Milan’s design mojo: the city’s late greats and new talent vie to wow Picky Nicky

Drawing of men in brightly patterned office
Picky Nicky knows Milan like the back of his hand. For our July issue (W*208), he reveals the city's late greats and rediscovered havens...
(Image credit: Danae Diaz)

For me, Salone del Mobile, held each spring in Milan, starts with the tiresome task of going through invitations and just under 400 e-vites. I sift the must-sees from the must-nots and make a day-by-day plan. With my list, I can easily skip the crapola (there is sadly plenty of that) and see the best. Instagram is handy for editing the list further (overexposure is a turn-off) or adding in stops that I may have overlooked.

This year’s highlight was a project celebrating 400 years of ceramic production in Arita, a town on Kyushu Island, Japan. Masterminded by Teruhiro Yanagihara, creative director of pottery company 1616/Arita, and Scholten & Baijings, it brought together ten potteries and 16 designers under one umbrella brand – known as 2016/. As a presentation, it ticked all the boxes: great story-telling, exceptional products, dynamic displays and a very nice spot for lunch where you got to try out the merchandise.

Over the course of a week, I met a few frequent visitors to Milan who had never been before during Salone, so had never seen the city so alive. Their enthusiasm for Milan at its most vibrant – and open – reminded me never to take it for granted, and a few unplanned stops reminded me why design is at its heart.

I queued for a good part of the morning (something Picky Nicky does not normally do) to visit the apartment of late Milanese architect Piero Portaluppi in the Casa degli Atellani. Although parts of the main house and gardens are always open to the public, Portaluppi’s apartment was opened exceptionally for just four days during Salone. That’s me in the sketch above, chatting with Portaluppi (as I imagined him) beside his superb heptagonal fireplace. Of course, if Wallpaper* had been around during his time, we would have snapped him up as a guest editor, commissioned him to participate in Wallpaper* Handmade, or both.

He built many beautiful buildings across the city, including the Casa Villa Necchi in 1935, famous for its role in Luca Guadagnino’s 2009 film I Am Love. I first visited as a guest of Giorgio Armani in 2008 – he was one of the patrons of its restoration by Fondo Ambiente Italiano (FAI) – and Wallpaper* featured it in a May 2009 Milan special (W*122).

My final stop was Portaluppi’s 1925 Albergo Diurno Venezia, a subterranean delight that included barbers’, manicure and pedicure stations, a travel agent’s and public conveniences. Abandoned for at least a decade, it is now managed by FAI, which has recently opened it to the public for a limited time. I am hoping that one of Milan’s fashion houses will help restore it and bring it back into use.


Must-sees by Milan’s maestri:

By Angelo Mangiarotti Church of Mater Misericordiae (1957), via Conciliazione 24, Baranzate; Casa a Tre Cilindri (1959), via Gavirate 27; apartments (1960), via Quadronno 24; Milano Repubblica metro station (1990).

By Luigi Caccia Dominioni – Casa Caccia Dominioni (1947), Piazza Sant’Ambrogio 16; via Santa Maria alla Porta 11 (1960); Convento di Sant’Antonio dei Frati Francescani (1963), via Carlo Farini 10; Galleria Strasburgo (1966), via Durini.

By Piero Portaluppi – Casa degli Atellani (1921), Corso Magenta 65; Planetario Hoepli (1930), Corso Venezia; via Tommaso Salvini 1 (1930); Casa Villa Necchi (1935), via Mozart 14.


Fantastic foundations:

Fondazione Studio Museo Vico Magistretti, via Conservatorio 20
Fondazione Achille Castiglioni, Piazza Castello 27
Fondazione Franco Albini, via Telesio 13

As originally featured in the July 2016 issue of Wallpaper* (W*208)

Drawing of large abstract brick building

Chic retreat no.1: experience brutalist beauty in the Huis Van Wassenhove, outside Ghent. Built in 1974 by Juliaan Lampens, it can be rented via the Dhondt-Dhaenens Museum

(Image credit: Danae Diaz)

Drawing of bedroom with exposed brick wall

Chic retreat no. 2: John Pawson’s Life House in Wales sleeps six and has a contemplation space buried in the hillside, plus a calming music selection

(Image credit: Danae Diaz)


Illustrator: Danae Diaz

Also known as Picky Nicky, Nick Vinson has contributed to Wallpaper* Magazine for the past 21 years. He runs Vinson&Co, a London-based bureau specialising in creative direction and interiors for the luxury goods industry. As both an expert and fan of Made in Italy, he divides his time between London and Florence and has decades of experience in the industry as a critic, curator and editor.