Any of us today, especially those of us who have attained a certain age without withering under the weight of it all, have lived multiple lives — either in tandem or in sequence. We have hyphenated identities that often reveal a colorful collage of karmic convergences.
So it is with Gabriella Crespi, who at 82 can look back on having been a designer, artist, manufacturer, marketing genius, glamorous socialite and, since 1987, ardent follower of Shri Muniraji, an Indian guru with whom she studies for months at a stretch high in the Himalayas, seeking Satya (truth), unity and a feeling of infinity.
Today, her furniture and decorative objects are beginning to bring high prices, as the design world turns its focus from midcentury French to Italian. Suzanne Demisch, a New York dealer in 20th-century furniture who has sold a number of Crespi’s pieces, considers her work ”much more innovative than what other Italians were doing at the time.” It is also more difficult to find, according to Liz O’Brien, another New York dealer, because ”people still treasure it.” O’Brien recently sold an elliptical brass coffee table for $15,000.
The Tavolo 2000 table features retractable leaves and was envisioned by Crespi as furniture of the future. Originally designed as rectangular forms made of stainless steel, the tables were eventually reworked as ovals made of brass, a material the Italians were crazy for in the 60′s. Similarly, a square end table called the Magic Cube later evolved into a brass cylinder. In a taller form, it opened into a bar.
While the furniture looks like sculpture, it moves with the precision of a fine watch, and her mechanisms are patented. This is due, no doubt, to her architectural studies at the Politecnico Institute in Milan. ”I was in love with Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright when I was young,” she said. But it was also familial. Born in Milan in 1922, she was raised in Tuscany near Florence, where she first developed her love of nature. Her father was a mechanical engineer, and her mother taught her ”to be generous with others,” a trait that has been most apparent in her spiritual wanderings. By 1945, she was already on a spiritual path, having spent many months at the end of the war in isolation in the Hebrides, off the coast of Scotland. ”The desire for silence and infinity had already been born inside me,” she said. She met her husband, Giuseppe Maria Crespi, at a tennis club in Milan. After their marriage in 1948, she lived with his family, one of the richest in Italy.