At architect Luca Cipelletti’s latest residential project in Milan, it’s impossible to miss two other names on the door: Nathalie Du Pasquier and George Snowden. The designers (who happen to be a married couple) were founding members of the radical 1980s design movement, the Memphis Group. And when Cipelletti first entered the windowless, L-shaped attic of the Porta Nuova building, which he had hired to make it more livable, the door was inscribed with the names of the movement’s founding father Ettore Sottsass and co-founder Marco Zanini .
“They were the first radicals,” Cipelletti says of the group, known for their irreverent use of crazy shapes and colors that challenged notions of good taste. As a teenager in Milan in the 80s, Cipelletti had seen many of their first shows and decades later he designed a 2006 Sottsass exhibition in Tokyo as well as a 2021 reconstruction of a Sottsass interior, Casa Lana, at La Triennale Museum Milan. “They didn’t always have to think of a function. In a way, that freedom helped me a lot.”
But if you’re thinking this apartment is an obvious homage to radical Italian design, think again. Cipelletti is a different kind of madness, he points out, “My madness is compulsive obsession—it’s more serious; It’s about erasing things.” He likes to use the word millimeter to describe his work. And indeed, this project is as obsessed with detail as it gets. Table tops are cut at 45 degree angles to give them a razor thin appearance. Marble is coordinated on floors and walls to look like a large shell. And a linear motif, like the frets of a guitar, runs horizontally through the apartment from the ceiling to the walls, across the bookshelves and onto the floors, with almost painful precision.
The 400 square meter L-shaped volume had high, sloping ceilings but no natural light. To make it more livable, Cipelletti made a series of cuts in the front, side and ceiling to create windows and skylights, and added about 100 square meters of patio (planted by landscape architect Derek Castiglioni) just behind. Everything balances on asymmetric plaster-coated pillars that repeat every 36 meters for an effect that, in Cipelletti’s words, is “a little neo-Gothic and Brutalist.”
“We wanted to add a lush layer” to soften Brutalist elements, explains Cipelletti. Walls and floors are clad in Canaletto walnut. The master bath was encased in more than 17,000 pounds of forest green marble and the powder room in Brazilian fossil marble. Around the house, Cipelletti installed panels of his Venetian mirror, which gets its smoky, reflective quality from layers of oxidation applied to stainless steel. His client, an art collector, brought with him an impressive collection of photographs but little else, leaving Cipelletti to curate a mix of blue-chip art and furniture that would complement the gravitas of both the architecture and photos. Cipelletti scoured galleries, auctions and shops to find prized 20th-century treasures like a rocking chair by Franco Albini, a writing desk and dining chairs by Gio Ponti, and a stunning bubblegum pink vase by Carlo Scarpa. Some of the pieces evoke the house’s radical Italian roots, such as two Alessandro Mendini totemic sculptures and, perhaps most obviously, a set of ten Sottsass glass Vistosi vessels, all captured at auction.