When travel restrictions lifted, Mondadori stayed with Hicks in England, where they planned the scheme in Hicks’s Oxfordshire home, deep diving together into his formidable decorative-arts library. In August, Hicks came to Milan to paint the rooms himself, discovering that Mondadori’s apartment is fast by the Casa Degli Atellani, where Leonardo da Vinci worked on the Last Supper fresco for the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie across the way. “Milan has a reputation of being an ugly, modern industrial city or something,” says Hicks, “but it couldn’t be further from that, really; there are so many Renaissance things…so many tiny hidden gems here. You would never get any idea of what the city is really like until you live here and you go into these courtyards, which are all green and wonderful.”
In Mondadori’s apartment he used a stencil for the repetitive saz pattern that licks its way around the room like flames, but then painted in highlighted shadows to suggest sunlight streaking through the windows. Hicks also closed the door from the former dining room to the service corridor (filling it in with bookcases) to create a cozy sitting room at the end of the enfilade, and painted its walls after Piranesi’s original 1777 studies of the Paestum ruins (from which the artist created a famed series of engravings). Hicks had admired some of Piranesi’s originals in the London house museum of the celebrated early-19th-century antiquary Sir John Soane.
Hicks had hoped that the overdoors would prove to be over-painted glass, but when the accretions of the decades were scraped away, he discovered that they were solid wood. He used them as a canvas for a series of martial still lives inspired by those in Milan’s Villa Reale, occupied at one point by Napoleon’s brother-in-law Eugène de Beauharnais when he was viceroy of Italy, and notable for what Hicks describes as “the most fantastic Empire interiors.”
When we spoke via FaceTime in January, Mondadori was waiting for a long-delayed shipment of furniture and belongings from her former London house. The interiors, she explains, will also involve “quite a lot of upcycling and recycling of old pieces of furniture from my father and my mother’s first house, done by Mongiardino in the early ’70s in Verona.” There are additional treasures from her late father, Leonardo, who was, she notes, “a collector of very eclectic things,” including master drawings (Goya and Degas among them), medieval art, and early Renaissance furniture. This is a genre in which looks trump comfort, as evidenced by a doughty X-frame chair that would seem right at home in an interior by Piero della Francesca. “It’s dreadfully comfortable,” Hicks deadpans. In fact, he calls it “the torture chair.” “You do need a cushion,” concedes Mondadori. She, luckily, also has a passion for the commodious, handmade wicker chairs that Mongiardino designed for Bonacina—furnishings that became signature details of his client Marella Agnelli’s fabled interiors. Mondadori has sleuthed other treasures too—from dawn raids on England’s Kempton market to the dealers of Jaipur and Istanbul and the antiques fairs of Padua.
Meanwhile, the indefatigable Hicks painted Mondadori’s portrait with her children as a Christmas gift, and worked with Mongiardino’s former metalworkers to create his “Footlight” tabletop lamp, inspired by historic theater stage lighting. “It lights up the stuff in front of it and the wall,” Hicks explains, “which I think is rather ingenious, but then I would, wouldn’t I?”
“Working with Ashley on this house, on these walls, has also inspired me,” says Mondadori, who is now developing the first Cabana fabric collection (with Schumacher), which will include the saz design from Hicks’s scheme. “It’s been great fun, I must say,” she adds. “It is great fun,” says Hicks.
Love the Cabana look? Shop Mondadori’s hand-picked decor items at her online boutique Casa Cabana. Some of our favorite pieces, below.