Alcova, one of the most anticipated events of the Milan Design Week, returns from 15 to 21 April 2024 (with preview for the press on the 14th) with great news: the seventh edition of the "exhibition of exhibitions” of independent experimental design will be held in Villa Borsani and Villa Bagatti Valsecchi, two homes of extraordinary beauty in Varedo, on the outskirts of Milan.
Villa Borsani is a rare, well-preserved example of modernist residential architecture, designed in 1943 by Osvaldo Borsani as a residence for family adjacent to the ABV factory (Arredamenti Borsani Varedo) and Tecno.
Today Villa Borsani is the private home of the descendants of the Borsani family, it is usually closed to the public (it opens exceptionally during FAI guided tours), and is home to the Osvaldo Borsani Archive.
The unique interiors are embellished with furnishings by Borsani and works by masters of contemporary art, from the fireplace and the ceramic Madonna inserted in a niche by Lucio Fontana to the bronze statue by Agenore Fabbriwhich adorns the staircase.
The second location, Villa Bagatti Valsecchi, today managed by theLa Versiera 1718 Foundation and currently closed to the public, is one of the most significant examples of nineteenth-century villa architecture in Lombardy, where the noble Milanese Bagatti Valsecchi family used to spend the summer away from the heat of the city, hosting friends in the surrounding monumental park.
Therefore, no longer forgotten industrial sites to be reactivated, as Alcova had accustomed us to in the past, but two architectural masterpieces to be discovered, located just a few minutes' walk from each other, and 25 minutes by train (lines S2 and S4) from Cadorna station.
To tell us the reason for the new unexpected and already talked about destination, the creators of Alcova, that is the stainless couple formed by Valentina Ciuffi, head of Studio Vedèt, and Joseph Grima, at the helm of Space Caviar, which does not seem to fear the crisis of the seventh edition but, on the contrary, has many new features for the future.
Villa Borsani and Villa Bagatti Valsecchi are both in Varedo, outside Milan. Why this choice?
Valentina Ciuffi and Joseph Grima: “Alcova has two main ambitions: to offer during the FuoriSalone a sui generis platform, completely different from everything you see in the city, with a strong experimental dimension, which welcomes those who are doing research in design today. Our second ambition is that of exploration of the city: from the beginning, we ensured that Alcova became a device for approaching Milan, in all its facets and in all its natures, to reveal lesser-known and forgotten aspects and glimpses of Milanese history.
The architectural dimension is fundamental for us, we invest a lot of time in identifying the host architecture by always hunting for different typologies.
It would have been easier for us to go from industrial space to industrial space, we would have solved our need to have a container, but year after year we wanted to embrace different and significant places, such as the former panettoni factory of Cova, the military hospital of Baggio , the former cashmere factory in via Sassetti, the former slaughterhouse in viale Molise.
A theme that we have always touched tangentially is that of living, and therefore this year we are dedicating a focus to two special houses, among the most spectacular, significant, singular and luxurious homes of Milanese living, a choice that opens us up to new narratives”.
Villa Borsani and Villa Bagatti Valsecchi are not abandoned places to be reactivated. Is Alcova changing its approach?
Valentina Ciuffi and Joseph Grima: “Villa Bagatti Valsecchi is managed by the La Versiera 1718 Foundation, in fact it is not active at the moment and would not be accessible without our intervention, so it has all those aspects of stratificationand decadence that fascinate us and which can be found in past editions of Alcova.
Villa Borsani, however, is in an excellent state of conservation: there we will do a different operation, Borsani's wonderful furnishings will be partially temporarily removed and the residence will be completely reinterpreted by the exhibitors".
How will Alcova's experimental projects dialogue with the two historic homes?
Valentina Ciuffi and Joseph Grima: “We cannot anticipate much, but we can say that the challenge with Villa Borsani is strong: beyond the furnishings which will be partly removed, there are some extraordinary architectural elements that are impossible to move, such as the fireplace by Lucio Fontanaand the green marble stairs in the first room, the most important.
Exhibitors will necessarily have to communicate with the existing architecture and build their project in a highly distinctive environment and in relatively small rooms.
The spaces of Villa Bagatti Valsecchi, however, are larger, with lots of greenery, perhaps the largest park we have ever had in the history of Alcova, here the designers will be able to relate to the architecture with more freedom".
The two villas are ten minutes walk from each other. Will you create a single visit route?
Valentina Ciuffi and Joseph Grima: “We looked for two locations close to each other so that the fact of having two separate villas did not represent a fragmentation of the experience but rather a multiplier; they are two beautiful homes, often unknown to most, to be easily visited in an afternoon or a morning.
Alcova's operating principle, from the beginning, has been to give life to a destination, because we believe that the place should be one of the elements of attraction for the public.
Obviously what matters most is the research of the participants and the dialogue that is triggered between the exhibitions and the space, but we want to create a destination that deserves the time we ask of people , because we realize that getting to Alcova and visiting all the exhibitors takes a few hours."
Varedo, in Brianza, is a municipality far from the FuoriSalone circuits. What is the challenge of being outside Milan?
Valentina Ciuffi and Joseph Grima: “Looking at the map Varedo seems very out of the way, in reality it is an address that can be easily reached from Cadorna station in 25 minutes with regional trains (S2 lines and S4), bypassing the chaos of the metro.
It's the logic of the destination, we don't want to create a design district.
And we don't think we dared too much this year with Varedo, it's not that far away from the Baggio hospital, furthermore the choice of spaces outside the canonical circuits allows us to manage the public better, those who really want to be there will come" .
In addition to the two venues, what are the main innovations of Alcova 2024?
Valentina Ciuffi and Joseph Grima: “The big news is certainly the new double location. The lines of research return and are updated: materials, craftsmanship, new aesthetics, to which is added the theme of conviviality and congregation, because we invite the public to stay together in a fantastic place that will be a world of its own, animated by talks and moments of reflection. There will be many new names because Alcova, after the Miami experience, attracts more and more creatives from all over the world. Alcova Project Space is back, an exhibition space in which we promote a selection of designers who in our opinion represent with strength and originality the most interesting languages of the moment, which we support in production and promotion throughout the year.
For the first time Alcova Milano will integrate the online shop: as we have already experienced in Miami, on the occasion of the FuoriSalone 2024 we will graphically indicate the pieces on display that can be purchased online".
In 2023 you inaugurated the online shop and landed in Miami. How will Alcova evolve in the future?
Valentina Ciuffi and Joseph Grima: “The Miami experience was an important step for us, because it is the first time that Alcova was held outside the Milanese FuoriSalone circuit, on the occasion of the Miami Art Week last December. Miami is a saturated market that is difficult to penetrate, yet we have seen great interest, with more than 80 journalistic articles including two in the New York Times. Perhaps it was the most talked about news, the American press and public appreciated the courage to propose an unprecedented operation: we took the risk of exporting the Alcova formula, therefore we did not expose in the Design Districtof Miami where the events were concentrated, but we looked for an original destination like the Selina Gold Dust Motel, and we brought all the energy, enthusiasm and experimentation that characterize Alcova Milan; the phrase we heard most was: “It's so refreshing!”.
The shop was opened with the aim of putting exhibitors and buyers in contact, because Alcova is ultimately an experimental fair, with a different format, but we want our exhibitors to have the opportunity to grow . We are a small team, at the moment we are not pushing the shop from a performance marketing perspective, because it wants to be first and foremost a showcase, but little by little we are trying to understand how to strengthen it. And for the future? Maybe you'll see Alcova pop up somewhere else in the world, who knows. In the meantime we are working on the second edition of Alcova Miami".