How Mixing Materials Brings Luxury to Interior Design
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How Mixing Materials Brings Luxury to Interior Design

The exquisite finishes—glass, marble, brass, leather—of a famed 1930s villa in Milan inspires a design writer to rethink her plain old wood-on-wood world

By Amy Merrick
Thu, Oct 20, 2022 8:52amGrey Clock 3 min

MILAN HAS A GRITTY GLAMOUR that doesn’t endear itself to every visitor, but on my first visit I was surprised how much I liked it. From the imposing, imperial stone behemoth of Milano Centrale train station, I walked down the dusty, grand streets straight to the Villa Necchi Campiglio, a 1930s house and walled garden set like an emerald in the heart of Milan.

I’d wanted to go ever since I saw Luca Guadagnino’s 2009 film “I Am Love,” in which the house served as both the set and soul of the story, a restrained but sumptuous vision of Italian architecture. Designed by fashionable Milanese architect Piero Portaluppi and built between 1932 and 1935 for the wealthy industrialist Angelo Campiglio, his wife and her sibling (the Necchi sisters) the house affirms that the jewels of Milan are often found behind lock and key.

Thanks to heritage foundation FAI (Fondo Ambiente Italiano), the luxurious glass doors of the once-private residence now admit visitors. As I wound my way through its garden, golden light filtered through century-old plane trees, dappling Japanese anemones and ferns. Bands of marble, granite and ceppo stone wrap the facade of the home, its otherwise forebodingly glamorous entry softened by semicircular steps. I braced myself and entered.

Elegance is rarely more faultless than the home’s soaring ground floor, from its walnut and rosewood parquet to its briar-root panelled walls and broad staircase with Greek-key balustrade. Works by Morandi and Modigliani, found throughout, add another layer of refinement.

“The story of the house tells the story of Milan,” said Marco Fincato of the FAI. “It combines the power of industry, fashion and design.” Portaluppi’s gift was mixing luxurious materials and references, from the sensuality of Art Deco to the rigour of Italian Rationalist architecture. Rationalism was essentially a fascist movement, said Mr. Fincato, and while Mussolini’s regime proved ruinous for Italy, the resulting influx of money and power gave architects a brief chance to shine.

Shine, the Villa Necchi does. A wall of brass-trimmed, double-paned windows defines the sparkling glass veranda. As if in a greenhouse, plants grow in the 12 or so inches of space between the two panes. Uninterrupted views of the garden, jadeite s-curved upholstery and the geometric check of the green marble floors boost the sense of verdure. A lapis lazuli side table faces an 18th-century Japanese lacquer cabinet, exemplifying the way the Villa’s materials complement, and contrast with, each other.

It feels as though Portaluppi has dressed the house with different finishes to send her off for a glittering night of opera at La Scala. Each room features sliding doors inset with mercury mirror or interlocking bricks of silver alloy. They open with a whisper and lock down like a fortress. Goatskin-parchment paneling swaths the dining room, whose plaster ceiling is spangled with constellations. Even the radiators sport bespoke brass chain-mail covers that swish like earrings.

As Marianna Kennedy, a designer whose eponymous atelier in London is renowned for lacquer, mirror and bronze work, later told me, “The wonderful detailing and restrained lines of the Portaluppi interiors are quite simple, but the finishes make it extraordinary.”

I climbed the stairs, letting my hand sweep the walnut balustrade. The sleeping quarters function as separate apartments, and while the relatively humble bedrooms feel almost spartan, the bathrooms are dazzling. Thick blush-marble slabs create towering stalls for the showers and toilets; luxuriant bathtubs anchor the rooms. “Only in Italy could bathrooms like this be made, with the availability of so much marble,” said Mr. Fincato.

I stayed until the setting sun glinted across the polished floors and distant, celebratory pops of prosecco could be heard from the garden. There would be a private party that evening, and I could almost feel the house’s soul stir back to life. Was I invited? No, but it didn’t matter. I was taking a spark of insight home with me. The magic of the place is in its heady cocktail of materials—mirror, lacquer, stone, leather, metals, glass. I vowed to avoid living the rest of my life surrounded only by old, brown wooden furniture.

