Step Inside This Chic Milan Abode

Architect Massimiliano Locatelli’s home is a study in modernist utilitarian glamour
Image may contain Living Room Room Indoors Furniture Couch Flooring and Interior Design
Massimiliano Locatelli designed the living room’s blue sofa, and the vintage leather sofas are by Kill International. Diptych on wall and cocktail table by Martin Laborde; stools by Paul McCobb. lamp by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni. Floor of Pietra Ardesia slate.Jonathan Binet

To understand the design sense of the Milanese architect Massimiliano Locatelli, all you need to do is look at his window. Not simply for the view, though that’s not bad, either. His house sits on an idyllic street lined with quaint town houses painted in a rainbow of pastel hues. Originally built as workers’ cottages in the late 19th century, the block resembles a quiet country lane swallowed up by the city. Try to ignore the surprisingly bucolic vista and instead direct your eyes toward the window frame and pull, which together represent a tidy example of Locatelli’s design ethos. The casing is formed of a stark, surgical-seeming aluminum, both sharply contemporary and ideal for regulating Milan’s varied temperatures, while the simple rounded brass pulls are vintage, designed in the 1950s by another famed Milanese architect, Luigi Caccia Dominioni. “Adding a soft touch of memory to these rigid windows was a way of opening up a dialogue between past and present, classic and contemporary,” he explains. “Also the contrast of metals is nice—like a Cartier Trinity ring.” It’s such flourishes of nuanced glamour, combined with a sense of frank utilitarianism, that have come to define the Bergamo-born architect’s prolific career.

Locatelli on the staircase.

Looking into the kitchen from the lower-level terrace. Chairs and table by Massimiliano Locatelli; ashtray by Achille Castiglioni for Alessi; hanging light (inside) by Mai-Thu Perret.

Take, for instance, his design of famed curator Nina Yashar’s Nilufar Depot, for which he converted a cavernous former warehouse into a stage set for highly collectible furniture and design. Employing his signature palette of industrial materials, the interior structure evokes an Italian opera house. Or better yet, his previous office space in a deconsecrated 16th-century church, within which he installed a hovering glass-and-iron cube that lifted visitors to eye level with elaborate Renaissance frescoes. But his own home eschews such grand gestures and instead caters to a more private sense of style.

Locatelli, dressed in all black, including his thick-framed professorial glasses and streamlined running shoes, is sitting in the living room on an austere black leather sofa by 20th-century German manufacturer Kill International. When he found this house, he says, it had “the atmosphere of a shabby-chic grandmother,” a look he admittedly abhors. He quickly 
set about stripping the old house to its bones. Following a precarious dance with the permits office—the neighborhood is designated an area of historical significance—he was given permission to lower the basement a full meter, allowing him to design an airy kitchen and a small sublevel garden as well as build upward to create a third floor. All that was left intact was the façade, which he transformed from a shade of sunny yellow to a steely gray, inspired by the cloudy skies of Switzerland’s Engadin valley. “They said that the freedom to choose your color gives the neighborhood its personality,” he says, “but I don’t really like the colorful houses.” (Even so, the sober hue is enlivened by vibrant red awnings over the home’s windows and upper-floor terraces.)

Lamps by Franco Albini hang above glass tables by Enzo Mari and a wood one by Locatelli in the lower level dining area.

To be honest, however, it’s not the home’s exterior that most accurately channels Locatelli’s personality. Inside, the layout is hyper-calibrated to his lifestyle. “I made this house for me, not for show,” he pronounces. For example, he wanted a living room and kitchen where he could entertain easily, so he connected the spaces with a double-height light well that floods the lower level with sunshine, effectively uniting the floors. “If you have friends over, they stay here [in the living room] and in the garden downstairs,” he explains. “It’s really fluid; it becomes one room.”

As you travel upward, though, the spaces become more private. On the next level there is a TV room and reading nook furnished with custom bookshelves and a plush sofa, then a guest room, complete with en suite sauna. Finally, up the narrow iron staircase to the top floor is Locatelli’s own personal quarters, which comprise his bedroom, a bathroom outfitted with a forest-green marble sink he had manufactured in Vietnam, and a small terrace overlooking the neighborhood.

A book-lined Tv Room lies at one end of the House’s second level, which is floored with red Linoleum. The cast-aluminum chair and red sofa are by locatelli, and the stool is by Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret, and Charlotte Perriand.

A bar lined in yellow marble and laminate is hidden inside a living room closet.

In decorating the house, Locatelli was restrained, even dogmatically so. “I didn’t want the distraction of design elements that were too strong,” he adds, further explaining that he is fed up with the current formula of trendy interior design: one expensive flat sofa, two extravagant accent chairs, and, perhaps, a daybed. Instead, he poured his energy into finding materials that he describes as having “intelligence.” The black slate that lines the living room floor, for example, is meant to accrue character with every scuff and scratch, while the kitchen’s sleek concrete and pebble terrazzo doubles as a layer of insulation and staves off humidity. In fact, the home’s most eye-catching feature is hidden entirely from view: a vibrant yellow bar concealed in a living room closet. “It’s like a little jewelry box,” he says of the uncharacteristically playful element. “You open it and there is a diamond inside.”

That’s not to say the pieces he did include aren’t pedigreed—they are. But he chose understated objects that were largely unplaceable to all but the well-trained eye: two Enzo Mari Cugino tables in the kitchen (his desk from architecture school), which sit next to a wood table made by Locatelli himself; an ascetic steel bed by Le Corbusier from the Immeuble Molitor apartment building in Paris; and his prized possession, an unassuming worn-wood side table from the 1961 La Tourette convent near Lyon, France, also by the Swiss master. “It doesn’t say anything to anybody; it’s just there so the cats can jump out of the window,” he insists with an indifferent sweep of his hand, implying that even an object as prized to collectors as this stool is only as good as its function. “The point is that we don’t need these things,” he continues. “​​My approach to the house and to its objects and to my way of living in the house was to carve out a little more truth. I just want to be comfortable here talking to you.”