The grand stone exterior of the Sheraton Diana Majestic, Milan, with its rounded facade, opulent balconies and art deco flourishes, transports you back in time to the belle epoque. But walk inside the hotel and you’ll find that behind the historic exterior lies an unexpectedly sleek lobby and stylish bar — where you feel as though a 21st-century design studio morphed into Milan’s see-and-be-seen hot spot.
Milan is a city with a compelling sense of style. The beguiling nature of this hotel’s historically significant outer structure is part of what makes the property so tantalizing. “The Diana has a beautiful facade,” says Francesco Brunetti, Marriott International Milan Area Managing Director. “But you would never guess what’s behind it.”
The Diana’s antique revolving door serves as a gateway to a decidedly contemporary world. Perhaps the most obvious surprise is the modern design aesthetic, carefully crafted using elegant, modern furniture pieces created by Baxter, a leading Italian design firm.
The cozy lobby has subtle markers of this modern touch: There are sleek, low sofas covered in cobalt-blue suede and a minimalist metal birdcage chair whose oval seat is covered in the same fabric.
But it is in the lounge and restaurant, separated from the lobby with a heavy leather curtain, that this contemporary décor reaches a crescendo — the large room, which has a grand bay window looking out onto the hotel’s garden, radiates style.
“For me, the hotel is so fascinating because it combines a design look and feel with a historic property,” Brunetti says. “We turned a traditional bar — it used to be a very typical 1980s bar with an old piano and a few guests each night — into a fashionable spot, a place where Milanese come to see and be seen. Now it’s not uncommon to get 500 to 1,000 people coming through for aperitivo.”
In large part the hotel is able to exceed expectations and stay fresh — a difficult task in Milan, a fashion and design capital where trends quickly come and go — because of its collaboration with Baxter, an emerging brand that, over the course of its time with Sheraton Diana Majestic, has become a leader in handmade luxury furniture.
Under this unique partnership, Baxter replaces the furniture every two years on the occasion of Salone del Mobile, Milan’s annual furniture week, one of the biggest design events in the world and a social extravaganza. “Everything they produce is simply outstanding — every piece is a piece of art,” says Brunetti.
A scan of the lobby and lounge backs up Brunetti’s claim. The long and low soft leather sofas under the bay window exude a warm elegance, and the floor is peppered with armchairs in mustard and cobalt blue. “The beauty of Milanese-designed furniture is the fact that you find things that are both sophisticated and practical,” says Brunetti.
Yet these design pieces are not confined to the hotel’s interior. A closer look at the verdant garden, which is particularly popular in the warmer months, reveals stainless steel chairs and benches topped with gorgeous cognac leather.
Standing nearby is a peacock chair built of brass-plated steel and similarly luxurious leather straps. Beneath one of the garden’s many trees stands an oversize copy of a Tolomeo desk lamp, an icon of modern Italian design.
In fact, this secret garden is a nod to the hotel’s past. The property sits on what was once Italy’s first public swimming pool, the Bagno di Diana, which opened in 1842.
Indeed, there are hints from the hotel’s exterior that this is someplace special. The building’s facade exemplifies Liberty-style architecture. Fittingly, it’s adorned with stone sculptures of leaves and flowers connected by tendrils that create flowing, sinuous lines.
Below some of the building’s long, thin windows are zoomorphic designs: With the snout of a dog and the eyes of a man, these creatures stare intently with mouths agape, their severity diminished by the bunches of flowers that form their ears.
This eclectic marriage of history and design, of fanciful exteriors and sumptuous modern furniture, has made the property an attractive destination for guests, the Milanese and even designers — the hotel has hosted fashion shows and shoots, sometimes transforming itself in the process.
Yet the Diana will always be at its best during aperitivo, a predinner ritual in Milan. For a glorious couple of hours, well-heeled visitors unwind in the hotel’s lounge, sipping a glass of wine or aperitif and grazing on some snacks.
Some say that architect Achille Manfredini was inspired by Parisian nightlife when he designed his complex during the belle epoque. The interiors are long gone, but his historic structure remains intact and is now perfectly complemented by a remarkably contemporary design. This mixing and melding has fashioned the Sheraton Diana Majestic into the place to be in Milan, a place not unlike what Manfredini originally had in mind.
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