“Roots feel so essential in the world now—even more than ever after the pandemic,” Martina Mondadori says, standing on the landing of her new flat in Milan alongside her partner, Ashley Hicks. Mondadori relocated from London to Milan with her three children. , Leonardo, Tancredi, and Cosima, in order to be closer to her mother, Paola Zanussi, and to connect the children with their Italian heritage. The choice would prove prescient on several levels, as the move occurred just before the world shut down.
Mondadori, founder of the tastemaking lifestyle brand and magazine Cabana and a scion of Italy’s influential Mondadori and Zanussi families, and Hicks, a decorator, artist, and the son of legendary designer David Hicks, decided to make the design of the flat a complete collaboration. Each brought a powerful, unique aesthetic to the endeavor. The very happy result, Mondadori admits, is that “every friend who enters the house has said it’s the first time an interior fits me perfectly.” She adds that “working with Ashley has been an incredible journey, as he’s applied a sort of ‘Socratic method’ all along the way, interpreting and improving my thoughts and ideas for what the space could, and should, become.”
On bringing a bit of England to Italy, Hicks points out that “the English have been learning from Italians for centuries, since Henry VIII started using Italian artists for his palaces. In this case, I wanted to give Martina a contemporary version of her childhood home by the great Renzo Mongiardino, albeit with my own paltry skills and my own paintbrush in place of his army of craftsmen. Where his walls used panels of faux scagliola inspired by a Milanese altar, I chose an old Persian design, woven in silk for Ottoman caftans in 1490, which I stenciled onto the walls, sponging and painting highlights and shadows to give them the look of Moroccan. carved plaster.” Indeed, Mongiardino’s spirit is everywhere here, perhaps most intimately in the form of Cosima’s twin beds, taken from Mondadori’s mother’s childhood home in Pordenone, outside Venice.
The bones of the home are defined by an enfilade of three spaces off an entry, known as “the green-and-red room,” originally marred by what Hicks describes as “these weird sort of stubby bits of wall that were rather ugly. ” He solved the problem by carving egg-and-dart capitals for the tops and painting them to look like marble. They now appear as a row of classic columns that anchor one side of the space. A piece of Renaissance marble with a bright green porphyry circle at its center, inherited from Mondadori’s father, Leonardo, guided choices for the rest of the room. Hicks painted an imitation of the circle onto the center of their front door, surrounding it with trompe l’oeil “bamboo-ish” squares. A chest and chair from Leonardo are here, too, the cumulative effect being one of depth, intimacy, and invitation. A vintage Greek embroidered panel leans against a wall under two Moroccan mirrors. A vintage red-and-green woven caftan from Central Asia hangs casually on a hook. “These are things I like to collect that are not valuable but that channel the eastern part of Europe I so love, Greece and Ottoman-era Turkey, and Morocco,” Mondadori explains. The entry’s easy eclecticism sets the tone for what follows.
Originally the main living area of the flat was one long room. “We didn’t do extensive architectural work, but Ashley’s brilliant idea was to divide this rectangle into two matching squares, and it became clear that having two sitting rooms facing each other was the right way to do it.” The two squares showcase what Mondadori calls “Ashley’s walls.” “From the moment I walked into his set at Albany. [AD, April 2017] and saw those walls painted on hessian, I knew he was onto something and wanted that technique to be used here too,” she says. “The walls merge Ashley’s gifts as a craftsman and historian.” Hicks glued burlap to the flat’s walls, then painted in grisaille using acrylic.
Here, one room’s walls are decorated with terra-cotta-colored leaves referencing Ottoman silks, whereas the other features architectural elements drawn from Piranesi’s pictures of Greek temples, done near the end of the artist’s life and now in the collection of Sir John Soane’s Museum. in London. Walking from one room into the next feels like journeying from the Middle East into the classical Italian Renaissance. A television screen set on a simple wooden easel (“eBay,” Hicks notes) looks like a blank, black canvas. A table designed to fit in a corner is painted to look like stone. A low shelf with books fills the space under a window overlooking the city. “We loved the idea of a library without bookcases,” Hicks explains.