‘I’m trying to create a cross-cultural conversation’ — the design philosophy of Nilufar’s founder, Nina Yashar

‘I’m trying to create a cross-cultural conversation’ — the design philosophy of Nilufar’s founder, Nina Yashar

The Milan gallerist’s distinctive style — ‘eclectic, multicultural, original’ — has attracted a loyal following. Now Yashar celebrates Nilufar’s 40th anniversary with Nilufar [100] Design Selections, the first online-only sale hosted by Christie’s Italy

‘I’ve always been attracted to an incredible variety of pieces — from different cultures, different periods and different geographical areas,’ says Nina Yashar, the founder of Nilufar, a Milan-based gallery specialising in mid-century and contemporary international design. 

‘I’m trying to create a harmonious synergy — a cross-temporal, cross-cultural conversation if you like — between pieces that you would never imagine together.’

For 40 years, Yashar’s distinctive style, which she describes as ‘eclectic, multicultural and original’, has attracted a loyal following of collectors spanning the worlds of design, interiors, fashion, art and architecture.

‘I discovered vintage furniture by chance. I came across a 1950s Swedish rug in New York that was like nothing I had ever seen before’

‘Miuccia Prada started her collection of vintage design pieces with me,’ says Yashar, who is often seen clad in her friend’s fabulous creations. Other famous names to cross the gallery’s threshold include Miuccia’s husband Patrizio Bertelli, French interior designer Jacques GrangeDomenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana.

‘Fashion designers are among the most unique storytellers,’ notes Yashar. ‘They’re so curious — they’re always looking for what’s next in the world of design.’

Pieces offered in Nilufar [100] Design Selections, online, 8-29 July. Photo Mattia Iotti

Pieces offered in Nilufar [100] Design Selections, online, 8-29 July. Photo: Mattia Iotti

When she first founded the gallery in 1979 on Milan’s via Bigli, Yashar dealt in antique carpets, just as her Iranian father had. ‘He was an antique rugs dealer, first in Tehran and then in Milan,’ she says. ‘I have this passion in my blood.’

After a string of successful carpet exhibitions in the 1980s, Yashar ventured into modern and contemporary design. By 1999, she had opened a larger, more opulent gallery on via della Spiga, one of Milan’s top shopping streets.

‘I really began to focus on the making process as well as the function of the pieces, which, for me, was a radical change in perspective’

‘I discovered vintage furniture completely by chance,’ she says of the radical change in direction. ‘I came across a 1950s Swedish rug in New York that was like nothing I had ever seen before.’

A trip to Sweden soon followed. ‘While I was there, I visited JP Willborg, the finest carpet gallery in Stockholm. On the recommendation of my guide, I also visited a furniture warehouse full of pieces that, in comparison to antique carpets, were really inexpensive.’

Yashar acquired between 12 and 15 pieces, all of which turned out to be by important Scandinavian designers. ‘Without realising it, I had bought an Alvar Aalto wardrobe, which was originally designed for patients at the Paimio Sanatorium in Finland; an amazing presidential desk by Bruno Matthson, as well as some pieces by Hans Wegner,’ she says. ‘That was the starting point of my career dealing in furniture design.’

FAR, an experimental project curated by Milan-based Studio Vedèt as part of the 2019 Salone, at the Nilufar Depot. Photo Mattia Iotti
FAR, an experimental project curated by Milan-based Studio Vedèt as part of the 2019 Salone, at the Nilufar Depot. Photo: Mattia Iotti

In 2015, she opened Nilufar Depot, a showroom and exhibition space that once housed the city’s silverware factory. ‘It’s an incredible space,’ she says of the 1,500-square-foot building renovated by Italian architect Massimiliano Locatelli. ‘It’s arranged over three levels, with a layout inspired by the Teatro alla Scala in Milan.’

Today, this is where Yashar receives clients, hosts cultural events and stages exhibitions of cutting-edge pieces by both established and emerging designers.

By way of example, Yashar cites FAR, an experimental project curated by Milan-based Studio Vedèt for the 2019  Salone. ‘It featured work by 10 emerging designers who challenged themselves to confront new expressive processes,’ she says. ‘The exhibition expanded the boundaries of my mind: I really began to focus on the making process as well as the function of the pieces, which, for me, was a radical change in perspective.’

