As well as an amazing array of large, blockbuster museums, Milan can also offer some gorgeous house museums, for those that like to enjoy things on a more personal scale. One lovely summer day we decided to visit two of these gems, located in contrasting 1930’s buildings with the bonus of a walk along an extraordinary Art Nouveau street along the way.
We started our day in The Boschi Di Stefano Museum, located in the apartment home that was once shared by Antonio Boschi and Marieda Di Stefano. The building is designed by Piero Portaluppi, who was also the architect of the second home that we visited, the individual family home that is, Villa Necchi Campiglio but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.
First up, it’s worth mentioning that the Boschi Di Stefano is free to visit. On our arrival we were met by a charming gentleman, who took great delight in telling us that there was “no charge, the owners of the house had wanted everyone to enjoy the collection. Art is for everyone” he continued, “not just the rich.” The building is located on a quiet side street in a residential, yet central part of town. On entering the building, you make your way up an elegant staircase and then enter the apartment.
Lovely as the property is (and it is!), the real star of the show is the incredible array of 20th century art which is crammed into every available piece of wall space. In addition to this there are many lovely pieces of furniture from the same period throughout the property. Apparently the couple acquired over two thousand pieces during their years of collecting, the property displays over 300 of these. These are mainly works by Italian artists such as Sironi, de Chirico and the like. Our genial host though was very keen to point out the large works in the bathroom, were by the British artist Ralph Rumney.
It’s an amazing property with something to catch your eye in every direction. We were fortunate that the museum was not very busy, so we could almost imagine that we were idly whiling away an hour or so in a friends place. It would have to be a friend with deep pockets and brilliant taste though! A lovely place to spend time in, and don’t forget to admire the stunning floor on the landing and stairwell as you leave.
After leaving this place, we had a simple Pasta meal in one of the many restaurants nearby before heading to one of the most spectacular side streets in the city. The Via Marcello Malpighi has some beautifully decorated buildings from the Art Nouveau era, or the Liberty Style as it is known here. Look up to see stunning work from Stone masons and wonderful, colourfully painted adornments around windows. Casa Galimberti is the star of the street, vibrant figures look out at you as a mass of painted foliage snakes ever upwards. Brilliantly over the top and well worth a little diversion.
From here it’s not too far to walk to the Villa Necchi Campiglio, another 1930’s gem. This is a stand alone family home, complete with swimming pool in the garden, which must have caused a sensation when it was built. Unlike the Boschi Di Stefano property, there is an entry fee here, however, if you are a member of the National Trust in the UK, you can use your membership to obtain free entry. You enter the house via a small shop, where you can book onto a guided tour, luckily some of these are in English, which is rather splendid.
The money that paid for the house came from the Necchi sewing machine dynasty. A large swath of which was pointed in the direction of Piero Portaluppi with the instruction to to provide a beautiful modern house. He certainly succeeded. The house is an elegant and charming beauty, fit for any wealthy family about town.This really feels like a house that should be lived in, indeed it was until 2001 and many of the rooms feel like the owners may have just popped out for a while.
The house is raised from ground level, and after walking up some elegant steps, you arrive in a large hallway which sets the tone for the house, with it’s beautiful sense of serene simplicity. I say sets the tone for the house, which it does for the most part, there are though some aberrations, which I’ll talk about more later!
The hallway features a lift, apparently the first lift in a domestic property in the whole of Italy, but you will ascend via the wonderful central staircase. Before doing so though, you can enjoy some fantastic rooms downstairs, the star of which is the heavily glazed corner room which overlooks the garden. It’s a stunning room, all the better for it’s simple, stark lines. The sliding doors around the ground floor ooze quality and style, this is a very luxurious, yet understated modernist classic of a home.
There are some amendments to the house which actually caused a sharp intake of breath and some serious tutting from our guided party. For some reason at one point, it was thought that these bold modern rooms were to much of a shock for the more traditional members of high society. This resulted in some ghastly Louis XIV style interior remodelling, which are massively out of keeping from the rest of the property.
Moving on though, the bedrooms and bathrooms give you a real sense of the life that was lived in this home. There are still many items of clothing and a brilliant collection of hats. The marble bathrooms are classics, quality materials abound, yet nothing is flashy or over the top.
As with The Boschi Di Stefano apartment, the house is filled with art. It doesn’t fill every available piece of wall here, the collection and display feel rather more considered and maybe, not quite as much fun. Much to enjoy though and pleasingly we weren’t rushed on the tour, so we had plenty of time to take in both the art and the often glorious surroundings.
The tour ends in the basement of the property, leaving you free to enjoy the lovely garden with it’s swimming pool. Here there is a cafe, there can be few finer places to grab a drink and sit, than alongside the pool, looking back at this beautiful house and wshing that your family had been heavily involved in the burgeoning 20th century sewing machine market. Maybe they would have built you something like this.