Not only did the sun shine on us for the entire visit, so did the design gods, as I saw enough to keep my status as “She Who Pauses Every Few Steps to Take a Photo.” Luckily, my friends were good sports (and also camera owners).
From big (the Duomo is so big I couldn’t get it all in the frame without serious distortion), to small (a Gessi faucet shaped like stones), I was just as happy to roam around all day playing looky-loo as I had been in Venice. In front of Biblioteca Ambrosiana just blocks from the Duomo, I came across a placard for a walking tour of the area’s buildings of interest. Now I MUST return, as I love walking, history, and “old stuff.” The tour looked like it could take several days, so maybe I should return in the Fall or Spring when it’s not too hot or crowded. No matter, as a friend and I spent the morning in the Brera district, which I totally recommend you explore when you get to Milan.
I was especially looking forward to our visit to sponsor Gessi because I’d heard their showroom was a former movie theater, with an underground secret garden. How cool is all that, especially when Gessi’s bathroom fittings and fixtures focus on private wellness and the in-home spa experience?
After spending most of the day in the sun, my descent into the cool dark of the Gessi showroom was enough to make my shoulders relax. I might have sighed too. Italian hospitality is pretty darn good. I was ushered into a lounge area where the other Design Hounds were seated. The top management people all came out to introduce themselves, and thanked us for coming. Then we were offered coffee (Italian coffee, not vending machine swill that tastes like used motor oil), champagne, water, and prosecco.
This was followed by a demonstration by artist-philosopher Marsel Lesko. He balanced large stones on smaller ones. We also watched a video of Lesko standing in the middle of a river, surrounded by numerous stones that he had balanced. What did this artist have to do with the company, I wondered? As it turns out, this is how Gessi works. Their mission is “to make everyday life more pleasant with objects of extraordinary beauty and functionality.” They want their faucets to be objets d’art, aspiration and decoration, so they look to nature as a source of inspiration.
After the demo we had a tour of the Indonesian, Scandinavian, and Moscow rooms. My favorite (nope, not the Moscow one even though I did Russian Studies at university) was the Scandinavian because it had the simple lines that I like. Besides, the Scandinavians like outdoor exercise and spas; I like outdoor exercise and spas. They value simplicity; I value simplicity. They are all tall and good-looking; I’m… good at side planks.
I considered hiding in the showroom, knowing they had snacks, drinks and running hot water, but we had a farewell pizza dinner to attend, so eventually I came out of the shower (did you know Gessi conceived the first ceiling-mounted faucet) and took the metro home, resisting the urge to slip my number to Marsel.
The Seguso glassmaking dynasty began in 1397 with Antonio Filux Segusi. Twenty-three generations later (with the 24th in the wings), they are still the premiere creators (and award-winners) of luxurious glass.
Our tour included a complete historical overview from co-owner Gianluca Seguso, followed by a visit to the workshop, where we got to see the craftsmen creating beautiful pieces, such as a plate that became a bowl as it was twirled in the air. One thing I learned (the easy way, not the hard way) is that even when glass looks cold, it’s hot. Glad I’m a good listener.
While I can’t guarantee you’ll have a poem read to you, I can say that you can sign up in advance for your own private tour. Like a number of magical places in Venice, it’s a private-ish place that isn’t widely advertised, so you’ll want to plan in advance.
After we left Murano, our water taxi took us to Fortuny on Giudecca, home to some absolutely gorgeous fabrics. As you get close to the island, look around and notice how the architecture is different from that of Venice. In 1919, founder Mariano Fortuny purchased the land (a former convent that had been closed down by Napoleon) from Giancarlo Stucky, a close friend and owner of the wheat mill next door. That wheat mill is now the very imposing neo-Gothic Hilton Molino Stucky.
The Fortuny property encompasses the fabric showroom and the gardens and home of the former owner, New York interior designer Elsie McNeill Lee, also known as La Contessa. The factory is also on the property, but visitors are not allowed entry in order to maintain Mariano Fortuny’s trade secrets.
Again, thanks to the prior reservation made by the Design Hounds organizers, we got to see both the showroom (open to the public on weekdays – weekends too in the summer), and the adjacent gardens. As a matter of fact, we came right after major restoration had occurred, and one day before the pool was to be opened. Dang, missed a chance to show off my new bathing suit.
Even if you don’t have a BA in Medieval Studies due to a love of European history, or didn’t grow up performing in musical theatre, thanks to a mom who had degrees in dance and costume design, you’ll still love both Seguso and Fortuny for their aesthetic appeal. Look at any painting of upper class Venetians from a previous century, and you’ll see what I mean.
Text and photos: Alexandra Williams, MA