasticine. Both have found appreciative homes around Australia and the globe – no mean feat given the shipping costs of concrete.
And as the studio grows, so does their appreciation for the surroundings of the ‘village’. “It’s very different to what anyone would imagine our set up to be like,” Wood admits. But then, long hours in any kind of workshop are rarely the kind of thing that makes it to carefully curated design Instagram feeds – even ones with a story as rich as Wood and Mignone’s.
On the way out Mignone points to the decades-old slabs of offcut terrazzo that line his Nonno’s garden beds, so ubiquitous was the stuff when his family first started putting down roots. “It sort of went out of fashion, and obviously now it’s had a really big comeback,” he says.
“I’ve always known them my whole life, but now we’re doing this I’m like ‘oh my god how did he do that?’. In the garden there’s beautiful baby blue with white chips, and then there’s a red or a burgundy one. It’s kind of crazy to think that’s what we’re doing now – and I’ve been around it my whole life.”