Renovating This Milan Terrace Kept the Contractor Up at Night But Made the Whole Place Feel Like a Treehouse
Inside, the kitchen is so sleek, you might miss it.
Published Jan 8, 2023 1:00 AM
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When interior designer and photographer Marco Bertolini found the Milan flat that he and his partner, fashion designer Fabio Sapienza, now call home, he thought he heard angels rejoicing—literally. The harp chords and cherubic voices were not heaven-sent but rather the sounds of the city’s nearby conservatory. “I thought how nice it would be to be awakened by those sounds in the morning,” Bertolini remembers. In reality, though, the small, irregular rooms weren’t exactly worthy of a choir. “The apartment had no particularly interesting features except for the terrace,” he admits.
Over eight months, Bertolini gutted the interior, reshuffling the floor plan to create a single bedroom (instead of the original two), an open living room, and an eat-in kitchen. “I pulled the walls down to create a space with no boundaries and lots of light and greenery,” he explains. But the most transformative change was adding floor-to-ceiling glass doors along the exterior, highlighting the feature that sold Bertolini on the place: that veranda, which runs the length of the apartment.
Bertolini’s challenge? Reimagining the outdoor space without it clashing with the building’s Rationalist architecture—a stark, modern style circa 1930s fascist Italy. “I kept everything square and only chose materials traditionally used during the Rationalist period,” he says. That meant paving the terrace and lining the doors with travertine, a stone that’s native to the country and pops up frequently in the neighborhood. Sourcing locally is crucial in all of the designer’s projects. “There’s no point in looking for elements that are not relevant to where you are or to who you are,” he explains.
But what’s relevant isn’t always easy to come by (the lead contractor later admitted Bertolini’s project caused him a few sleepless nights). Once the 9-foot slabs of travertine were on site, Bertolini realized that the pieces were way too shiny. “That kind of finish that you find in an ’80s police station or a school,” he explains. He had the crew remove them until new unpolished slabs could be mounted a couple weeks later, a herculean task requiring a massive crane.
The finished indoor-outdoor setup allows the couple to swing open a door in the living room, kitchen, or bedroom, instantly extending each room’s footprint. Planters of maple trees, Mediterranean myrrh, and hydrangeas line the perimeter of the terrace, giving the apartment the feel of a treehouse in the middle of the city. These days, Bertolini skips the flower market altogether: “I always take cuttings from what grows here.”
Inside, Bertolini’s style is not quite minimalist. Waxed raw maple floors and white walls with a natural stucco finish, called marmorino, are the foundation for well-edited but warm spaces. “When friends come to see me, I want them to feel at ease,” he says. Layers of unbleached linen, bouclé upholstery, and aged-brass accents keep things relaxed.
Sustainability was also top of mind—there’s not an ounce of plastic in sight. In the kitchen, the cabinets are environmentally friendly wood with a white lacquer finish and the countertops a recycled marble composite. “No chemicals, no artificial glues,” he says of the space, tucked along one wall. The hardware-less cabinets almost disappear when closed, as does the full-height closet, which houses a curated collection of serveware and other entertaining essentials.
“I challenge my clients and myself not to buy things for the sake of it,” he says. “You need to ask yourself if what you’re buying has a future.” This ethos is evident in everything from the hand-knotted rugs sourced in Milan and Morocco to the vintage Series-7 Fritz Hansen chairs. Like these furnishings, Bertolini has collected art slowly over time: the black and gold églomisé paintings from a gallery in London, a pair of foil and paper collages by an artist in Poland, a gilded mirror found at a flea market in France. The mix of eras and styles works because virtually everything is rooted in some sort of classic design. Bertolini doesn’t do trends. “Trends? It’s a difficult topic,” he says with a laugh.