Design Inspiration: Milan
The city of Milan never ceases to inspire and fascinate me. It’s a unique mix of the ancient and the contemporary. It’s home to the annual global design fair, Salone del Mobile, showcasing the latest in furnishings, lighting, and architecture. It has incredible food and visionary modern design to stimulate the senses – the perfect place to relax and get your creative juices flowing.
Milan’s collection of world-class museums and historic landmarks should be on your must-see list, of course! But it’s just as exciting to wander the ancient streets, discover unique shops and inspiring designers, and duck into a local bar for a quick afternoon aperitif.
I like to start a day of exploring with coffee at the Fundazione Prada’s Bar Luce – the retro cafe’ designed by film director Wes Anderson (with all of the kitsch and charm you’d expect).
Exploring The Streets Of Milan
If you’re visiting for the first time, start in the historic centre at Piazza del Duomo and its stunning Cathedral. From the rooftop you can take in a panoramic view of the city – and enjoy an incredible sunset.
La Scala, Milan’s grand opera house, is nearby, and makes the perfect entrance to the iconic streets of Brera. With its narrow, ancient streets full of art galleries, museums and cafes, Brera is one of my favorite places to explore.
The recently redesigned Porta Volta neighborhood is interesting too, with its mix of ancient and modern architecture. Soak up the local atmosphere at Dry and Baladin, and enjoy the green space at La Fabbrica del Vapore. After seeing the sights, it’s time to check out Milan’s design hot spots for inspiration.
Finding Design Inspiration In Milan
As one of the design capitals of the world, Milan has a lot to offer. Historic museums are everywhere. However if your taste leans towards the modern, as mine does, Milan has incredible modern museums, galleries and showrooms too. Here are some of my favorites:
- Fondazione Prada: An exhibition space for contemporary art and culture, located in an old distillery; now transformed into a gold-leafed icon by OMA, the office of architect Rem Koolhaas.
- Museo del Novecento: Located in the heart of Milan near the Cathedral, the Museum of the 20th Century features work by Picasso, Modigliani, Mondrian, Kandinsky and Boccioni.
- Triennale: The Triennale di Milano offers temporary exhibitions of contemporary art, architecture, and design in a colorful, minimalist space.
- Galleria D’Arte Moderna The Gallery of Modern Art is located in the ornate palazzo Villa Reale. It’s an impressive collection of famous Modernist and Impressionist artists.
- SAG 80 : Four showrooms around Milan feature an exclusive collection of the best in Italian furniture and interior design. A great resource for the latest trends.
- Febal Casa: This retailer’s flagship store, Febal Casa in Brera, showcases the latest trends in home furnishings. Pop in while you’re exploring Brera.
- Moooi Showroom Moooi always arranges its quirky, creative furnishings and lighting in colorful modern style.
I always take tons of photos – it’s interesting to see how other designers play with scale and use different materials.
And of course, the historic details are interesting too.
Milan’s Stylish Hotel Interiors
Created by some of the world’s foremost architects and designers, Milan’s hotel interiors are favorite sources of design inspiration.
From impressive lobby bars to historic architecture, here are three of my favorite stays:
- Mandarin Oriental Milan Right across from La Scala Opera House, this hotel features graphic, modern interiors tucked into a series of four 18th century bank buildings. The black and white lobby has a jazz club aesthetic, while the rooms have a luxurious Asian vibe.
- Four Seasons Hotel This luxury property occupies a renovated 15th-century convent, complete with a colonnaded courtyard. The historic interiors are stunning, with beautiful frescoes on the walls and ceiling.
- Hotel Viu Milan A living green facade adds a natural touch to this hotel’s contemporary architecture – and the rooftop pool seems to have an ongoing cocktail party. They welcome both business travelers and vacationers with plenty of amenities – including cookies and milk any time, and room service for your dog! Bulk Bar in the lobby is a great spot to grab a drink and a light bite.
Cocktails and Dining In Milan
As the birthplace of Campari, Milan takes its aperitivo tradition seriously. In the evening the bars fill up with crowds enjoying their cocktail before dinner. There are bars of every type serving classic cocktails, craft beers and wines, along with something to nibble on. Visit Dry for cool cocktails in an equally cool minimalist interior. La Prosciutteria is a great hole-in-the-wall with prosciutto on the menu. For wine tasting, N’Ombra de Vin is an excellent enoteca located in a former monastery.
With its chic interiors by architect Roberto Baciocchi, Marchesi is ideal for an aperitivo and a savory bite to eat. Founded in 1824, Marchesi pasticceria is a Milanese icon. The shop on Via Monte Napoleone displays its treats in glass cases; mint-green and chocolate tones create a 1930’s vibe. You can stop in during the day for coffee and biscotti too, or take some treats home.
After the cocktail hour, it’s time for more design inspiration over dinner.
The hearty menu is right at home in this classic Italian interior of rustic wood and brick; and the tapas selection is outstanding. If you’re worn out at the end of the day, settle in here for your aperitivo and stay on for dinner.
Another restaurant and bar combination, The Botanical Club is Italy’s first small batch gin distillery. The plant-filled interior has a vintage bistro vibe and the fresh local menu offers small plates, so it’s a great spot to meet friends.
With its three Michelin stars, this iconic restaurant is well worth the short trip into the hills outside of Milan. Seafood is their specialty, served in an elegant, provincial Italian atmosphere.
Unique in all of Italy, Milan is an intriguing combination of contemporary design and iconic Italian style – ancient and modern, together.