Queer Places:
Ecole des Beaux Arts, 14 Rue Bonaparte, 75006 Paris
Lieja 10, Juárez, Cuauhtémoc, 06600 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
Calle de Niza 30, Juárez, Cuauhtémoc, 06600 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
Hotel Reforma, Av. Paseo de la Reforma 122, Cuauhtémoc, 06500 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
Hotel del Prado, Av. Marina Nacional 399, Verónica Anzúres, Miguel Hidalgo, 11300 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico

Arturo Pani (1915-1981) was a gay interior designer, in great demand among the gay elite. Arturo Pani, the Rare, was an interior decorator whose nickname came from a comment from his mother. "No, my son is not joto, he is just weird."

The younger brother of prominent Mexican Modernist architect Mario Pani, Arturo Pani was born in Mexico City in 1915, the son of Arturo Pani Arteaga (1880-1962), a civil engineer, and Dolores Darqui Pani (born ca 1879). At the age of 4 in 1919 he traveled with his family to live in Europe as his father was appointed Mexico’s Counsel General to Belgium, later moving to Milan as his father’s position changed. In 1925 the family settled in Paris and remained there until 1935.

After completing studies in the private school Janson de Sailly both Mario and Arturo entered the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. Mario was inclined toward architecture and Arturo chose decoration and interior design.

Arturo’s first project was the furniture design and decoration of the family house on Lieja Street. Mario’s first major project was the construction of the Hotel Reforma in 1936 which became the emblem of Mexican Modernism. Arturo Pani was given free reign to design the furniture and interiors of the lobby and several salons of the Hotel Reforma. Diego Rivera created the murals for the one of the dining rooms. The social standing of the family allowed Arturo to begin his career with the decorating company De la Pena, Lascurain y Compania. The company took advantage of the Pani name and presented Arturo as the Senior Decorator.

Never one to rest on his laurels, Pani began his career by designing the furniture and interiors for several salons and lobbies. Arturo established himself as a functionalism furniture designer thanks to the orders made by the Hotel Reforma and the Hotel Del Prado.

In 1943 he created the company De la Peña y Pani S. de R.L. for whom he had previously worked as a designer. Independently, in 1947, he opened his own store, better known as a decorating fim called Arturo Pani D., S.A. It wasn't long before Pani had earned a reputation as "the" decorator to the elite in Mexico, which he would carry with him for the next 40-plus years of his career. He became “the” decorator to the elite of Mexico City and his studio, Arturo Pani SA, remained at Niza #30 well into the 1970s.

Successful upper-middle-class gay professionals purchased or custom built detached homes in the best residential neighbourhoods, too. This small elite consisted of actors, executives, upper-level government functionaries, artistic entrepreneurs and professionals – among them Elías Nandino, fashionista Henri de Châtillon, painter Roberto Montenegro and decorator Arturo Pani. Prominent physician and poet Elías Nandino’s three long-term relationships (each of which lasted three to five years) were successful thanks to his ability to compartmentalise his home life with his partners and to accommodate their disparate interests. While Nandino often practiced medicine in the ground floor of their home, his partner could easily paint or sculpt in the third-floor studio, leaving the first and second stories between them. On the first story, they housed the public areas of the home, spaces where they entertained friends and exhibited their artwork. The home’s features reproduced the dynamics of gay bars: long counters with many stools along one wall, allowing guests a panoramic view of the assembled company, and mirrored walls. On the second floor, they had their bedroom, the library and a living room where they spent time together. Despite being on the staff of various hospitals, Nandino also ran a clinic out of his home’s ground floor, a common practice during the 1930s and 1940s. In the 1940s, decorator Henri de Châtillon organised his annual fashion show at his glamorous home on Paseo de la Reforma (where he also maintained his atelier), and in late 1946, Arturo Pani lived above his home decorating studio at the corner of Niza and Hamburgo. Artists often required isolation and silence to conduct their work. Roberto Montenegro’s downtown apartments in the 1950s and 1960s were studios where he often painted alone, yet he fled to his Cuernavaca retreat on weekends to host visitors or to concentrate on portrait commissions. By the late 1950s, Montenegro – a social man in his youth – grew increasingly isolated from his friends, with only Bly, his poodle, to keep him company. Understandably, he included his dog in two famous self-portraits.

Working primarily in gilded iron, Pani crafted hundreds of sought after coffee tables, chairs, and lamps before creating the now-universally recognized "Acapulco Look" in the 1950s, earning himself international recognition in the process.

The structure and design of homes answered gay households’ needs, such as a ‘modern residence for a family consisting of two persons’ advertised in 1937. Projected for an urban lot of 225 square metres, it featured a small front garden and carport, a dining room, a living room, a kitchen with butler’s pantry, a breakfast nook on the ground floor and a guest powder room. The main stairwell led to the bathroom, a small hall or den, two bedrooms, a library and a sewing room. A metal spiral staircase in the kitchen led to separate servants’ quarters on the second floor, but their rooms did not connect at all to those of the homeowners on the same floor, on the other side of the bathroom wall. Such designs guaranteed gay couples privacy – and a spare bedroom for visitors. The isolation of the master bedroom from the rest of the house, with an en-suite bathroom, facilitated pre- and post-coital hygiene. The library and sewing room offered couples separate home workspaces, or perhaps a studio for artists. Native and foreign designers decorated these modern residences. Sophisticated, natural, organic design elements incorporated elements of Frank Lloyd Wright’s prairiestyle architecture – particularly in the homes society architect Jorge Rubio built – but also went well with Luis Barragán’s minimalist landscape projects. The furnishings of designers like Cuban-born Clara Porset and American expatriates Michael Van Beuren and Emmett Morley Webb allowed apartment owners to incorporate a modern aesthetic into their domestic spaces that rejected the ornate historicist aesthetics of Porfirian furnishings or the rough-hewn, quaint furniture of rural folk. Modern style thus represented the values and stability to which the middle class aspired, and offered clean lines and high-quality natural finishes. Gay interior designers such as Arturo Pani (with Jay de Laval) and Webb were also in great demand among the gay elite. Posh gays competed to outdo each other in their homes’ expressions of originality, taste and elegance. Composer Gabriel Ruiz and physician Elías Nandino constantly re-upholstered and reappointed their homes, fighting over the best tradesmen and decorators; Nandino’s one-upmanship went so far as to use fishbowls – with live fish – as lampshades.

Later, during the 60s and 70s, Arturo Pani received a greater reception among the high class thanks to his designs of iron and glass, manufactured in limited quantities, in different workshops around the city.

Today, Arturo Pani furniture tables and lamps remain incredible difficult to find despite their popularity, making any of his pieces a must-own for any true Mid-Century or Modern furniture collector.

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