A Modern-Meets-Neo-Classical Apartment in Milan

Such period signifiers bend, bleed, even explode as you step over the threshold into the apartment itself, where one feels immediately transported — perhaps to an alien planet with a distant parallel past, perhaps to an alternative present. A previous tenant had dropped the ceilings and covered the walls and the 200-year-old parquet floors, but De Cotiis stripped the original surfaces back once more, revealing generations of peach or light gray plaster, uneven and ghostly, rich with centuries of history. The faded frescoes on the vaulted ceilings, bordered with delicate moldings, hint of original shades of umber and steel blue. As delicate as such operations are, though, the most difficult thing might be knowing when to stop: How far to go back? How much to let show through? A hint of the Napoleonic era, a sliver of Art Nouveau? It’s an instinctual process for De Cotiis, who uses his graceful hands like divining rods, touching the surface, feeling its age, its stories. The walls, left untreated, leave a fine sift of plaster dust if you brush against them; to inhabit the space means becoming part of its very life, to be written into its history. ‘‘It is very slow,’’ he says of bringing such a space to just the right moment, one both timeless and out of time, ‘‘and there is no way to speed it up. Imperfection takes longer than perfection.’’ De Cotiis also restored the apartment’s ornately curved archways that had been adorned during the 18th century with then-fashionable faux marble effects and later painted over by a previous owner; he painstakingly chipped at the layers, revealing as much as possible of the elegantly faded pattern without destroying it.

THE SENSE OF nuanced antiquity he has cultivated exists in radical counterpoint to the apartment’s spareness. ‘‘We might be the most minimal people on earth,’’ says Claudia Rose, who frowns slightly when describing the haute bourgeois home she grew up in nearby Pavia, with ‘‘a lot of heavy curtains,’’ fine paintings and gilding. ‘‘We love empty space,’’ she says.


De Cotiis in his dressing room.

Simon Watson

There is plenty of it here, beneath the twisted brass light fixtures by De Cotiis that hang like polished Tinkertoy clouds. The few pieces of furniture, including long, low, pale peach velvet sofas and coffee tables inlaid with glass-smooth…

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