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Milan Design Week 2015: Transforming Historical Spaces

Site-specific installations in neoclassical palazzos wowed at the annual design fair

by Paolo Ferrarini
on 30 April 2015
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When you walk in the streets of Milan, you immediately realize that its classic architecture can somehow be cold and austere. But behind many façades, there are gardens—beautiful and carefully hidden. Some of the installations at the latest Milan Design Week seem to have focused on this quintessential aspect of the Milanese spirit, allowing visitors to gain access to some of its most magnificent palazzos. Palazzo Bocconi, Palazzo Crespi and Palazzo Serbelloni, all very close to each other and located along Corso Venezia, welcomed visitors and hosted some of the most incredible events this year.

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Louis Vuitton at Palazzo Bocconi

The inspiration of travel, the use of luxurious materials and excellent craftsmanship represent the DNA of Louis Vuitton, and their “Objets Nomades” collection was no exception. The French maison invited a group of top designers (Marten Baas, Fernando and Huberto Campana, Patricia Urquiola, Oki Sato of Nendo, and Atelier Oï just to name a few) to create objects for a nomadic home. Lamps, foldable chairs, beach chairs, light shades, stools and hammocks have been conceived as the perfect accessories for luxury travels or exceptional second homes. The quality of the execution of each piece established a fine dialogue with the natural elements that were hosted in the rooms, as well as with the frescos and the friezes of Palazzo Bocconi, designed in 18th century by Giuseppe Piermarini (the architect also behind La Scala theatre).

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Casearstone at Palazzo Serbelloni

Ever wonder what it feels like to get on a swing in the middle of a neoclassical palace's ballroom? The answer is surreal fun. We tried the experience in Palazzo Serbelloni (once inhabited by Napoleon and Josephine) thanks to Philippe Malouin and Caesarstone. The London-based designer was asked to create completely new objects and experiences that exploited the qualities of engineered quartz beyond the kitchen and bath countertops for which Caesarstone is known for worldwide.

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One phase of the research led to the creation of handmade planters, where Malouin’s typical minimalistic approach was enriched by unique hand finishes like sculpting, inlay and marquetry. But the true surprise was the series of eight swings placed in the grand hall, where visitors were free to play. The seats were made from Caesarstone’s quartz (as was the flooring) in a consistent use of materials, textures and colors.

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Fabrica + Airbnb at Palazzo Crespi

“Housewarming” was the theme selected for the first collaboration between Fabrica and Airbnb. A group of designers from the Italian communication center were selected to work on how to make feel people at home, a key element for the famous lodging rental service. For the occasion, the incredible Palazzo Crespi was opened, since it’s still a private house and the Crespi family lives in the very rooms used for the presentation. The designers were present and did everything possible to make visitors feel welcome.

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At the entrance, German product designer Pascal Hien was checking jackets and hanging them on coat-hangers, that were in fact his design. Daniel Rous was offering tea he made using special alembics he designed. Portuguese graphic designer and illustrator Mariana Fernandes was silkscreen-printing postcards. Italian-born Marcello Venturini was standing close to the stunning bathrooms to give each user a small bar of natural soap. Entering the rooms of this private mansion, observing the books and the superb works of art, discovering the hidden garden—along with the Crespi family and the team from Fabrica—was an experience that warmed the home and the heart.

Lead image courtesy of Tom Mannion, Fabrica + Airbnb images courtesy of Fabrica + Airbnb, all other images by Paolo Ferrarini

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