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Despite being located in the heart of Milan, Villa Necchi Campiglio appears discreetly hidden in one of those corners to discover, just a stone’s throw away from the colors and noises of the Duomo and San Babila. It is not just a museum house or a historic Milanese residence, but a jewel designed by the great Milanese architect and designer, Piero Portaluppi.
Just his signature alone is worth a visit. Yet, when you find yourself immersed in the wide private garden that surrounds it, even before reaching the imposing entrance, it is difficult to imagine – if you don’t know it – the story that awaits you once you cross the threshold.
The eight steps that separate the garden from the entrance, small and with curved lines, appear taller than they actually are. Perhaps to prick that sense of awe and respect that one must have in front of a work of art.
We can’t wait to enter and we don’t pay much attention to the pool on our right. A little later, we will discover that it is the first private pool in Milan. And it’s not the only innovation that awaits us.
We enter and are welcomed into an environment designed for busy homeowners, where luxury is not excessive but manages to blend harmoniously with innovations such as elevators, dumbwaiters, internal intercoms, and electrically operated windows.
An environment with an elegant and rigorous style that mitigates the rationality of the external environment, which had already been softened in part by the pool and tennis court.
The raised floor is dedicated to reception and representation rooms where we admire the splendid library; the first floor to the bedrooms; the attic to the accommodations for the servants; the basement to the service rooms and leisure activities for the homeowners.
The entire environment is dominated by the large staircase leading to the upper floor. As we ascend, we caress the handrail of the staircase that Portaluppi had designed with dry geometries, but with the warmth of the wood that composes it, it appears sweeter.
We clearly notice the diamond shapes adorning the railing of the staircase. This is the constant around which the great Milanese designer conceived his project for Villa Necchi Campiglio. Just look up to see them on the ceiling and in many other architectural details of the house. Something more than just a detail, but a constant, non-invasive feature that makes any space unique.
The elegance is undeniable. But what one can feel in every breath is the extraordinary modernity of a house that is almost a century old but appears modern to us who admire it today. The bed and ceilings evoke an “aristocratic” touch, but the division of spaces and the stucco work bring a luxurious and modern dimension to comfort.
A dimension characterized by downright brilliant technological solutions. From the homogeneous panel heating system that looks like the radiators we see in all homes today (but in the 1930s, represented not only a luxury but above all an innovation), to the lighting system incorporated into the moldings on the ceilings. With the sun and perfect distribution of natural light entering through the large Portaluppi-designed windows, light is certainly not lacking. However, the layout and size of the house make it impossible to rely solely on lamps and chandeliers for illumination. So, Portaluppi’s genius led him to study a solution that is still modern and relevant today, with the irradiation system.
This is yet another demonstration of how technology and innovation were not just a “display of ostentation” but rather tools in the service of a new idea of comfort that would inspire our way of living in homes in the years to come.
This is what the Necchi sisters and Angelo Campiglio wanted, and in just three years, they got it.
As Portaluppi typically does, like other great designers of the time, he doesn’t overlook any details and takes care of all the furnishings, consistently repeating that diamond-shaped module that will become his signature on the Villa. But his is not the only prestigious signature, as in 1938 Tommaso Buzzi (founder along with Gio Ponti of the Domus magazine) “upends” at least part of Portaluppi’s work.
Later on, we’ll see how and why…
We are in 1932 when the sisters Nedda and Gigina Necchi and Angelo Campiglio, Gigina’s husband, commission the architect Piero Portaluppi to design their own house. The Milanese designer is already established and the goal is clear: to create a unique, suggestive home where Art Deco could tell the modern elegance of the upper bourgeoisie of the time. The house will be delivered to the owners in 1935.
It’s quite serendipitous how Gigina Necchi, originally from Pavia, and her husband Angelo Campiglio came across the building that would later become Villa Necchi Campiglio. They lost their way in the center of Milan and stumbled upon a small street named Mozart. Despite being so close to Corso Venezia, which they knew well, they found themselves surrounded by new construction sites. Then they saw a sign that said “For Sale”. The owner was Count Cicogna, and Angelo quickly decided to buy the entire area.
The story of the Necchi sisters soon became intertwined with that of this Milanese doctor who would later leave his profession to embark on a new entrepreneurial venture with his father-in-law – Neca, an iron foundry that produced motors for refrigerators. Gigina and Angelo would remain married for a wonderful 62 years.
Architect Piero Portaluppi was already envisioning the center of a changing metropolis that craved modernity. He was already designing for many wealthy Milanese families. He was the right man for this challenge.
The story of Villa Necchi Campiglio is not only linked to Italian design and the greatness of Piero Portaluppi because, when Mussolini consolidated his power, he “fell in love” with this architectural gem in the heart of Milan and simply took it. Without asking permission, as always.
The villa became the residence and command of Alessandro Pavolini, secretary of the fascist party until the fall of the regime. But its vicissitudes did not end there because, after the fall of the Republic of Salò, it was first occupied by the English and then became the residence of the consul of the Netherlands before being returned to its rightful owners. After more than 10 years, the house is no longer the same, or perhaps the Necchi Campiglio family no longer feels it is theirs as before. They called on architect Tomaso Buzzi (between 1950 and 1955) to erase the scent of regime and violence that had impregnated the furniture, curtains, and even the masterpieces of furniture, including Japanese art artifacts.
Japanese art and Art Deco? Yes, in a combination that today may sound like a gamble, but which, almost a hundred years ago, symbolized a harmonious contrast between antiquity and modernity in an only apparent dichotomy.
Angelo Campiglio died in 1984 and Nedda nine years later. When Gigina also passed away in 2001, the villa was entrusted to the care of the FAI, just as the sisters and Angelo had wished, wanting it to become a place to “give” to the city. The Villa passed to the Foundation in 2008 and in 2009 became the setting for the film “I Am Love” by director Luca Guadagnino, receiving a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globes. More recently, it was used, along with other Italian places, as a set for Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci.
The Villa has been enriched with new donations, such as the De Micheli collection with paintings and decorative art works from the 18th century, as well as masterpieces from the early 20th century signed by Carrà, De Chirico, and Morandi, which are part of the Claudia Gian Ferrari Collection.
Visiting Villa Necchi Campiglio is an exciting experience of luxury and modernity. These are the characteristics that have made Villa Necchi Campiglio one of the most evocative places in Milan and a symbol of an era.
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