As I left, waiters in dinner jackets poured coups at the bar as chic partygoers arrived. “The house feels timeless yet so of its place,” said Ms. Kennedy. “Milan looks austere and unforgiving in a way, but you go through a courtyard door, and a hidden, beautiful world unfolds.”


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Booming demand for wellness tourism shows no slowing, with travel related to health and well-being projected to have reached $1 trillion last year and to hit $1.3 trillion by 2025, according to the Global Wellness Institute, a nonprofit based in Miami.

Curated wellness travel programs are especially sought-after, specifically holistic treatments focused on longevity. Affluent travellers not only are making time to hit the gym while gallivanting across the globe, they’re also seeking destinations that specifically cater to their wellness goals, including treatments aimed at living longer.

“I believe Covid did put a spotlight on self-care and well-being,” says Penny Kriel, corporate director of spa and wellness at Salamander Collection, a group of luxury properties in places like Washington, D.C., and Charleston, South Carolina. But Kriel says today’s spas are more holistic, encouraging folks to understand the wellness concept and incorporate it into their lifestyle more frequently.

“With the evolution of treatment products and technology, spas have been able to enhance their offerings and appeal to more travellers,” Kriel says.

While some growth is connected to the variety of treatments available, results and the digital world are also contributing to the wellness boom.

“The efficacy and benefits of these treatments continue to drive bookings and interest, especially with the support of social media, influencers, and celebrity endorsements,” Kriel says.

While genetics, environmental factors, and lifestyle choices such as regular exercise, a diet free of processed foods, sufficient sleep, and human connection play essential roles in living well and longer, experts believe in holistic therapies to help manage stress, boost immunity, and ultimately influence length and quality of life.

Anti Ageing and Beyond

“For years, people have been coming to spas, booking treatments, and gaining advice on how to turn the clock back with anti ageing and corrective skin treatments,” Kriel says. However, today’s treatments are far more innovative.

On Marinella Beach in Porto Rotondo, on the Italian island of Sardinia, guests at the five-star Abi d’Oru Hotel & Spa can experience the resort’s one-of-a-kind “longevity treatment,” a unique antiaging facial using one of the island’s native grapes: Cannonau. The world’s first declared “Blue Zone”—one of five designated areas where people live longer than average, some into their 100s—Sardinia produces this robust red wine varietal, the most widely planted on the island.

Known as Garnacha in Spain and Grenache in France, Cannonau supposedly contains two to three times more antioxidants than other red-wine grapes. By incorporating Cannonau, Abi Spa says its unique 50-minute longevity session increases collagen production for firmer, younger-looking skin.

Maintaining a youthful appearance is just one facet of longevity treatments, which range from stress-reduction sessions like massage to nutritional support and sleep programs, Kriel says. Some retreats also offer medical services such as IV infusions and joint injections.

Keeping with the trend, Kriel is expanding Salamander Collection’s existing spa services, such as detox wraps and lymphatic drainage, to include dedicated “Wellness Rooms,” new vegan and vegetarian menu items, and well-being workshops. “Sleep, nutrition, and mindfulness will be a big focus for integration in 2024,” she says.

Data-Driven Wellness

Skyler Stillings, an exercise physiologist at Sensei Lanai, a Four Seasons Resort—an adults-only wellness centre in Lanai, Hawaii—says guests were drawn to the social aspect when the spa opened in November 2021.

“We saw a huge need for human connection,” she recalls. But over the past few years, what’s paramount has shifted. “Longevity is trending much more right now.”

Human connection is a central draw for guests at Sensei Lanai, an adults-only and wellness-focused Four Seasons Resort in Hawaii.
Sensei Lanai, A Four Seasons Resort

Billionaire co-founder of tech company Oracle Larry Ellison and physician and scientist Dr. David Angus co-founded Sensei. After the death of a mutual close friend, the duo teamed up to create longevity-based wellness retreats to nurture preventative care and a healthy lifestyle. In addition to the Lanai location, the brand established Sensei Porcupine Creek in Greater Palm Springs, California, in November 2022.

