KEEPING IT REAL
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”.