This Milan Hotel Is a Who’s Who of Italian Design’s Contemporary Greats

This Milan Hotel Is a Who’s Who of Italian Design’s Contemporary Greats
Brightly coloured furnishings by Very Wood, Moroso, Cassina Contract and Kartell lend the lobby a dynamic atmosphere.

Designed by Patricia Urquiola, Room Mate Giulia is a vibrant Milan hotel filled with colour and curiosities.

On checking in at Room Mate Giulia, which opened mere steps from Milan’s Piazza del Duomo, guests are offered a glass of water. While thoughtful, the gesture would not be particularly noteworthy were it not for the fact that the pebbled carafe and turquoise tumbler belong to Patricia Urquiola’s Jellies Family series for Kartell. As the hotel’s architect and interior designer, Urquiola has left her imprint everywhere, from the coat hooks to the tiling. The result: a generously appointed yet budget-friendly Milan hotel that reflects the city’s blend of industrialism and fashion.

A curved, textured wall of Milan's signature terracotta bricks establishes a recurring emphasis on resourceful design.

A curved, textured wall of Milan’s signature terracotta bricks establishes a recurring emphasis on resourceful design.

Barely a trace of the building’s former life as a bank remains. The lobby feels, more than anything else, like the apartment of a creative intellectual. Panels of dusty pink marble, which give the space a quiet sense of grandeur, are not only an Urquiola signature; they echo a variety used inside the Duomo, the city’s majestic Gothic cathedral. To the left of the lobby, a curved wall boasting a dimensional arrangement of terracotta bricks (ubiquitous in buildings around Milan) establishes a recurring emphasis on resourceful design.

Indeed, the Spanish hotel chain founded by Enrique “Kike” Sarasola in 2005 has built its identity by staking out desirable locations and styling the interiors so that no two of the current 22 properties world-wide feel the same. With Urquiola on board – and given carte blanche – the outcome was destined to feel eclectic.

Framed watercolours hang high like clerestory windows. The reception desk is clad in galvanized steel.

Framed watercolours hang high like clerestory windows. The reception desk is clad in galvanized steel.

Framed watercolours by local illustrator Sandro Fabbri have been hung high on the walls, edge-to-edge, like contemporary clerestory windows. The requisite selection of art books has been punctuated by clever curiosities: models of the Duomo housed under cloches, a neon sign reading “Happy Hour,” an antique porcelain tureen in the shape of a boar’s head, and a drawing of a Renaissance-era poet taped directly to the wall. All of this enhances a diverse arrangement of furnishings (armchairs and low tables) by Moroso, Very Wood and Cassina Contract, a specialty project division within the Italian furniture company that named Urquiola its art director in 2015 (as if she wasn’t busy enough already).

Perforated metal panels and gunmetal grey stools lend the cafe a functional, crisp look.

Perforated metal panels and gunmetal grey stools lend
the cafe a functional, crisp look.

Against a utilitarian backdrop, the dining area feels surprisingly cheerful. In lieu of a formal restaurant is a sleek canteen where the banquette seating integrates pouches for storing newspapers and magazines. Perforated metal panels demarcate the mezzanine, where guests can eat their morning brioche with greater privacy. Here, a mix of updated spindle-back chairs and tubular metal stools reinforces the yin-yang of cozy and cool.

Playful colours and patterns give the guest rooms a bright and youthful energy.

Playful colours and patterns give the guest rooms a bright and youthful energy.

The 85 guest rooms throw Urquiola’s remarkable flair for colour and pattern blocking into sharp relief. The palette picks up on a vaguely mid-century modern Italian scheme; while the bedroom walls might be robin’s egg blue, jade or charcoal, the bathrooms typically present glossy, clay-coloured tiling with white marble surrounds and red-and-black ceramic sinks. The suites feel accommodating thanks to the balance of sinuous upholstered seating and integrated closet systems (whose iridescent steel frames are softened by screen curtains of Kvadrat technical fabric).

Bathroom mirrors hang from leather straps over marble counters and custom-made sinks: elegance that sings.

Bathroom mirrors hang from leather straps over marble counters and custom-made sinks: elegance that sings.

The most indulgent use of space, however, can be found in the only suite to benefit from the rooftop, where a terrace with an outdoor tub competes with a skylight that opens onto a view of the Vittorio Emanuele cupola.

The wall coverings, curtains and quilted chairs showcase Urquiola's varied material palette.

The wall coverings, curtains and quilted chairs showcase Urquiola’s varied material palette.

Although it’s tempting to sum up Room Mate Giulia as a bold exercise in counterpoints – glossy versus matte, rich colours versus muted hues – the real takeaway is less easy to articulate. Urquiola has assembled a property true to the emerging chain’s fresh spirit – one that won’t require a refresh anytime soon. She has delivered an experience that will appeal to a wide variety of tastes without appearing molto predictable.

If you go:

Where to eat and shop: Given Giulia’s proximity to both the Piazza del Duomo and the soaring Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, you need not venture far to experience Milan’s highlights. Those determined not to leave the city without a few purchases can accomplish quality one-stop shopping at the Excelsior, an impressive 21st-century department store designed by Jean Nouvel and Vincenzo De Cotiis. (Have a spritz or a bite next door at Langosteria Café Milano, among last year’s most celebrated restaurant openings.) Or stroll through the district of Brera, with its variety of contemporary design and fashion boutiques.

If not to shop, visit Nilufar to admire gallerist Nina Yashar’s supreme taste in mid-century
modern and contemporary furniture and accessories (think Gio Ponti, Verner Panton, Jacques Adnet, Carlo Mollino). Her main showroom is located in the heart of the city’s luxe shopping area, while the larger Nilufar Depot will make you wish you had an apartment in Milan.

Things to do: Whether to admire the exacting renovation of a century-old distillery by OMA or to take a selfie against its lustrous gold wall, the Fondazione Prada has become an obligatory cultural stop. Armani/Silos, an old Nestlé granary newly dedicated to the fashion designer’s career, marks another addition to the city’s gallery circuit.

If you’re feeling more Old World, the Gallerie d’Italia Piazza Scala opposite the famed opera house exhibits masterful 19th- and 20th-century artworks from Lombardy and beyond. Or stroll the recently redeveloped Darsena, an old harbour connecting the city’s Pavese and Grande canals.

Finally, the Fondazione Feltrinelli by Herzog & de Meuron, open to the public, is a striking addition to Porta Volta and a must-see for archi-tourists.

A word from our sponsors