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A grand character apartment is sensitively updated with Italian flair

A sensitive update breathes new life and light into this grand Milanese home, where modern twists deliver down-to-earth character

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A grand character apartment is sensitively updated with Italian flair

As soon as Angelo and Antonella Grampa stepped into what is now their home, situated in the heart of Brera, Milan, they knew it was right for them. This elegant neighbourhood is where they met, so it was only natural that they would choose to live here together.

Their apartment is a spacious 250 square metres of open spaces and light, transformed into a kind of domestic garden by architects Corinna Cappa and Stefania Martinelli, with whom the Grampas have not just a successful professional relationship but also a close personal friendship.

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The property was well known as the home of Italian pop singer Ornella Vanoni, so the pair knew about it before they saw it. But when they visited it for the first time it was the light and grand spaces that most impressed them. “It was like being in a royal box at the theatre, except we were overlooking the Brera district,” says Angelo.

The architects were equally impressed. “We immediately accepted the challenge that would come with developing a project in a space that had such charm and personality,” says Corinna. “The small solid wood blocks of the entrance floor, the exquisite decorations in the common areas, the Milan-like character of the building and neighbourhood: all these made us feel at home after many experiences abroad.”

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From the beginning, there was a determination to strike the right balance between, on the one hand, professional skills and what could be achieved with them, and, on the other, the human qualities a home needed. The craftsmen who joined the project found themselves in a trusting and enthusiastic environment.

“Working with Angelo,” says Stefania, “we understood that we couldn’t leave out the human aspect. The carpenter had already done the furniture for their country house, the upholsterer used to be at school with Angelo, the blacksmith has been working with us for several years, and for the architect who designed the garden it was love at first sight. The workers developed a passion about the house that was almost bigger than ours. This was really a special occasion, the beginning of a true friendship.”

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From the start, the new design balanced the best elements of the existing building with a contemporary language. The hand-finished wooden floor recalls tradition, and is complemented by imposing, full-height sliding doors.

The combination of modern and traditional is carried right through, from the selection of furniture to the way the spaces are organised: the series of main rooms with high ceilings linked by large glass walls has a classical origin, but their circular arrangement is typical of a flexible contemporary approach to living spaces.

The large kitchen was originally in the back, leading to the courtyard, but now opens onto the dining area. Antonella is a superb cook, who loves to share her skills with guests.

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Although she has always lived in Milan, Antonella feels closely connected to nature, a legacy of her Umbrian and Tuscan origins. A lifelong dream of living in the country has seen her bring the outdoors inside, here in the heart of Milan. Thanks to the glass walls, the rich vegetation comes into the house, and combines with the indoor plants to create an atmosphere like that of an 1800s greenhouse. When designing the large balcony, landscape architect Gianluigi Cristiano chose woods that recall field vegetation.

In contrast, Angelo is enthusiastic about new technologies and found ways to make them part of the design without being obtrusive. Custom-made furniture hides the latest devices, offering all kinds of comforts without diminishing the softness of the decor, which is based on natural materials and a neutral colour palette.

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The lighting was designed to support the decor but also to be functional. Its sources are concealed, allowing light to spread through these rooms as naturally as sunlight over a garden. The two architects have had several important international commissions, aspects of which have been brought to bear on this Milanese masterpiece.

Corinna has worked mainly on residential projects, from a Laguna Beach-like villa in California to the restoration of a New York townhouse. Stefania studied in Italy and Holland and combines her practice with university teaching.

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The two women met soon after graduating, when both were working for architecture practice Gregotti Associati International. Years later they decided to make the most of their individual experiences, which are different but together become something quite special.

Words and styling by: Francesca Davoli. Photography by: Fabrizio Cicconi/Living Inside.

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