Sensei has a data-driven approach. The team performs a series of assessments to obtain a clearer picture of a guest’s health, making wellness recommendations based on the findings. While Sensei analyses that data to curate a personalised plan, Stillings says it’s up to the guests which path they choose.

Sensei’s core three-day retreat is a “Guided Wellness Experience.” For spa treatments, each guest checks into their own “Spa Hale,” a private 1,000-square-foot bungalow furnished with an infrared sauna, a steam shower, a soaking tub, and plunge pools. The latest therapies include Sarga Bodywalking—a barefoot myofascial release massage, and “Four Hands in Harmony,” a massage with two therapists working in tandem. Sensei Guides provide take-home plans so guests can continue their wellness journeys after the spa.

Sensei Lanai, an adults-only and wellness-focused Four Seasons Resort in Hawaii.
Sensei Lanai, A Four Seasons Resort

Sanctuaries for Longevity

Headquartered in Switzerland with hotels and on-site spas across the globe, Aman Resorts features an integrative approach, combining traditional remedies with modern medicine’s advanced technologies. Tucked behind the doors of the storied Crown Building in Midtown Manhattan, Banya Spa House at Aman New York—the brand’s flagship spa in the Western Hemisphere—is a 25,000-square-foot, three-floor urban oasis.

Yuki Kiyono, global head of health and wellness development at Aman, says the centre provides access to holistic and cutting-edge treatments benefiting physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social well-being. Aman’s customisable “Immersion Programs” consist of a three- or five-day immersion. “The programs encompass treatments and experiences that touch every significant aspect to create a path for longevity, from meditation and mindfulness to nutrition and movement,” Kiyono explains.

Banya Spa House at Aman New York.
Robert Rieger

The spa’s “Tei-An Wellness Solution” features 90- to 150-minute sessions using massage, cryotherapy, and Vitamin IV infusions. Acupuncture is also on offer.

“With its rich history of Chinese Medicine, modern research, and the introduction of sophisticated electro-acupuncture medicine, acupuncture has been proven to assist with problems and increase performance,” Kiyono says.

Resetting the Mind and Body

Beyond longevity, “healthspan”—the number of years a person can live in good health free of chronic disease—is the cornerstone of Mountain Trek Health Reset Retreat’s program in British Columbia, Canada.

Kirk Shave, president and program director, and his team employ a holistic approach, using lifestyles in long-living Blue Zones as a point of reference.

“We improve our daily lifestyle habits, so we live vitally as long as we’re meant to live,” Shave says of the retreat. He built the program from an anthropological stance, referencing humans as farmers, hunters, and gatherers based on their eating and sleeping patterns. Food includes vegetable-centric meals sans alcohol, sugar, bread, or dairy.

Guests wake at dawn each day and have access to sunrise yoga, several hours of “flow” or slow hiking, spa treatments, forest bathing, calming crystal singing-bowl and sound therapy sessions, and classes on stress reduction—one of Mountain Trek’s primary goals. The program motivates people to spend much of their time in nature because it’s been proven to reduce cortisol, the stress hormone that can lead to inflammation and disease when elevated for extended periods.

While most guests aren’t aware of how immersive Mountain Trek’s program is when they arrive, they leave the resort revitalized after the structured, one-week program. Set in the Kootenays overlooking its eponymous river, the resort and adventure promise what Shave calls a “visceral experience of transformation.”

“They’re interested in coming to be in nature,” Shave says of the guests. “They hit a wall in their life and slipped backwards, so they know they need a reset.”

Banya Spa House at Aman New York provides access to holistic and cutting-edge treatments benefiting physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social well-being.
Robert Rieger

This article first appeared in the Winter 2024 issue of Mansion Global Experience Luxury.


Consumers are going to gravitate toward applications powered by the buzzy new technology, analyst Michael Wolf predicts

Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

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