On my trip to Oslo we were discussing various projects from the 1930s in Italy, and rather wishing we had been born in a different time and place… We came upon some photographs of a house that I immediately recognised – the topic of this post. I had recently seen the Luca Guadagnino film ‘Io sono l’amore’ – although the film is not exactly a classic, I will never forget the photography of the Villa Necchi Campiglio – it is bordering on architectural pornography! So when it looked like Sigrun might be spending some time in Italy, we sent her on a little excursion. Unfortunately I only know the Villa through the film, so I’m very jealous that Sigrun got to explore the house in so much detail.
The villa was constructed from 1932 to 1935 for the young couple Necchi-Campiglio heirs of the Necchi sewing machine industry. The villa is situated in Milan centre in an area where previously palazzi of the aristocrats and convents where found but was by then already more urban. Now the situation is quite astounding, a villa with a park-like garden in the middle of the high density centre.
The architect Piero Portaluppi, a friend of the family, got the task to create a suitable living environment to represent these high class clients that wanted to show off their position and influence and use the villa as a calling card. This modernist villa was also required to be contemporary and functional and in fact the interplay between luxury and practicality is the most beautiful thing about it. It is now a museum, it was donated by the family to the FAI (Italian Fund for the Environment) in 2001 and restored to its original state and opened to the public in 2008.
The villa was innovative for its time and still feels very modern apart from several rooms that were renewed after the family took over the villa after it was seized during the second world war. Portaluppi used modern materials and technology, like for example the heated pool (the second pool realized in Milan). These renewed interiors were designed by Tomaso Buzzi and unfortunately these do not keep within the spirit of Portaluppi´s sofistication, but descend into rococo bourgeoise mess…
I was in the right place at the right time in Milan when the FAI for a weekend only opened up many of the buildings in their management to the public and it was possible to see some properties otherwise inaccessible.
You enter into a grand hall or foyer which immediately makes you imagine grand banquets and social events fit for the Milan aristocracy. The hall leads you to the subdivision of other social or more public rooms on the ground floor as well as hosting the the grand formal staircase that takes you to the more private upstairs. Already here, one is flabbergasted by the richness displayed in the finishes. The walls around the staircase has a rich wooden briarwood finish which appears even more so contrasted against the sober eggshell of the rest of the hall. In fact what struck me the most was the level of sophistication of the articulation of the rooms, both in terms of their functions as well as the definition of space. The first space one enters after the hall is the library. It is masterly divided into a study and a reading area with the partition of bookshelves and vitrines for art work made of rosewood. The main features here are the austere granite fireplace and the articulated ceiling (see feature image). The other rooms all outdo each other with the richness of materials from alabaster and Lapis Lazuli to parchment wallpaper in the main diningroom. The choice of materials is not all about throwing around money, it is really sensitive to the use of the rooms in question; in the preparation area before the dining room, a rather humble linoleum is featured, because in this case it was the best for its purpose. Other rooms with titles such as the fumoir and the gunroom with its green velvet wall finish is what can only be described as fabulous, but also illustrates how far we are removed from this way of life.
The main staircase
A view from the Veranda into the Study (Floor of travertine with green marble bands)
Upstairs is as exquisite as the downstairs. Silk wall finishes and the most amazing bathroom of all time, made almost entirely of marble…
The upstairs Hall
The corridor with entrances to bedrooms and bathrooms