The Most Elegant House in the World
The Villa Necchi (yes, the house in "I Am Love") is a private residence-turned-museum of unparalleled beauty.
Photograph courtesy of the Fondo Ambiente Italiano.
In the realm of outrageously luxurious homes, Villa Necchi Campiglio exists on a separate plane from the gilded halls of Versailles or the gilded everything of Trump Tower. That isn’t to imply that the villa—a private-residence-turned-museum from the 1930s, set on a gated swath of green in central Milan—is a beacon of modesty. It’s an almost neuorotically geometric, Italian Rationalist mansion in the middle of a crowded city, after all, crafted from very expensive stone and marble, with tennis courts, rooms reserved for visiting royalty and Milan’s first private swimming pool. Part of what makes it such a distinct addition to Italy’s robust house museum circuit is its relative newness, in comparison to other stops like the 15th century Casa Guidi in Florence or Milan’s Museo Poldi Pezzoli, which has been open to the public since 1881.
The home was conceived by architect Piero Portaluppi as a place for the original residents—Nedda Necchi, her sister Gigina, and Gigina’s husband Angelo Campiglio—to entertain and show off their fortune from Necchi sewing machines and Campiglio refrigerator motors, among other not entirely sexy domestic items.
But, whereas it’s often easy to get lost in the staggering so-muchness of other opulent, Old World homes that were built to impress, it’s not that difficult to imagine the Necchi Campiglio clan actually living here, too, which lends the space a certain intimacy and an appeal beyond the usual shock and awe of glancing back at how the pre-EU 1% lived.
Envisioning a well-off family traipsing across the parquet floors and retreating to the smoking room may be particularly easy if you’ve seen the Luca Guadagnino movie I Am Love, which starred Tilda Swinton and was filmed on the premises. (We're suckers for Guadagnino's interiors; who isn't?) Or if, like the Necchi-Campiglios, you can appreciate a childless lifestyle, free from offspring who might fuck up the parchment-covered walls in the dining room or scratch the mahogany mechanical desk in Angelo’s ground floor office. (The desk is the work of Giovanni Socci, by the way, and the only two others known to still exist can be found at Palazzo Pitti in Florence and the Louvre.)
Aside from furniture, there are also plenty of artifacts left behind from when Gigna, the last of the family standing, died in 2001. The upstairs apartments were separated by a hall of closets, and the Necchi sisters’ extensive hat collection is preserved behind glass in one. These ladies loved a chapeau and designer goods of all kinds: alongside ample religious curios and iconography lingering in Nedda’s room—a portrait of Jesus still keeps close watch in case her twin-size canopy bed inspires any visitors to get frisky—jackets and custom scarves from Gucci, Dior and Hermes are on display.
But the best window into how the Necchi-Campiglios lived may be, appropriately, the room with the most windows. The veranda, just off the library, has remained virtually unchanged from the way Portaluppi designed it, despite the overhaul architect Tomaso Buzzi performed in other areas of the home after WWII. (The rumor goes that the original design looked a little too, well, fascist—especially after the Fascist Party used the house as their headquarters during the war.) There is a seafoam green set of chairs and a sofa, near a lapis lazuli coffee table. Potted plants are tucked in the space between the windows' double panes of glass. It’s the least adorned area of the villa (aside from the staff quarters, obviously), ideal for enjoying a moment of quiet reflection or stunting on the comparatively meager houseplant shelfscape every Chinatown resident and Dimes patron has in their fifth floor walk up.
And, just in case a resident were to get too lost in their thoughts and forget to close one of those gorgeous windows overlooking the garden, allowing a burglar or a jealous social climber entry inside, the veranda can be sealed from the rest of the house via sliding doors forged from heavy-duty silver. When you want to show off how comfortable your home is, you can’t ever get too comfortable.