Jewellery designer Cynthia Vilchez Castiglioni found a home in the heart of Milan that couldn’t have been more appropriate — a medieval-era former convent in a district historically inhabited by goldsmiths.
Jewellery designer Cynthia Vilchez Castiglioni found a home in the heart of Milan that couldn’t have been more appropriate — a medieval-era former convent in a district historically inhabited by goldsmiths
Cynthia Vilchez Castiglioni traded her native Venezuela for Italy when she arrived in Milan in 2008 as a student of fashion marketing. A decade later she has graduated, married a dashing Italian — Giovanni Castiglioni, with whom she has two children — and decorated their family home with youthful freshness and finesse. Along the way she also found time to launch her own artisanal jewellery brand, Aliita, which is celebrating its third year as well as the opening of its first retail location in Tokyo, where the delicate, unfussy necklaces, earrings and other pieces are popular. The jewellery is handcrafted in Italy using 9-karat gold and natural stones, and each collection has been developed in collaboration with interior designer Haidyne Azevedo. Coincidentally, the very first Aliita piece they created was a charmingly simple gold pendant in the shape of a house. Cynthia and Giovanni found their own home, located not far from the iconic Duomo cathedral in the heart of Milan, four years ago. Over time, she discovered that the nearby streets had historically been the goldsmiths’ district of Milan, and to this day the area retains a surprisingly high density of metalworkers and jewellers plying their trade. “I’ll go out for a meeting with one craftsman and along the way I’ll discover three more jewellery makers,” Cynthia notes. “It seemed like a sign that we’d landed in the right place.”
“I’ll be honest, we first fell in love with the building — a former convent from the 1500s with a very simple and beautiful colonnaded patio at its heart — because the neighbourhood was not exactly our usual area”
The building had been completely overhauled a few years earlier by architect Piero Castellini, whose original brief was to create a luxury hotel, but along the way the project switched to residential apartments. When the couple bought their 280-square-metre space, they had some big ideas about how to improve its layout and change some finishes, but they quickly learned that the permit process in Italy can stall even the most enthusiastic plans. “We waited and waited for licenses that never came and finally just started living in the house as it was,” Cynthia remembers. “Eventually we realised that some of our proposed changes were completely unnecessary, so in the end all that paperwork and bureaucracy saved us.”
With no major renovation to wrangle over, the task of making the apartment their home became a process of pure decoration — wall colours, fabrics, furniture, art and lighting. In this endeavour, the couple let their natural affinities guide them.
“Giovanni has such a passion for furniture and objects that we spend part of practically every weekend at vintage furniture markets and antiques fairs,” says Cynthia, noting that her own decorating passions tilt more toward colour and textiles. “We’ve been all over Italy and Europe seeking out the exact pieces he has in mind.” Both of their talents are abundantly displayed in the living room, where standout 1960s designs like the futuristic Egg chairs by Mario Sabot take centre stage while two slender white LT8 lamps by Osvaldo Borsani suggest a visual division between the living and dining areas. Giovanni’s family has been involved in fashion for generations (his parents, Gianni and Consuelo Castiglioni, founded Marni in 1994), so it’s no surprise that the chic vintage Knoll dining table came from his grandmother’s house, as did a massive mirror with a curvy bevelled top that had previously been in her dressing room. The space’s bold juxtaposition of creamy white and intense grey walls and the luxurious mustard-coloured velvet curtains were Cynthia’s doing.
For the last three years, the apartment has also housed Aliita’s showroom — although that will change when the growing business soon moves into nearby offices. The couple cobbled together the jewellery gallery’s altar-like centre table by putting a lustrous new marble top on a curvy bronze base they found at an antiques shop. Providing a vivid counterpoint to the room’s cool Prussian blue walls is a luminous pomegranate-red Chinese silk carpet, another Castiglioni family heirloom. And the well-curated mix of objects on the shelves is just a sampling of Giovanni’s flea market shopping prowess. The designer saw working from home as a win/win situation. “It gave me a chance to be with my children when they were young and really needed me and, as it turned out, clients actually liked coming off the streets into the warmth of a home,” she says. “I had quality time for both my family and my business.”