26 Apr Elegance in the Basics
We often look at Modernist buildings of the early Twentieth Century (think Le Corbusier and Mies Van der Rohe) to see the famous ‘Machines for Living,’ noticing streamlined details, an almost clinical approach to hygiene, and a proud emphasis on new technology. We tend to overlook the underlying intent: the drive to bring inhabitants to a more Human state of living. Modernism recognized that we are most comfortable and most calm when we are exposed to daylight, fresh air, water, and greenery. The movement sought connections to the most basic amenities of the natural world around us, which had been obscured by layer upon opulent layer of Gilded Age ornamentation.
The beauty of a home like Milan’s Villa Necchi Campiglio lies just as much in its exquisite Art Deco detailing as it does in its more subtle links to the gardens around it. Here, in a home with a classical floorplan, built for traditional entertainment purposes (for which the last Princess of Italy was a frequent house guest), the Modernist mindset is revealed in comfortable and deeply tailored moments. Soaring French windows – almost Palladian in proportion – seemingly dissolve into pockets in the exterior walls to bring the swimming pool within jumping distance of the Dining Room. A season-proof Conservatory locates exotic plantings between double-paned window walls so that guests may lounge in a garden room without the humidity of a greenhouse. Brilliantly placed translucent windows allow light to fill a service stair, and provide the Hunting Room beyond with a mystical glow deserving of an ancient temple. That is to say nothing of the highly modern (and unusually comfortable) onyx-walled bathrooms that open off the envy-evoking Closet corridor, shared by two enfilade Master Suites. Each luxurious moment in the villa results not from opulent layering but from a thought process that sought always the simplest means of providing comfort.
The combination of traditional architectural values – defined geometric spaces, tall ceilings, axial arrangements, definitions between Living and Service areas – and Modern considerations for natural needs, brings a sense of Life and Well-being into the villa. The transcendent sense of equilibrium that results – the linkage of awe-inspiring grandeur and tranquil calm and intimacy – is apparent the moment you step through the door. Much more than many of our buildings to-day, this home shows how luxurious and elegant Simplicity can truly feel.
My colleague, Roger Thomas, recently posted about this home in his own blog. I highly recommend visiting his page, Magnificent Room to a Thoughtful Vista, for more insights and images.