Max Vadukul’s living room features some of his most iconic portraits
Here. From this angle. Look. You see? To have a full view of the open living room with the light pouring in, you have to be exactly at this point. It’s fantastic! Phenomenal!” Ask photographer Max Vadukul to show you his apartment, and this is the result. The previously New York-based Vadukul just moved to Milan, into this bright and airy apartment that has a history for him and his wife. “She wanted to return to Italy and to her family home. So when her mother passed away, and she inherited the space together with her brother, we took the decision.”
Born 59 years ago, to an Indian family in Nairobi, Vadukul moved to London when he was nine years old. Soon, his thriving career began taking him around the world, with his wife, stylist Nicoletta Santoro, who had previously worked at Italian Vogue and had been the international fashion director at large for Vogue China. “Nicoletta and I had been living in New York for about 23 years. My twin children, Alex and Eloise, who are 30, still live there,” Vadukul explains. While both Vadukul and Santoro have a robust sense of style, they decided to work with architects Ariela Goggi and Fiorenza Stringa, who turned the 1970s style, 200-square-metre apartment into an honest, warm space filled with light and linear silhouettes.
The undisputed protagonists of the living room are Vadukul’s monochrome portraits. On one side, an immaculate display starts with Linda Evangelista for Vogue Paris, followed by advertising campaigns for Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto, shot between New York and Rome. “This is the first time in all my life that I have an installation of my photography in my apartment. In New York, I had some prints, but this time my brilliant wife suggested that we show them, and to create a wall of pictures too— a wall with all the pictures I’ve been living with, of the people I’ve really cared for.” In the massive display, you can recognise some of the most iconic works of Vadukul’s career: from choreographer Matthew Bourne performing his famous Swan Lake to a penetrating Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Brian Slade in Todd Haynes’s Velvet Goldmine. From their white frames on the walls, Richard Avedon, Shalom Harlow (channelling Charlie Chaplin) and Rudolf Nureyev stare at you with an intensity that is difficult to ignore. “Here we have Sting and myself,” says Vadukul. “We were shooting for The Dream of the Blue Turtles, his first solo album, which he was recording at Eddy Grant’s Blue Wave Studio in Barbados. He asked me to shoot his album cover but I didn’t know that it would mean three weeks of hanging in and out of Barbados. So much fun, so much work.”
Next door, a single, gigantic picture of Kolkata lines the entire wall of the study. “It’s part of the photo essay. It was pretty great to have that as a way to come back to India. I am Indian, my mother is Indian, my father is Indian, I can speak Gujarati. I’m so proud of this.”
Cosy and comfortably awash with natural light, his work room is filled with family portraits, photography books (including copies signed by Margaret Thatcher and Keith Richards, thanking him for their portraits), prints by Peter Beard and Josef Koudelka (“One of my favourite photographers—it was a gift for my wife, when we lived in Paris”), and some of his old, beloved cameras.
As interiors go, highlights of the living room include the finely textured terrazzo floor, ensuring a proper vecchia Milano (old Milan) feel, together with iconic Italian lights. “As a photographer, for me light is very important, and has been a crucial aspect of the renovation. When you live in New York, you have small windows and buildings are constantly blocking the view. That is why I loved the idea of having a not-so-massive apartment, where I could wake up in the morning and walk in the light while having my tea, while looking out at the park in front. It’s a healing environment,” says Vadukul.
The space flows through the sunny living room and study, a long kitchen, the main bedroom and a separate guest area, where the laundry, Santoro’s dressing room and a guest room are. Anterooms share the same wood-profiled, high-ceilinged aesthetic of white wardrobes—old Milanese carpentry at its best. The guest bathroom at the bottom unveils a portrait of Amy Winehouse, so extreme and provocative that you can’t help but wonder—why is it hidden? Vadukul explains: “I keep it here because it reminds me of the amount of trouble it caused me. She simply didn’t want to be photographed and everything became really hard. It was torture.”
A Distinguishing Facade
Local people know Vadukul and Santoro’s apartment from its flowered terraces, earning it the nickname: ante litteram (Latin for ‘before its time’) bosco verticale (Italian for ‘vertical forest’, a term popularised by architect Stefano Boeri’s projects of the same name, which were conceived as permeable green spaces). The sinuous facade—reminiscent of architect Antoni Gaudí’s surreal, curved buildings— overlooks the Oriana Fallaci garden: “On good sunny days you have plants everywhere, children playing, and that’s it,” says Vadukul, adding, “We are in the centre of Milan, yet it’s so quiet. Can you imagine? Linate airport is just 20 minutes away. This means that in 40 minutes I can sit on a plane to London, Berlin or Paris. This is a high-quality life.”
Vadukul formed a special bond with this place years ago. It’s where he got to know his wife and his in-laws, the place in which he got married, where his twins were born. “In a way, this house has been very much part of my adult life. And now, at this stage of my life, it’s just perfect to be back here.”