Although proud of the number of “issues” we have with Milan design week and furniture fair.
It does of course also have its positive sides.
Most of which are to be found down quiet, unassuming side streets.
Last year we discovered Azucena. This year Villa Necchi.
Built in the first half of the 1930s by Italian architect Piero Portaluppi on behalf of a (very) rich Milanese industrial family, Villa Necchi is just about the most “In-your-face” building you are ever likely to set foot in.
In every room, every staircase, every corridor one feels the battle between classical Italian pomp, the spirit of the Renaissance and the striving for a new form, for a brave new world.
One could even class it as the physical manifestation of the struggle between the old and new guard in Italian architecture. Possibly.
Either way we’ve never seen so much marble in one house. Or so many bathrooms.
In 2001 Villa Necchi passed over to the FAI – Fondo Ambiente Italiano, effectively the Italian National Trust – and so is now available for us all to enjoy.
Until May 6th Villa Necchi is hosting the exhibition “Details of Life and New Visions” (Dettagli di Vita e Nuove Visioni), or perhaps better put is hosting the two exhibitions.
Jointly organised by the FAI and Fabrica (the Benetton Group’s communication research centre) “Details of Life and New Visions” asked members of the Fabrica team to create new objects based on the history, story and, in effect “former life” of the Villa Necchi and its inhabitants. For the realisation of the projects co-operation partners such as Moleskine, Nodus, Zanotta or Agape were organised.
The “first” part of the exhibition is a collection of photos, drawings, prototypes and drafts that explain the background thinking and what the designer wanted to achieve.
In the Villa itself the end pieces have then been integrated with the existing furnishings – thus placing the new, derived objects in a direct dialogue with their inspiration.
A concept that works very well.
As with all such projects; while most of the objects are interesting enough, the majority are not spectacular.
For while such projects are a valid and useful exercise; there are invariably only a limited number of worthwhile results.
A designer working by themself would reject 80% of the prototypes; an exhibition takes everything.
But that’s fine.The exhibition is documenting the work done. Not selling us anything.
The more important point is that the couple of truly good objects on display are magnificent.
The highlight for us is without question the vases created for Nedda Necchi’s bedroom.
A very simple idea, a vase with holes where you can tie a tag reminding you who sent the flowers that once graced the vase.
The inspiration was the flowers sent by Nedda’s many suitors and secret admirers.
Sending flowers remains a powerful, meaningful gesture, yet is by its nature is a temporal gesture. A nice leather tag on which the recipient can record - ideally, we feel, in a secret code – who sent what when gives the gesture a permanence.
And that really appeals to us.
We were also greatly tickled by the mirror and coffee table projects. If you know what Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec are launching with Established & Sons in Milan this year you’ll understand. And the rest of you will understand very soon.
In the past several designers have told us that they believe that often ideas float in the ether, and all designers can pick them up and use them. The question is who picks up the signal, and who gets their product on the market first…… We felt that when we saw the sketches for table and mirror.
Apart from the vase, mirror and table we very much liked the Moleskine travelling set and the poolside accessories developed in conjunction with Moroso and Alessi.
But until May 6th all have the chance to explore the exhibition(s) and decide for yourself what works and what doesn’t
On a technical note the first part of the exhibition is free, one just has to climb the sort of staircase that really should have Sherpas to help you carry your belongings to the top. Viewing the objects in-situ does involve paying entry to Villa Necchi. We’d advise that in any case.
Details of Life and New Visions runs at Villa Necchi, via Mozart, 14, 20122 Milan until May 6th.