Art & Design Interiors & Design

Soul Sisters: Maresca Interiors’ Secret to Elevating Vintage Design

Italian-Brazilian sisters Elena and Cecilia Maresca are known for their stellar combination of elegant minimalism with one-of-a-kind mid-century pieces

Few studios can claim to epitomize their designers’ DNA in quite the same way that Maresca Interiors and Studio Nenmar, founded by Elena and Cecilia Maresca, do. This is largely thanks to the way in which the sisters pour themselves—and their unique heritage—into their projects. The result: interiors that mix the timeless elegance of Italian design with elements of vintage Brazilian Modernism.

“To us, a great space combines different eras of design and furniture. The aesthetic that a vintage piece can give to space is really important—it adds soul to a place,” Elena explains. And their combined approach is laser-focused on a lofty end goal. “Having two designers on a project is a powerful force,” Cecilia says. “It ultimately helps our clients to live a better life. Our aim is to make spaces more beautiful, more functional, so people can enjoy better lives in their environments.”

Here, they speak exclusively to Christie’s International Real Estate about their design roots and share tips on creating, and curating, a vintage collection.

Elena and Cecilia Maresca in front of a large artwork in a London townhouse with vintage design elements
While the sisters admit to different aesthetic tastes—Cecilia is vocal about her love for color and patterns, and Elena tends more to minimalism—they believe their combined approach works “because we both recognize beautiful design.”

Tell us about your careers before starting Maresca Interiors and Studio Nenmar—what made you decide to join forces?
Cecilia: For a number of years, I worked in London’s PR and communications industry for fashion brands such as Vivienne Westwood and Farfetch. I moved to São Paulo, Brazil, in 2010, and became immersed in Brazilian Modern design while helping a friend to refurbish her house. It came from a realization that vintage furniture was often far better value than imported items—and it was stunningly beautiful.

Meanwhile, in England, Elena was working for well-known design firms like Waldo Works and Russell Sage Studio. So, when I moved back to London, it made sense to join my passion and knowledge in vintage furniture and Brazilian Modernism with her impeccable interior design skill set. We founded Maresca Interiors in 2016.

There are a lot of ways to reuse beautiful old objects. It’s now just a matter of changing mindsets—Cecilia Maresca

Elena: In the past few years the company has grown quite a bit, so we decided to split it into two studios. Maresca Interiors has a showroom in Zurich, Switzerland, that is based on sourcing vintage items and creating bespoke furniture for clients, while Studio Nenmar in London is focused on interior design and architecture.

A menswear shop with vintage design details such as Modernist scenes and heritage flooring
At Thom Sweeney Townhouse—owned by ex-Savile Row tailors Thom Whiddett and Luke Sweeney—clean lines and Mid-Century Modern furnishings upgrade the retail space into a menswear destination. Image: Ash James

What was your first project as Maresca Interiors?
: We first worked together on Thom Sweeney Townhouse on Old Burlington Street in Mayfair, London. The space includes areas for the brand’s ready-to-wear collections and made-to-measure services, as well as a barbershop and private members’ club with a bar and cocktail lounge. Our different approaches meant that I could focus on the interior design aspect, while Cecilia sourced the vintage pieces that feature inside the club.

How does your heritage influence your approach to design?
Elena: We’ve absorbed the work of a lot of Brazilian architects and designers, and what connects them is that they used or created furniture to answer a real need within a space. So, that’s what we do with our interiors: we study the space and then fill it with pieces that there’s a need for, that add value, and that capture a real sense of that place.

What advice do you have for someone wanting to incorporate vintage pieces into their own space?
Cecilia: Start by reading about vintage design and pinning down which of the main movements you’re most passionate about—whether it be Art Deco or Modernism. Then narrow it down further to countries. For example, your passion may be for French, Scandi, or even Brazilian Modernism.

A room with exposed wooden ceilings and view onto an exotic garden
Cecilia’s passion and knowledge of Brazilian vintage pieces helped ensure the interior spaces of DP House in Trancoso, Brazil, elegantly merge with the lush exterior—a UNESCO conservation area that surrounds the home. Image: Marcelo Aniello

Once you set out to invest in pieces, aim to find vintage dealers who you can trust and who are able to provide documentation as to a piece’s authenticity and provenance. I’m also a fan of starting out with reproduction pieces—you can learn a lot about historical design that way.

Does the sustainability of reusing vintage pieces motivate your designs?
Cecilia: Sustainability is a huge motivator in my decision to source and reuse vintage pieces. It’s something I’ve always been very in tune with, and my own house features barely anything new—I call it a “professional problem!” There’s so much great furniture out there and there are fantastic ways to restore it, and a lot of ways to reuse beautiful old objects. It’s now just a matter of changing mindsets.

Tell us about some of the projects you’re currently working on
Elena: We’ve just started work on a site on London’s Sloane Street for British fashion brand Emilia Wickstead. We’ve also taken on residential renovation projects in Battersea, and have recently finished renovating a house near the coast for Thom Whiddett, co-owner of Thom Sweeney Townhouse.

Cecilia: On the product side, in the next few months I’ll be launching a collection of upholstery and bespoke furnishings in Zurich.

White mid-century modern sofas in front of large French windows
At Cecilia’s Zurich home, beautiful vintage examples of Mid-Century furniture sit alongside items from her Brazilian heritage, including traditional headpieces passed down through generations.

Lastly, can you share what your own spaces are like?
Elena: I’m starting work on the renovation of my home in West Kensington, London, which will be a perfect mix of my and Cecilia’s styles: minimalistic, with a lot of sustainable materials, such as clay on the walls and reclaimed cement on the floors. It’s an old Victorian building, which comes with its quirks—many of the walls aren’t quite straight—so we’ve also tried to embrace these structural imperfections with the use of curves, and the addition of clever storage options.

Cecilia: I live in a house near to Zurich, which looks a bit like an old barn—the furthest thing possible from the Modernism that I love. So, I really had to go with the house, and understand how to combine these two worlds. I’ve mixed vintage Brazilian items, such as furniture, tapestries from the 1950s, and traditional headpieces that have been passed down in our family, with items I’ve found in Italian marketplaces. I also adore French textiles and rugs and I have walls covered in bespoke British wallpaper, so it’s all kind of eclectic—but fun.

Banner image: A Zurich townhouse designed by Maresca Interiors