In central Milan it makes more sense to renovate than trade up. Over four-fifths of the country’s residents live in private homes, and a 100 sq m property in Milan costs on average €380,000. Although one as covetable as Calvi Brambilla’s would set you back a little more.
Located in a 19th-century block on Corso Buenos Aires, one of Milan’s busiest shopping boulevards, this apartment is a glorious expanse of space, all soaring ceilings, dappled light and delicate detailing. Designed by Calvi Brambilla Architetti, the restoration took 18 months to complete.
“This was not just decoration; it was about how to make better use of the space,” says Paolo Brambilla, who co-founded the architectural and design firm Calvi Brambilla with Fabio Calvi in 2005. Brambilla, tracing the spindly lines of before-and-after sketches on a floorplan, is keen to show the structural changes – rooms shifted, doors moved and a fireplace rediscovered – that transformed this 160 sq m apartment into a minimalist open-plan, sophisticated bachelor pad for its entrepreneur owner. Although the firm is still in its infancy, Calvi Brambilla is already winning admirers. Japanese architect Kengo Kuma selected the firm to design part of his prototype apartment, which was presented by the Japanese property developer Mitsui Fudosan Residential (creator of Tokyo Midtown) at this year’s Milan Furniture Fair.
The Calvi Brambilla design was a subtle debut, and this home shows similarly sensitive work. While original door frames, windows and a ceiling with decorative mouldings have all been restored, there is plenty of innovative contemporary detailing too.
In the living room spotlights are positioned at random and framed with decorative circles, as if a skimming stone has crossed the stretch of white and left a trail of ghostly ripples behind. A new wall, concealing doors that lead to the bedroom and the bathrooms, divides the living space with an undulating, corrugated surface.
“This curved wall is the main element of this project. It serves to break the traditional division between the classical sequence of the living areas – the main entrance, living room and kitchen – to create a more contemporary open space,” explains Calvi. The wall reflects the light in unusual ways: “Because this is a very thin, long space, the key was to find the light. The surface of the wall changes with the different hours of the day,” says Paolo. As the afternoon sun drops, shadows begin to move.
The building’s heritage is reinterpreted in a playful way. A chandelier made from fake antlers hangs above the dining table; blue storage cupboards feature cut-out holes that act as handles, and kitchen units are set away from the wall as if floating. Green, brown and blue – a palette not often used in Italian homes – helps define the different areas. With iconic Italian design completing the apartment – chairs by Mario Bellini, Flos lights, Bisazza bathroom tiles and Olivari door handles – this interior is a serene retreat in the heart of Milan.
Two years old, the Calvi Brambilla Architetti studio is located in a former factory. Run by Fabio Calvi and Paolo Brambilla, the company specialises in interiors, architecture, product and graphic design. Their team is currently working on numerous international projects for Italian lighting manufacturer Flos. On her computer a designer (one of three staff) shows Monocle the renovation plans for the first floor of a technical showroom at the Flos headquarters in Paris. Due to open in October, it features rotating displays. Projects for Flos in Asia are also in the pipeline. Italian manufacturer Frag will produce two new Calvi Brambilla chair designs, expected to launch in time for next year’s Salone.