Walter Umberti black and white

2019-01-28

Interview with an Architect - Walter Umberti

We first met Walter and Elsa at a suburban monorail station in Tokyo. They had traveled over an hour to see a motorcycle we were selling on Craigslist. It didn't fit their needs in the end, but we sat outside on the patio talking about expat life in Tokyo while greeting the many stray cats that came by to say Hello. Before we knew it, we had spent the entire day eating frozen pizza, opening whatever bottles of wine we had in the house, and then going out to “Kura Sushi” the local sushi joint. That was the start of our beautiful friendship.

Walter and Chris immediately connected over their shared passion for art and design. Several dinners and gatherings later, we finally got around to seeing some of the exciting projects Walter was working on as Project Director with Curiosity Studio in Tokyo. We were stunned. The list of world-class design projects he has directed is quite long, but here are a few images and articles that are in the public space and shareable:

Dolce & Gabbana flagship store in Milan, Italy. Check out the video of the whole store, it is breathtaking.  

This Dezeen article on the Dolce & Gabbana store in the wealthy Aoyama district of Tokyo. The golden staircase in the middle of a dark room is quite spectacular. 

Ginza Six Fendi façade, Tokyo 

Ginza Six interior

Patek Phillippe Boutique in Tokyo

In conversation, we came to find out that Walter has been designing for over 14 years with projects in Paris, London, New York and Switzerland. His strengths are luxury retail, yachts and five star hotels such as the La Reserve in Paris

Since those lovely evenings in Tokyo, Walter and Elsa moved on to Germany and now in Malta. Walter now works as head interior designer for the biggest architectural firm in Malta, DeMicoli & Associates.

Walter graciously accepted our request for a short interview, here it is:

Yumi: It seems like you and Elsa are getting settled in Malta. How is your adorable cat Naomi adjusting?

Walter: Yes she’s very happy here. Actually I am liking Malta very much too, not just because it’s new but because here, you can come back to a more simple way of life. Less connected to the watch, for example. You have some schedule for Saturday, but when it comes you don’t know if it’s Saturday or what. It’s true! You don’t really care that much.

Yumi: I know you loved life in Tokyo, but your schedule was very busy. What is your favorite part of the day now?

Walter: I really enjoy going to buy the fruits and vegetables from the market from the farmers and come home to cook. Cooking is a passion of mine.

Yumi: You have traveled so much in your life. Was there someone that inspired you when you were a young man?

Walter: My uncle. He was traveling around the world all the time with his wife. They had a sailing boat, they had a camper and they traveled all the time.

Yumi: How about now? Is he still traveling?

Walter: He’s still traveling! Once he went to Santa Clara Island with a University research team, with a professor studying I don’t know what. I asked him, “How did you manage to get on that trip?” he said, “I just asked, can I come? And they said yes!”

Yumi: Can I come? That was it?

Walter: Yeah, he just found out on the internet and he said, can I come? And they said yes. Oh and my grandfather! I grew up with him. He taught me everything I know about life, culture and manners.

Yumi: Walter, you've lived all over the world, you speak French, Italian, English, you read Greek, and you  look like a Norseman. Where did you grow up?

Walter:  Hehe, I grew up in Milan, Italy.  When I finished University I started to travel around the world, but Milan was my city. My roots are in Milan. The City of Fashion, The City of Alcohol. They say, ‘Milan,  the city to drink!’

Yumi: When did you realize that you wanted to become a designer? What did you want to be when you were a child?

Walter: I wanted to be a physical therapist, it was my dream. I was always playing basketball so I was prone to injuries. I wanted to learn to help myself and others through therapy and rehabilitation. But the university had only a few open spaces, and competition was fierce. The test to get in was on the same date as [entrance exams for] other university and only 30 spaces were available. So I decided to take the test for Architecture. There was much more space available for Architecture.

Yumi:  In your design work, where do you get inspiration for your designs?

Walter: It depends on the project and the client. It’s all about understanding the clients and what they want. I believe in not just understanding what the client wants today, but thinking ahead into the future. I try to think what the project will look like in 10 years. The project should always have a surprise effect, the “wow!” factor, where the client is surprised. Something they didn’t expect at all. The Company in Japan where I was working always told us, “so many companies copy Pinterest, but we are Making Pinterest.” It’s a different point of view. You are trying to create something that other people will be inspired by and try to copy. 

Yumi: What would be your dream design project?

Walter: The most exciting project is always the next one.

Yumi:  We can't wait to see what that will be!

Photo Credit: Elsa Messi

Yumi Zaic

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