International designer and art theorist Aldo Cibic enters the hotel industry with a first-of-its-kind adaptive reuse project in the heart of Milan’s Navigli neighborhood.

Savona 18 Suites opened in April 2018 after a six-year mission to bring an abandoned Milanese tenement building back to life, carefully reincarnated as a playful boutique hotel with a clear lineage to its past as one of the city’s typical casa di ringhiere buildings. As a result of Cibic and his team at Cibic Workshop’s efforts, the 43-room vibrant hotel fuses a familiar sensation of a Milanese residential experience with that of a new-age art gallery befitting of the art district’s buzzing streets and high-fashion residents.

Originally developed as housing for Milan’s working class in the early 1920s, these “house of rails” are common throughout the city and were once home to many of the city’s residents. Each building’s three-story structure encloses a central courtyard overlooked by shared terraces. Here, children played, meals were shared, and in some, iron or woodworking workshops were operated. Today many have been renovated and restored as trendy, modern residential buildings, but it took Cibic to embark upon transforming the abandoned tenant at Via Savona 18 into the first hotel concept.

All photos by Adelaide Saviano unless otherwise noted.

Known as an icon in Milan for his role in the 1970s Memphis movement, his partnership with Ettore Sottsass, and his countless contributions to the design industry, Cibic was called upon to spearhead the regeneration shortly after a group of anarchist activists who overtook the empty building were evicted in 2010.

Together with Blu Hotels group, Cibic formulated a vision that would blend seamlessly with the cosmopolitan district’s bountiful art galleries, designer showrooms, and fashion headquarters of such giants as Fendi and Armani. He wanted the lobby and street front experience to complement the upscale shops and mimic the experience of entering a contemporary art gallery.

Instilling that level of sophistication in a hotel space without feeling sterile or contrived is no easy feat. Cibic understood the importance of maintaining the integrity of the classic residential building to create balance and achieve a subliminal sense of comfort and warmth upon arrival into the lobby and central courtyard.

“I envisioned Savona 18 as a mansion house, turning it into an intimately friendly place in the center of Milan’s fashion and design district,” states Cibic.

Guestroom photo by Matteo Piazza

The lobby and connecting Petit Café were carefully curated and designed by Cibic to do just that. From the Fratelli Boffi armchairs and eclectic accessories from the Paolo C. collection layered throughout, to the yellow mosaic Bisazza bench and entrancing Blackbody ‘Lucky Eye’ lobby mirror, most pieces were designed in collaboration with Cibic. The story continues into the guestrooms as poppy colors and wall graphics contrast with the open spaces and neutral tones to create an effect of warm minimalism. The 43-room collection features artifacts and furnishings unique to each room and diverse layouts ranging from 20 to 48 square meters that are reminiscent of the former apartment spaces. While elevators were added, the footprint remains nearly identical.

Looking down to the central courtyard, sleek furniture by Roda sits below a colorful mural signed by Cibic himself. His first, and likely not his last, Cibic’s multi-pronged approach as hotel designer, architect, and product designer suits him well.