l Caroline and l Vanna at Barnaba Fornasetti’s Pad
Exotically bearded and antiquely bourgeois looking, Barnaba Fornasetti is Milan’s resident dandy. He is a furniture designer, decorator, and DJ; a multi-pronged role he does in a nearly all-vintage wardrobe plucked from the family closet and dusty old shops throughout Italy. Above all, he is an anarchic-living Italian, whose remarkable home regularly transforms itself into Milan’s most illustrious creative salon.
Formerly the live-work headquarters of design and decorating god Piero Fornasetti, Barnaba’s father, who presided over mid-century Milan’s famously frizzante creative scene, the rambling space is now the setting for glittering get-togethers during Salone del Mobile (Milan’s yearly furniture fair), music parties where Barnaba spins from his huge vinyl collection, and smoky evenings crammed with the city’s artists, architects, photographers and industrial designers.
“The first time I came, Barnaba was having a party and the house was filled with interesting, creative people,” recalls Milan-based art curator Caroline Corbetta, one of the great gorgeous girls we’ve shot in this feature. “But I was totally fascinated by the million objects inside. This is the house of my dreams. I spent the whole night looking at the details in every room.”
As torchbearer of his father’s magnificent legacy, Barnaba maintains the home as rigorously as any of Milan’s numerous historic home museums. It is judiciously packed with a healthy dose of the 13,000 objects and decorations that Piero created across his prolific 50 year career. “This type of living archive is really rare,” Corbetta adds. “Seeing the house where Piero lived and worked is unbelievable.”
Unlike most home museums that are frozen in time, the Fornasetti residence is rocking with life and vibrating with hypnotic energy. Layered with one-of-a-kind furniture, ceramics, wallpapers and paintings, the dazzling decorations fill every tiny corner—even the maid’s closet is lined with a flock of birds. The stairs are striped, the floors are specked with colored marble shards, the walls are wrapped in illustrated Jerusalem cityscapes, and the slanted staircase banister angles in a dangerously zany way. “I used to ride down it when I was a child,” recalls Barnaba.
The sober-front building was constructed in the 19th century by his grandfather, a typewriter importer. Before turning his hand to design, Piero used the space to print books for Milan-based artists. “De Chirico, Fontana and Ponti all came here when I was very little,” Barnaba recalls. “This is a house that is always changing.”
At age 65, Barnaba still channels a little rascal, but a prudent one. He has preserved the old-fashioned telephones, the bookcases heaving with 18th-century volumes, and huge portfolios of Piero Fornasetti’s archived drawings, but has also made thrilling additions that speak to his own skills as a talented designer and decorator. He built the magnificent kitchen, fashioned the all-red guest room to be as cozy as a Cartier box, and built his beloved music room.
“It’s one of the best homes in Milan,” says Vanna Quattrini, a fashion designer in Milan and frequent visitor to the house with her musician boyfriend Saturnino, “and Barnaba is one of my favorite people.”
Behind a serious demeanor, Barnaba hides a wonderful sense of humor and keeps his father’s famed ironic torch blazing. He has covered a hallway in Piero’s illustrations of penis- and scrotum-shaped noses, casually hung a valuable Dutch masterpiece above the oven, plastered fish prints over old-fashioned toilets, and liberally grazed the place with images of naked butts drawn in a lovely neo-classic style. The hip party pad also functions as both Barnaba’s home and work studio, filled daily with young designers. The maze of jam-packed rooms and their bounty is both overwhelming and elegant.
“It’s an impossible balance to achieve but Barnaba’s done it,” Corbetta remarks. “It’s the only place I know that is really exaggerated but rigorous at the same time.”
Barnaba calls the happy chaos “a tavolozza”—Italian for a paint-splattered artist’s palette. “We need more decoration in our world,” he adds. “It’s like music. Humans can’t live without it. It’s vital to our psychological state.”
Amen to that.