It is quite a bit younger than most other historic homes discussed in this series, but certainly not less impressive or authentic: Villa Necchi Campiglio, an architectural gem tucked away in a quiet, leafy side street in the chaotic city center of Milan.
The house was designed by the architect Piero Purtaluppi for the sisters of the Necchi family (producers of sewing machines), Nedda and Gigina, and the latter’s husband Angelo Campiglio. Built in the early 1930s, it is a good example of Movimento Moderno, Italian rationalist architecture – which is sometimes referred to as rationalist-fascist architecture because this building style was so loved by Il Duce. In fact, the house became a headquarters for the Fascist Republican Party in 1943, while the family moved to the countryside.
Anyhow, Portaluppi’s design for the complex was extensive and progressive. It included the interior outlines, finishes and decoration, and contained luxurious elements such as a heated swimming pool and a private tennis court, which was very modern at the time and a first in Milan.
Inside, the clean lines continue in solid rooms. Rooms that are all embellished with special, luxurious materials such as semi-precious stones, expensive wood, mirrored glass and warm-hued metals. Whereas in designing the exterior and interior lay-out Portaluppi seems to have had a ‘no-nonsense’ attitude, these special surfaces (whether on floors, walls or doors) add a luxurious feel and real grandeur.
In the entrance hall the central staircase is clad in walnut and rosewood and looks absolutely sumptuous.
Other specifically nice features on the main floor are the lozenge stucco ceiling in the library, the wood-and-brass sliding doors to the dining room and another handsome pair of doors made of steel between the library and the garden room.
And a coffee table of another precious stone sits in the smoking room:
After the unfortunate interruption mentioned above, the family moved back into the villa in the 1950s and they must have felt a need for change.
They employed the designer Tomaso Buzzi to add more ‘obvious’ splendour to the house in the form of ornate fireplaces, tapestries and other antique furnishings that now feel a bit out of place in Portaluppi’s original streamlined design. However these furnishings were simply very much en vogue among upper class Italians at the time, and Buzzi’s 19th-century-ish touches have now become part of the history and contents of the house.
The salon on the main floor shows a mixture of Portaluppi’s and Buzzi’s designs: the amazing fireplace surrounded by mirrored glass was part of Portaluppi’s design whereas the carpet, antique furniture and curtains were added by Buzzi:
On the first floor much of the original thirties design has remained untouched and once again shows Portaluppi’s aesthetic of ‘streamlined yet adorned':
Corridor with arched ceiling adorned with lozenge stucco.
The spacious bathrooms, covered in different coloured types of marble and mirror glass, are very glamorous.
Even the servant’s areas in this house are elaborate and detailed in their design. This staircase for example is made of marble and the walls were painted to imitate the same kind of marble:
To conclude, Villa Necchi Campiglio is an absolute must-see in Milan if you’re into mid-century design. Not planning a visit to Milan in the near future? Watching the 2010 Italian film Io sono l’amore (I am love) is another way to (virtually) wander through the house and admire its thirties aesthetic. Some of Buzzi’s later additions were removed before filming to emphasize the original interior features. In this movie it is definitely the house, not the plot or characters, that steals the show.
The dining room without Buzzi’s tapestries in the film Io sono l’amore (image courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)
(All photographs of the house and its interiors taken by the author, except image of central staircase, library and garden-room doors (Giorgo Majno) and first floor corridor (Massimo Ripani)