Japan meets Europe in this eclectic apartment in the heart of the city
On the third floor of a 1920s building in the heart of Milan is a haven of oriental eclecticism. The home is located between Porta Venezia and the Centrale district, both lively, authentic neighborhoods that are chic without being haughty, offer a buzzing mix of tradition and contemporary culture, and are becoming increasingly popular with young professionals and creatives who are lured in by the affordable prices.
‘That was our case! We finally found the right apartment after months of searching,’ say homeowners Francesca Pellicciari and Giacomo Donati say. Pellicciari is a Chinese-Italian graphic designer, who earned her architecture degree in Venice; Donati is a lawyer from Piacenza. Along with their friend Ayaki Itoh, they are the founders of Nanban, an emerging online retail platform that brings the best of Japanese design to the European market. ‘Nanban is an attempt to introduce everyday Japan – its timeless objects and ancient traditions – to Europe; something of a bridge between two worlds,’ Pellicciari and Donati explain. The Japanese use the word Nanban to refer to the Western traders who reached the coasts of the archipelago in the 1500s.
‘So far, very little of the beauty that can be discovered in Japan is found on the old continent,’ they say. ‘We noticed this during our travels, and we had the idea to share our favourite findings. Our products range from utensils to modern antiques, from classics designs to the latest productions.’ And many of these can be found within the minimalist interiors of their light-filled, 120-square-metre apartment. The duo left most of the original structure and materials intact: high plastered ceilings, hardwood floors, leaded glass window shades, cast iron radiators, and – surprise! – a stunning courtyard packed with vegetation like persimmons, medlars, palm trees and hortensiae.
The space was almost perfect when they found it. ‘The only thing we modified is the hallway. It was the least interesting part of the flat, and now it’s a protagonist. It’s a sort of spine of mirrored surfaces and blue linoleum connecting the two ends of the house and the various rooms,’ they explain. The corridor acts like a sharply contemporary sign, its reflections offering different perspectives depending on the viewpoint. ‘For instance, the Pirelli Tower seems to bounce from the last room directly into the entrance hall,’ they note. Magnified by the expansive mirrors, the light reaches the hallway and changes throughout the day. ‘It was a great idea from our friends at Baukuh,’ they share, giving credit to the Milan- and Genoa-based collective of young architects known for their design of Casa della Memoria (House of Memory) in Milan.
The rest was small touches: ‘We connected the spacious living area and the guest room via two openings in the wall, slightly modified the layout of the kitchen, and we split the only bathroom to create a room dedicated to the traditional hinoki ofuro bath,’ they say.
The measured decor reflects their personal taste, which they describe as ‘not really a style, but more of a collection of interests and family inheritance.’ Rustic and custom-made furniture sits alongside classic Nordic, Italian and Japanese designs by the likes of Hans Wegner, Ico Parisi, Gio Ponti and Sori Yanagi, who they call ‘a Japanese Castiglioni’. ‘His chairs were a true coup de coeur on one of our trips. We had them delivered by ship!’ Pellicciari adds. On the other hand, the dramatic Ingo Maurer rice paper and bamboo lamp, another timeless classic, was discovered online. Other more contemporary lighting pieces come from designer friends, like Servomuto’s Flag and Filo by Andrea Anastasio. Given the couple’s love of flea markets, travelling and new discoveries, this list is bound to keep growing…
Text, production and styling / Francesca Sironi
Images / Monica Spezia, Living Inside