A Gio Ponti revival, triggered partly by a 2022 Taschen publication that reappraises the Italian maestro’s massive design and architectural legacy, makes the discovery of Villa Ponti Bellavista particularly exciting.
Villa Ponti Bellavista: dramatic views and a trip back in time
The 500 sq m villa on Lake Como, recently renovated and available for rent, was Ponti collaboration, originally conceived as a summer retreat for Milanese friends of the architect, the Fossati family, in the mid-1960s when Ponti was at the peak of his fame. Cesare Casati and Enzo Hybsh, who worked as a designer and editor at the magazine Domus, which Ponti founded and directed until his death in the late 1970s, undoubtedly played key roles in the conception and construction of the villa. Their signed sketch and floor plan are framed at the villa entrance.
Lake Como, as a destination, has long attracted grand designs – mythical villas with epic views overlooking expanses of blue-green glacial water framed by cypress, chestnut, and conifer. Since the time of the Roman Empire, when the first outsiders came and were captivated by the mild micro-climate, the deep glacial waters holding the sun’s heat well into autumn, and the unique light with the unreal quality of mother-of-pearl, the powerful and wealthy have sought to leave their mark on the landscape.
Villa Ponti Bellavista is only 7km from Bellagio, yet high enough to feel like a mountain aerie rather than part of the touristic theatre of the legendary lakeside town. At night, 600m up, it seems to hover on the edge of the cliff face. Its fourth wall is an illuminated arc of 11 windows that look over the Grigne mountains and the distant Alps, curved like an observation deck of a ship.
Ocean liners of the last century were symbols of modernity and technological progress – expressions of optimism and a world on the move. They served as backdrops for cutting-edge design and the evolving aesthetics of the day, inspiring architects from Le Corbusier to Gio Ponti. Here, chimneys are represented as ship-like funnels, with nautical lanterns on external walls and tiered balconies that jut into space like the decks of a cruise liner connected by a helix staircase.
In the last years of his life, Ponti was, more than ever, in search of transparency and lightness in design and interiors. This villa conjures it, plays with it, and offers a sense of space and sky so exhilarating and generous it feels like a privilege that no modern-day architect could afford. The sense of largesse is like a scent of nostalgia in the time-capsule villa.
There are six bedrooms, with three that open onto terraces offering lofty lake views. The master bedroom has the oversized headboard that was a Ponti signature. His dashboard-style headboard, composed of shelves and control buttons for lighting and radio, is taken for granted as a hotel fixture today, but at the 1951 Milan Triennial, it was cutting-edge and revolutionary.
The sitting room has a playful sunken lounge area around a belly fireplace and original orange and pink sofas, contributing to the integrity of the 1960s aesthetic. From the swimming pool carved out of a bocce court and planted up with hundreds of blue hydrangeas to a sauna and hot tub with Perspex sun loungers on the lip of the cliff, it’s a stage set that vibrates to an authentic James Bond/Mad Men beat.
There is rhythmic harmony in the detail – from the hand-crafted curvature of doors to the signature Ponti ceramic tiles of the bathrooms, down to the cutlery drawers and door handles which evoke Ponti’s love of craft, layered texture, space and light.