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Villa Necchi Campiglio: Architecture, Design & Fashion Made in Italy

Veranda, Villa Necchi Campiglio, Milano. Image courtesy of Alessandra Cianni Zambotto

Every summer, Milan Arch Week casts light on the architectural treasures of the Italian capital of design, offering tours and visits of house-museums. One of the most precious examples of Milanese twentieth-century architecture and lifestyle is the Villa Necchi Campiglio, tucked away on the central via Mozart. Designed by Piero Portaluppi in the 1930s and revamped by Tomaso Buzzi in the 1950s, it was the house of the Necchi Campiglio, a bourgeois industrialist family whose fortune was founded on the iconic Necchi sewing machines – think iPhones today. In 2008, after seven years of restoration, the villa and its peaceful gardens were opened to the public by FAI, the Italian National Trust. Here are three reasons why you should visit the villa as part of the Grand Tour.

1) Piero Portaluppi in Milan

Piero Portaluppi (1988-1967) is one of the most successful Milanese architects, mostly known for building, renovating and restoring landmarks of the Lombard capital, such as the Palace of the Banca Commerciale Italiana (1928-32), the Pinacoteca di Brera (1946-1963), and the pavement of the piazza del Duomo (1964). Whoever has been to Milan has seen his works – knowingly, or not. Villa Necchi, however, offers an intimate insight into the architect’s mind -- almost as a manifesto of his style in rationalist terms -- between 1932 and 1935. The four-storey house combines high-ceiling, geometric and ergonomic spaces with finely decorated furniture made in precious materials, from walnut wood panelling to marble mantelpieces, from lapis lazuli coffee table to parchment wallpaper. But it is in the finishing touches that Portaluppi’s hand is most visible: the architect had a special interest in geometrical patterns, such as lozenges and square intersecting lines, which have become his personal trademark and are to be found on the ceilings, pavements, table legs and radiator covers of the villa. He was also passionate about astrological figurative pictures, as indicated by the star-shape window on the second floor among other things.

2) A heavenly garden in the city centre

One of the most successful rooms of Villa Necchi Campiglio for me is the veranda on the first floor. One of the most authentic rooms of the house, it has been unaltered throughout the twentieth century, and epitomises Portaluppi’s genius. Overlooking the gorgeous garden through a greenhouse, sandwiched between double-glazed horizontal sliding windows, the veranda is an unusual architectural solution for an Italian urban house of the time. Historically, countryside villas in Italy display porticos, loggias or terraces, offering a pleasant transition between the indoor spaces and the building’s natural environment, one famous example is Villa Medici at Careggi, near Florence, with its loggias made by Michelozzo (1396-1472). Portaluppi’s innovation on the concept of the family house, whose walls merge with the surrounding nature, is therefore a precious testimony of his modern mastery of Italian cultural and architectural heritage. The garden, which also boasts Milan’s first private swimming pool, extends inside the room long the serpentine and marble inlayed pavement and the aqua green walls and S-shaped sofas.

3) Fashion made in Italy

As for Tomaso Buzzi’s work on the villa, his most exciting contributions are the rigorously organised built-in wardrobes in the family bedrooms on the second-floor. Nedda Necchi’s closet was open for us to peep into her impressive haute couture collection of bags, suits, fur coats and fashion accessories. Mostly from the thirties and in perfect condition, it looked as if she had just left the house. Very impressive as well were the silk scarfs and toiletry bags bearing the family initials in each bedroom, and the wardrobe where the staff would embroider sheets, towels and other house cloths, with Necchi sewing machines!

As personalised and home-made as it can be, Villa Necchi Campiglio is an exceptional treasure of style Made in Italy, which justifies on its own Milan’s fame in architecture, fashion and design today.

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