The entrance to Straf's minimalist beige, black and gold lobby is through two sets of 12ft-tall glass doors. Dating back to the 1880s, this old palazzo was bought by brother and sister Daniela and Gerardo Bertazzoni in 2000 and turned into a designer hotel. They chose the haute couture fashion and interior designer Vincenzo de Cotiis to transform the space, and spent more than £5m on renovations. He has created a striking architectural anomaly, deliberately designed to feel not quite finished.

There's lots of concrete. On the floor it's polished; on the walls, coated. Black burnished-steel panels are prevalent, too, adorning opposite sides of the lobby's square columns. The other faces are cotton gauze, ripped and backlit behind glass. The reception desk is resplendent in aged brass.

As elsewhere in the hotel, "designer cool" is offset by warmer elements. Under a glass courtyard are low-level beige sofas and brass "square C"-shape reading tables. Behind are two 10ft by 6ft fibreglass rectangles, the sinuous side showing, in brick red and old gold.


Straf, Via San Raffaele 3, Milan, Italy (00 39 02 805 081;, is down a quiet side street, just moments from the Plaza del Duomo and La Scala in the heart of the city. It's also five minutes' walk from the Quadrilatero d'Oro - home to Gucci, Ferragamo and friends - and the Brera, where locals lounge over aperitivi in the early evening.

Time from international airports: the hotel is an hour from Malpensa, and 30 minutes from Linate by taxi, costing €20 (£14) and €75 (£54) respectively.


There are 66 rooms and suites, either with a light or dark colour scheme. Lighter rooms have concrete floors and walls in the bedroom, and brass in the bathroom. Aged mirrors overlook the bath or shower.

Darker rooms - which may be too gloomy for some - have shiny black, textured slate floors. Bathroom walls are gun-metal burnished steel. Each bedroom features a vast canvas board plastered with burnt orange or Granny Smith-green stucco. Mirrored walls add light and a sense of space.

As well as being fascinating to look at, the rooms are user-friendly. There are loose-weave beige cotton throws and panel blinds, precision bedside reading lights and large, stand-alone ceramic sinks. Suites on the sixth floor have balconies, with views of the Duomo. Room options include beds in the centre of the room, Japanese massage chairs and chromatherapy treatment - light panels on the ceiling that change colour to manage your mood.

Keeping in touch: direct-dial phone, high-speed internet (plug-in) connection and a television that doubles as a stereo. Once you choose a song, it plays on a loop until you choose another.

Freebies: cooler-than-cool toiletries. Aperitif snacks such as chilli olives and pizza pieces from 6-9.30pm each night in the intimate Straf Bar, a street-side watering hole frequented by stylish locals.


Doubles start at €270 (£168), including breakfast.

I'm not paying that: The Antica Locanda dei Mercanti has airy rooms five minutes' walk from the Duomo. Doubles from €165 (£118), room only (00 39 02 805 40 80;