great rooms

The Most Captivating House in Milan

I made it my mission to visit Casa Fornasetti, and they let me take pictures.

The “camera rossa” guest room was modeled on a room in the Fornasetti villa in Como. The antique walnut bed is from Piedmont, and each book contains the word “red” in the title. Photo: Wendy Goodman
The “camera rossa” guest room was modeled on a room in the Fornasetti villa in Como. The antique walnut bed is from Piedmont, and each book contains the word “red” in the title. Photo: Wendy Goodman

I’ve been covering Salone, the furniture fair in Milan that happens in April, for almost a decade; it’s going on right now, and I’m there again.

Milan is not an easy city to get to know. It’s full of secrets, and the best secrets are kept at home.

There are the façades of centuries-old palazzos, with courtyards built for carriages, gardens filled with wild beauty, and massive staircases that lead to rooms upholstered in silk hung with unforgettable art collections that the public rarely glimpses. There are grand house museums you can, as a tourist, visit, such as the Villa Necchi Campiglio, designed by architect Piero Portaluppi in 1935, steeped in formal luxury. But there are more exquisite old homes hidden away in quiet residential neighborhoods that you would never know without an introduction.

Casa Fornasetti is one of those houses; it serves as the seat of the design family. It was built at the end of the 19th century in the Citta Studi neighborhood by Pietro Fornasetti, surrounded by a lush garden filled with towering hydrangeas. His son Piero harnessed his talents in printing, art, and design to start the family design firm. He created an atelier within the house in 1940. Today, 23 people work on the archive of 13,000 objects and the global business of the brand that includes ceramics, wall coverings, upholstery fabric, and carpets, all with the unmistakable Fornasetti imprint.

Since Piero’s death in 1988, his son Barnaba Fornasetti has expanded the company. He has made his own changes to the house, most notably creating a new private kitchen/dining room in the garden on the site of a former open patio. He also converted a room his grandfather used for business into a lounge where his employees hang out during the week, and he holds private concerts and DJs on the weekends. Upstairs in his music room is his collection of thousands of vinyl records and CDs. And although he doesn’t play an instrument, his passion for music has led to many collaborations within the classical-music world, including commissioning a replica of Mozart’s fortepiano for a production of Don Giovanni performed in Milan and Florence, which he now has in the house.

I toured the house with Yuki Tintori, who is in charge of Fornasetti public relations and has been with the company since 2004.

One of my favorite parts of the house is this staircase leading to the first floor of bedrooms, with its striped runner and wallpaper, called “Gerusalemme,” that Piero created for this corridor in 1949. Photo: Wendy Goodman
Everywhere you look in the kitchen, there’s enchantment. Here, a painting of La Venditrice di Farfalle (the butterfly seller) done by Piero Fornasetti in 1938. It’s a tempera painting on a wood panel with a frame Piero made as well. The chest beneath is made from the old zinc plates used by Piero for lithographic printing. The obelisk is also covered in these zinc plates. Photo: Wendy Goodman
Here you can see that the dining area of the kitchen, designed by Barnaba, is within the garden where an open patio used to be. There is a Murano chandelier above the table, and the column in the corner is covered in Fornasetti wallpaper by Cole and Son. Photo: Wendy Goodman
The table, chairs, and floor tiles in the kitchen are decorated with “Ultime Notizie” (latest news), a Fornasetti design created by Barnaba. Photo: Wendy Goodman
“This part of the music room is where Barnaba keeps his collection of vinyl records and CDs,” Tintori told me. “The stairs lead to Barnaba’s private rooms, and the tools on the wall were Piero’s instruments he used in his work.” Photo: Wendy Goodman
Barnaba created the living room in what used to be the formal dining room in 2004. He kept the original wall color, marble fireplace, and antique Venetian mirror. The white Fornasetti Chesterfield sofas are from the ’60s. The storage bench is covered in “Piazza con Obelisco.” The lamps, cushions, and rug are all Fornasetti designs. Note that the back of the fireplace hearth has a glass wall with a view into the kitchen. Photo: Wendy Goodman
A chandelier in the creative and graphic studio is made of shells. It was done in the ’60s by Barnaba’s mother, Giulia, with the help of Barnaba. One of the newest Fornasetti collections contains a shell theme. Piero’s artwork is on the walls. Photo: Wendy Goodman
You can see the trapdoor in the floor of Piero’s former office that opened to the basement where the zinc plates used with the lithographic print machine in the office were kept. Photo: Wendy Goodman
The bathroom walls are covered in Fornasetti ceramic tile, called “Tema e Variazioni” (theme and variation) and licensed with Ceramica Bardelli, no longer in production. The hand-knotted wool rug is Fornasetti’s “Mano” print. Piero’s muse, the opera singer Lina Cavalieri, inspired his design of the face that has become such an iconic part of the brand. Photo: Wendy Goodman
The tapestry on the back wall of Barnaba’s lounge was inspired by the cover of the Almanac Lunario del Sole (first published in 1942 with original designs by Piero Fornasetti) Barnaba collaborated on with A-Collection, using recycled plastic and organic yarn. The “Teatro” Fornasetti wallpaper is by Cole and Son. The fortepiano here was made as Fornasetti decided to replicate Mozart’s original fortepiano (circa-1782) for the opera Il dissoluto punito ossia il Don Giovanni. It was made by Paul McNulty. Photo: Barnaba Fornasetti

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Casa Fornasetti Is the Most Captivating House in Milan