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Ar­chi­tect Bar­bara Ghi­doni has re­tained many of the in­her­ent quirks of her 1920s apart­ment in Mi­lan while in­fus­ing it with her dis­tinc­tive, fem­i­nine style

IN­TEGRITY IS A WORD THAT RES­ONATES deeply with ar­chi­tect Bar­bara Ghi­doni, one-third of the Mi­lanese de­sign stu­dio Stor­age As­so­ciati. It’s what guides the firm’s work for such big de­sign names as Dsquared2, Neil Bar­rett and Dolce & Gab­bana, mix­ing stark, clean lines with a pared-back use of rough, luxe, nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als. And it’s also what led Ghi­doni eight years ago to the 1920s apart­ment, lo­cated in the heart of the city, which she and her fam­ily now call home. Left to fall into dis­re­pair by its pre­vi­ous owner, who had lived there for more than 50 years, Ghi­doni em­braced its quirks. “I al­ways start ev­ery pro­ject in the same way,” she says. “I look for any traces of its his­tory, no mat­ter how fleet­ing, and use this as my start­ing point but re­work it with a con­tem­po­rary spirit. It makes no sense to start from a tab­ula rasa [clean state] if its story be­comes com­pletely ab­sent.” So here, de­spite the apart­ment’s com­pact 120-square-me­tre di­men­sions, Ghi­doni stayed true to its ex­ist­ing lay­out, re­mov­ing only one wall to create the large open-plan liv­ing and din­ing space. Tech­ni­cal­i­ties such as light­ing and air con­di­tion­ing were hid­den in the ceil­ing, orig­i­nal floors main­tained and ex­ist­ing ’20s door­frames re­painted. Strip­ping back the wall­pa­per, Ghi­doni dis­cov­ered “un­even plas­tered walls splat­tered with paint, traces of glue, and mea­sure­ments writ­ten in pen­cil”, which she has kept as they were. “I like the way it feels raw and real,” she says.

As a re­sult, it lends the space an in­her­ent sense of truth, cre­at­ing a place Ghi­doni feels, as she puts it, “safe and in­ti­mate”. Yet the apart­ment was only in­tended as a tem­po­rary home. “We’d sold our old house and we were wait­ing to ren­o­vate and move into a new one, so it was only meant to be a tran­si­tion,” says the ar­chi­tect. “But I fell in love with the apart­ment’s time­less­ness — the fin­ish of the old wooden and tiled floors, its lo­ca­tion and view. I didn’t want to leave.” Ghi­doni was en­thralled by the apart­ment’s lofty ceil­ings, al­most four me­tres high — “typ­i­cal of old Mi­lanese houses like this” — and the way gen­tle, dap­pled light filled the liv­ing area through­out the day. Sit­u­ated close to the city’s el­e­gant 18th-cen­tury land­scaped In­dro Mon­tanelli pub­lic gar­dens, near Porta Venezia, the ar­chi­tect also loved how she could look down at the tops of the plane trees lin­ing the road be­low. “This is quite a rare ex­pe­ri­ence for Mi­lan — it feels more like liv­ing on a French boule­vard,” she re­marks. Ghi­doni takes the same ap­proach at home as she does at her de­sign stu­dio: “play­ing with con­trasts — not only in shape and fin­ish, but in us­ing ma­te­ri­als in un­ex­pected ways”. A sub­tle pal­ette of pow­dery greys and lilacs re­flects the hazy, gen­tle qual­ity of the Mi­lanese light, mak­ing the space feel “very soft, al­most muf­fled”. Many of the walls have been painted with black-and-white skirt­ing. “It’s not a new idea — in the past, this kind of dec­o­ra­tion was nor­mal,” she ad­mits. “I just changed the pro­por­tions to make it feel more mod­ern.”

Fur­ni­ture is a mix of found and cus­tom-made pieces. Flea mar­ket trea­sures picked up on her trav­els from Paris and New York to Hong Kong, re­paired and re­uphol­stered, sit along­side clas­sics sourced from SG Gallery Mi­lano, one of Ghi­doni’s go-to vin­tage deal­ers in the city. Be­spoke pieces, like the aus­tere iron cabi­net de­signed by Ghi­doni that hangs sus­pended on one wall of the liv­ing area, pro­vide a coun­ter­point to clas­sic de­signs like the ’50s Gio Ponti cof­fee ta­bles. A mod­ernist pen­dant chandelier over the din­ing ta­ble, cre­ated by ar­ti­sans for Stor­age As­so­ciati, is an in­ter­pre­ta­tion of a favourite mid-cen­tury Ital­ian light.

“Each room has its own per­son­al­ity and char­ac­ter, but in all of them there is a touch of fem­i­nin­ity,” Ghi­doni ef­fuses. The mood is re­laxed and un­pre­ten­tious, and “al­most ac­ci­den­tal”. From the raw walls to the paintings found on London’s Por­to­bello Road, “every­thing has its own lit­tle story to tell and each one brings a sen­sa­tion of en­ergy from the past. This house re­flects how happy and good it makes us feel”.

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