Villa Necchi Campiglio is a severe, elegant, and artistically generous house. Designed and built between 1932 and 1935 by architect Piero Portaluppi for Angelo Campiglio, his wife, Gigina Necchi, and his sister-in-law, Nedda Necchi, the villa is an icon of Italian rationalism.
The Necchi-Campiglios were a family of Lombard industrialists who owned a cast-iron manufacturing company in Pavia in the 1930s. The story goes that one night, on their way to La Scala opera house, their chauffeur got lost in the surrounding fields – now the Via Mozart. Campiglio was so enchanted by the landscape that the next day he decided to buy a plot of land there, and entrusted the ensuing architectural project to Portaluppi, already known in Milan for works such as the Casa degli Atellani and the Planetarium.
Donated to the Fondo Ambiente Italiano (FAI) in 2001 after the death of Gigina, the property is a snapshot of the fortunate past of the Necchi-Campiglios. Nestling in a large field, complete with tennis courts and a swimming pool, the villa was originally conceived as a single-family home. The rigorous lines and surfaces of the facade exude a stark glamour, and express the rising place of rationalism in Italy at the time. The marble exterior meets art deco features inside the house, such as walnut floors with rosewood adornments, and a Greek fret on the balustrade of the staircase. The diamond motif, a favourite of the architect, appeared in even the smallest details of the original design, from the ceiling plasterwork in the library to the sliding doors dividing the smoking room and dining room. These doors, and other original features, were later covered by a second designer, Tomaso Buzzi, whom the family commissioned in 1938 to renew the villa in a more contemporary style.
Although the FAI has restored much of Portaluppi’s original design, the imprints of the two architects still coexist, telling a two-fold story. Buzzi’s touch can easily be recognised in the abundant use of antique furnishings and drapes. Portaluppi’s influence is felt in the rich, parchment wall-covering and the celestial icons adorning the dining room ceiling, as well as in the luminous, glazed veranda, with its enclosed winter garden.
The movement between the rooms is fluid, and, in places, the gaze can stretch uninterrupted across the entire cross section of the house. While the exterior and the first floor were intended to dazzle guests, the bedrooms are discreetly quartered on the second floor. The two sisters’ bedrooms and bathrooms, separated by a hallway of wardrobes, mirror one another. Portaluppi’s bathrooms of grandiose proportions, covered with arabescato marble, lead to Buzzi’s bedrooms, adorned with embroidered satin and lace.
Very few people were invited to sleep under the family’s roof, but a rare exception to this was their friend Prince Enrico d’Assia who paid frequent visits to Milan, where he designed sets for La Scala. He used to be welcomed in a small but efficiently organised space designed by Portaluppi, who used a black Carso marble wall and side curtains as a subtle partition between bathroom and cloakroom. This room now houses the Guido Sforni collection, acquired in 2017, which includes pieces by 20th century masters such as Picasso, Fontana and Matisse.
Today, Villa Necchi Campiglio is open to the public. Luca Guadagnino’s I am Love (2009) was filmed here, and leaves a lasting, melancholic impression of the property. The city has absorbed the once rural neighbourhood surrounding the villa, but behind its walls, the luxuriant garden is still fragrant with magnolias, and shaded by majestic plane trees.