Fresh life for a ‘balcony house’ in Milan
Luca Mattia Minciotti
Antonio Pennisi ristrutturazioni
In this renovation project, an apartment located in a nineteenth-century «balcony house» («casa di ringhiera», a form of popular housing that consisted of several apartments with open balconies on each floor facing onto a communal courtyard) has been lovingly restored, evoking memories and sounds of a world that is far removed from the noise and bustle of today’s urban living. The building is located in Via San Carpoforo in the heart of Milan’s picturesque Brera neighbourhood, a place where just a century and a half ago — in the days for example of painter Giovanni Segantini — artists’ studios stood side by side with brothels and often vied for custom. In one of the apartments in the building, architect and interior designer Federica Sardo was assigned the unusual task of creating a visually striking interior with a limited budget. «The apartment is tiny, with just enough space for two rooms and a bathroom,» she said. «When we visited it with the owners, a young couple with good taste, we found that the interior lacked a clear form so we had to give it some kind of meaning, partly by exploiting the exterior views. We positioned the kitchen-dining area with a small sofa in the first room overlooking the courtyard, while the bedroom looks out over Via San Carpoforo. In between these two rooms there is a bathroom and a small hallway.» This almost obligatory layout served as the starting point for Federica Sardo’s real creative work. «Design is the part of my profession that I like to spend the most time on,» she explains. «I carry out a precise and detailed study of the space, of how to organise each of the rooms until I find a satisfactory solution to all of the problems. I make a lot of freehand drawings, because that’s how I express myself and how my ideas come to life. In this case I thought back to the Milanese homes of the early 20th century, to their simple and expressive floor coverings. In particular, I drew inspiration from cement tiles, traditional handmade tiles made from Portland cement mixed with marble and iron oxide powders to give them their artistic appearance. My efforts to recreate a retro look found a powerful ally in Jazz porcelain tiles from the GCR Decor Medley collection by Gruppo Cerdisa Ricchetti. I used these tiles to create two ceramic carpets in the kitchen and bedroom, bordered by a frame of Black version tiles from the same collection, which for the sake of continuity I also used in the hallway between the two main rooms and the bathroom while opting instead for the grey colour version on the walls. These ceramic carpets create a powerful decorative effect and straighten out the visual perspective of the rooms, which are actually slightly crooked.»
After designing the floors, enhanced by the neutral colours of the walls, the architect proceeded to work on the functional and decorative aspects of the interiors, again adopting great sobriety and drawing inspiration from the warm simplicity of Milanese homes of the past. She opted for an elegant Ikea kitchen with induction burners, a sofa and double bed from Maison du Monde, and a sideboard and low glass cabinet for the kitchen and dining room. The owners bought a chest of drawers and a wardrobe for the bedroom at a market, while Federica Sardo designed the bedroom desk and a small wardrobe.
A large mirror was used to brighten up the otherwise dark kitchen-diner, while the architect chose Milan-themed prints and engravings for the walls as a tribute to the location. Last but not least, all the utilities are concealed to avoid disturbing the linear simplicity of the living space. This includes the heating and air conditioning system which runs under the ceiling and is powered by a heat pump to avoid the use of gas. The overall effect is attractive and intimate, ideal for creating a sense of warmth and homeliness for the short-term tenants to whom the owners have decided to let out the apartment.