Green, one of a number of vignettes created at Nilufar Depot in 2020. Photo Mattia Iotti
Green, one of a number of vignettes created at Nilufar Depot in 2020. Photo: Mattia Iotti

So, has it always been about pushing boundaries? ‘Absolutely,’ Yashar says with a laugh. ‘I am never satisfied. I always want to go one step further.’

Lockdown has seen Yashar do just that. Over the past few months, the gallerist has curated an innovative series of monochrome vignettes from pieces in the Depot. ‘It’s the first time I have displayed pieces together on account of their colour, whether blue, green or pink. I’ve really enjoyed exploring a new approach.’

She has also launched her first-ever collaboration with Christie’s. ‘I’m honoured to celebrate the gallery’s 40th anniversary with Nilufar [100] Design Selections, the first online-only sale hosted by Christie’s Italy,’ she says. ‘The pieces perfectly represent the essence of Nilufar, as well as the gallery’s history and its evolution.’

A selection of some of the 100 pieces offered in Nilufar [100] Design Selections, online, 8-29 July. Photo Mattia Iotti

A selection of some of the 100 pieces offered in Nilufar [100] Design Selections, online, 8-29 July. Photo: Mattia Iotti

The sale features 100 design pieces, including vintage and historical works from the 1950s to the 1970s, as well as contemporary pieces, antique carpets and lighting. Designs by mid-century international designers, including Gio Ponti, Tobia Scarpa, Luigi Caccia Dominioni, Bruno Mathsson and Alvar Aalto, are offered alongside works by contemporary designers such as Martino Gamper, Osanna Visconti and Marsica Fossati.

‘This eclectic mix of aesthetics and eras creates the new, unexpected scenarios that Nilufar is known for,’ says Yashar.

Roberto Gabetti, Aimaro Isola and Guido Drocco. Dressing table from the Trilogia series, 1970s. Chromium-plated metal, rosewood, manufactured by ARBO, Italy. Estimate €8,000-12,000. Offered in Nilufar [100] Design Selections, online, 8-29 July

Roberto Gabetti, Aimaro Isola and Guido Drocco. Dressing table from the Trilogia series, 1970s. Chromium-plated metal, rosewood, manufactured by ARBO, Italy. Estimate: €8,000-12,000. Offered in Nilufar [100] Design Selections, online, 8-29 July

Attributed to Arredoluce, standard lamp, 1950s. Brass and marble. Estimate €10,000-15,000. Offered in Nilufar [100] Design Selections, online, 8-29 July. 

Attributed to Arredoluce, standard lamp, 1950s. Brass and marble. Estimate: €10,000-15,000. Offered in Nilufar [100] Design Selections, online, 8-29 July. 

Among Yashar’s favourite items coming to auction are a rare Gabetti e Isola dressing table (above left) from the 1970s and a mid-century floor lamp attributed to Arredoluce (above right).

Yashar also admires a pair of teal velvet armchairs by Guglielmo Veronesi and a folding screen by Marsica Fossati, below. ‘I like the idea that it’s baroque in style,’ she says of the piece produced in a unique edition for Nilufar in 2018. ‘I think the unexpected combination of velvet and brass is extremely striking. It’s very unconventional for me in terms of my taste and vision.’

Marsica Fossati. Folding screen from the Meticulous collection, 2018. Brass, velvet fabric. Nilufar edition. Estimate €8,000-12,000. Offered in Nilufar [100] Design Selections, online, 8-29 July

Marsica Fossati. Folding screen from the Meticulous collection, 2018. Brass, velvet fabric. Nilufar edition. Estimate: €8,000-12,000. Offered in Nilufar [100] Design Selections, online, 8-29 July

Her top choice, though, is a pair of Renzo Zavanella lounge chairs and stool. ‘They are very rare, elegant and sophisticated,’ she says. ‘I particularly like the mix of materials and the shape of the armrests.’

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For Yashar, buying at auction is a thrilling way of acquiring such rare, special items. ‘The more interested you are in a piece, the more your level of adrenaline increases,’ she says. ‘It’s such a gamble, as you never know who you’re up against. But that’s all part of the excitement.’