Caffè Fernanda — Milan, Italy

Canaletto walnut wood bar at Caffè Fernanda restaurant, Milan, Italy
(Image credit: Michele Nastasi)

The wizards at the historic Brera Pinacoteca have officially elevated the art of the museum cafe. Caffè Fernanda — named for Fernanda Wittgens, the gallery’s erstwhile director responsible for rebuilding the institution following its bombing in the Second World War — serves up coffee, cakes and evening aperitivo to the gallery-goers and art students that populate the institution’s hallowed halls. Based on design alone, the spot certainly does the visionary justice. Set in the former ticket office, the space was originally designed by midcentury hometown hero Piero Portaluppi. Milan-based rgastudio framed the architect’s broad arched windows with inky blue-painted walls but left much of the original space intact. ‘Like many historic buildings in Milan, Caffé Fernanda is the result of a series of interventions from different eras,' explains rgastudio’s Giuliano Iamele.

Original marble floors and door-frames were left in-situ, a heavy contrast to the delicately fluted exterior of the brass-topped Canaletto walnut wood bar, gold-toned, mirror-backed shelving unit and slick brass and rose-coloured table and chair sets by Pedrali.

Iamele cites the 17th-century painting by Pietro Damini, St. Bernard Converting the Duke of Aquitaine, hung behind the bar as the starting point of the project. Him and design partner Raffaele Azzarelli crafted the cafe’s proportions around its monumental size. Other gems from the gallery’s vast collection are also on display, a few even dedicated to the cafe’s namesake. Bertel Thorvaldsen’s The Three Graces sits alongside a bust of Fernanda Wittgens by Marino Marini as well as her portrait by Attilio Rossi. ‘We like the idea that historical architecture is constantly evolving,' says Iamele' But, if you ask us, we think it’s ok if this version sticks around for a while. 

Bertel Thorvaldsen The Three Graces at Caffè Fernanda restaurant, Milan, Italy

(Image credit: Michele Nastasi)

Rgastudio interior design at Caffè Fernanda restaurant, Milan, Italy

(Image credit: Michele Nastasi)

Dining room at Caffè Fernanda restaurant, Milan, Italy

(Image credit: Michele Nastasi)


Via Brera 28


Laura May Todd, Wallpaper's Milan Editor, based in the city, is a Canadian-born journalist covering design, architecture and style. She regularly contributes to a range of international publications, including T: The New York Times Style Magazine, Architectural Digest, Elle Decor, Azure and Sight Unseen, and is about to publish a book on Italian interiors.