Nestled among the fashion boutiques of Milan’s Via della Spiga is Nilufar Gallery, a spot that represents the beating heart of midcentury Italian design. Immaculately curated over three floors, the highly desirable pieces change regularly, but during April’s Salone del Mobile vintage thrills were provided by rare prototypes of two armchairs and a sofa (€250,000 for the three-piece suite) by Giò Ponti, signed brass candlesticks (€1,200) by Swedish designer Pierre Forssell and a curvy three-piece suite (€35,000) by Federico Munari.
Founder Nina Yashar opened Nilufar Gallery in 1979, originally selling antique carpets. On a trip to Sweden 15 years ago, she purchased some vintage Alvar Aalto pieces on a whim. She then turned to her own backyard, which was brimming with Italian midcentury design, and cherrypicked the best pieces from maestros such as Carlo Mollino, Gaetano Pesce, Ico Parisi, and Franco Albini. These now make up 70 per cent of her collection. Good timing, gut decisions, and a keen eye has kept her pulse on the zeitgeist ever since.
“My aesthetic sense coincides with my personality – it is in constant evolution,” says Yashar. With her trademark turbans, platform sandals, Vietnamese aprons and silk duchesse coats, Yashar is one of the grandes dames of Milan’s style circles, mixing fashion in the same distinctive way that she does design. Miuccia Prada, French interior designer Jacques Grange and art patron Maja Hoffman are all friends and clients.
“I do not have strict criteria. I often change direction when selecting the pieces for the gallery,” she says. As well as proffering pedigree design at auction room prices, Yashar gambles on young designers she sees as future stars. Her Midas touch ensures their fates are sealed: contemporary favourites Martino Gamper, Michael Anastassiades, Bethan Laura Wood and Lebanese duo David/Nicolas all have Yashar to thank for giving them a foot up. Yashar, in exchange, sells some of their pieces exclusively. Recent additions include the leather Chaise Maurice (€14,000), a bench (€13,500), stool (€7,000) and sofa (€15,500) from David/Nicolas’s Paume collection, and low brass tables cast in wax such as Rilievi (€7,000) and Paglia di Vienna (€18,000) by jewellery and furniture designer Osanna Visconti di Modrone.
Carpets are still a focal point, and ancient kilims, Berber and Tibetan rugs sit side by side with contemporary versions, commissioned by Yashar from her designer pals. India Mahdavi’s new Gardenia rugs (€28,000) featuring abstract floral motifs, and Fioritura Mimetica (€34,000 each) – two colour-popping creations from Hermès print designer Pierre Marie – highlight Yashar’s considerable expertise.
In April, Yashar expanded her empire and opened Nilufar Depot, a 1,500sq m warehouse-cum-shop in the city’s northern suburbs. It houses a large part of her collection (over 3,000 pieces, amassed over 30 years) with giant chandeliers, 10m long tables and rare vintage pieces displayed in room sets. “In the past decade interest in design has increased,” says Yashar. “Before, nobody considered it an art form. Every piece has its own personality. From the start, eclecticism has been the key.”