MILAN 25.3.2016


As I go behind the wall surrounding the house at Via Mozart 14, I become Tilda Swinton for a while. Like her, I take light steps along the gravel path. I pass pergolas with aromatic wisterias and turn to the elegant residence of Lombardian industrialists hidden in greenery from Milan’s noise
I first visited Villa Necchi Campiglio guided by the desire to escape the intensity and noise of the trade fair experience at Milan Design Week at least for a while. The direction was shown to me by “Io Sono L’Amore” (“I Am Love”), a movie I had once watched, directed by Luca Guadagnino, in which the British actress played Emma, the wife of a textile magnate. The critics proclaimed that 2009 melodrama a masterpiece of the genre. I reckon that Villa Necchi Campiglio contributed quite a lot to that: it helped create the movie and its unique atmosphere as if it was one of the characters. That day, hungry for the impressions of sunny Italy and for a moment of freedom from images painfully filling my head (I saw several hundred premieres in the interior design industry), I entered the world that enchanted me.

Villa Necchi Campiglio was built in the years 1932–1935, when Lombardy’s entrepreneurial spirit and urban architecture were both in their heyday (that period saw the construction of the world’s first paid highway – from Milan to Varese). The residence’s owners were sisters Nedda and Gigina Necchi and the latter’s husband Angelo Campiglio. They lived there until death. Gigina was the last one to pass away: she died in 2001, having previously turned 100. The villa was handed over to the city, renovated and finally opened for the public in 2008.

The Necchi Campiglio family included typical upper class representatives of the wealthy circles gathering Milan’s factory owners: the Necchi company produced famous sewing machines. Those modernity mentors and art patrons loved affluent lifestyle and participated in the city’s civic and cultural life. In the post-war period, that social group contributed to modernizing Milan’s urban fabric, which was visible e.g. in launching the first underground line or Fiera – an international trade fair area. It is precisely this place that has hosted Salone Internazionale del Mobile di Milano, world’s biggest interior design trade fair, every year since 1961.

The Necchi Campiglio family entrusted architect Piero Portaluppi (1888–1967) with designing their suburban villa together with all comforts accompanying a modern single-family building: a tennis court, a swimming pool with heated water and a garden. Though the clear silhouette of the villa demonstrates austere functionalism, which definitely rejected all decorations, the interiors are dominated by the art déco style. After World War II, the owners, assisted by architect Mario Bruzzi (1900–1981), supplemented the rooms with a collection of 17th- and 18th-century art works and with furniture referring to the Neo-Renaissance style, thus making their atmosphere even nobler. The most interesting feature of the building is harmonious merging of functional space with decorative refinement, which probably stems from the owners’ attachment to the centuries-old tradition of Italian architecture. Luxury and first-class craftsmanship is visible in every detail of the interiors: rosewood panels decorating the walls of the entrance hall, rhythmically reappearing geometrical forms of objects created by applied art, brass covers of heaters or a walnut balustrade in the entrance hall.


My favourite room is a sunny porch with a set of comfortable celadon sofas designed by Portaluppi himself. It was their velour touch that softly embraced the character portrayed by Tilda Swinton in Guadagnino’s masterpiece as she pondered the tender arms of her lover. The room’s entrance is brass slide door repeating the “brick” motif found in the hall, while huge windows that can be opened wide integrate the interior with the beautiful garden. The shadows of dignified trees protect plumes of fern, green carpets of ground cover plants, elegant hortensias and noble compositions of Japanese maples reflected in the sheet of the swimming pool.

The owners’ private rooms on the first floor are also charming. They are located at the end of a huge atrium with a tunnel vault furnished with spacious wardrobes which present the original clothes worn by the Necchi sisters. The bathrooms at each apartment are thoroughly modern: they could serve as model designs for many contemporary villas. Here, the hand can feel the nobility of materials and the mastery of craftsmanship hardly found nowadays. By the way, the spacious shower stand tiled with solid marble blocks and furnished with glass panes and hydrotherapy nozzles must have been considered as quite extravagant in the 1930s.


During business travels, I like to extend the range of my experience by additional contexts, places and moods; they sometimes depart far from the main theme of the travel, but provide a fuller picture of the location I visit. When Studio Fabrica (the Benetton group’s design studio) invited me to visit the villa again in April last year, I ended up in the middle of a vernissage presenting works inspired by Italian landscape and architecture. Whispers of friendly conversations over a glass of white wine, interrupted from time to time with pleasant laughter, were hanging over the swimming pool in the garden. The coffee mill crunched meaningfully and then a double knock on the bar table announced the smell of delicious coffee. I sipped it for the rest of the afternoon, savouring the “dolce far niente”. That moment bore no resemblance to the anxious aura of the film evening when Emma ran down the marble stairs towards the swimming pool to meet something that would change her life forever… My image of Villa Necchi warmed the senses and filled my “Milan” memory box for the whole year.

The route of private residences
Villa Necchi Campiglio belongs to a chain called Case Museo di Milano, which includes three more fascinating house museums made available for the public by the inheritors of the famous Milan families: the Bagatti Valsecchi museum, the house of Boschi di Stefano and the Poldi Pezzoli museum. They are all located in the city centre and visiting them allows you to learn personal stories of architecture and applied art against the background of Milan’s social evolution.