The List#02

by Antonella Dedini

Design meets Material - The List #02 - Design Italy

This month's list concerns materials, their new production processes and up-cycle, and how they have influenced furniture's contemporary aesthetics and functionality.

Boro Boro Sashiko, historical pieces from the Chuzaburo Tanaka permanent collection exhibited at the Amuse Museum in Tokyo - Museum of Textile Arts, Japan

Talking about materials today is fascinating if we think about the development over time of techniques capable of producing an artificial material that is indistinguishable from a natural one. We realize that the material of which objects are made appears to us more and more indefinable in simple categories acquired from our experience; the only way to understand the material is to consider it for its performance: that is, to speak of the material by not defining "what it is", but by telling "what it does" and "how it does it", thus considering the aesthetics of the materials, whether natural or artificial, a fundamental discipline for those who want to be a designer. Furthermore, a new quality of matter is the awareness of its environmental impact during its manipulation and in second life.

Boro Boro Sashiko, Chuzaburo Tanaka permanent collection exhibited at the Amuse Museum in Tokyo - Museum of Textile Arts, Japan


In the name of the "yuyo-no-bi" philosophy (Beauty of practicality), in ancient Japanese families, it was customary to patch and embroider worn-out clothes and kimonos to give them new life: aesthetics and ethics of mending for the reuse of precious materials such as fabrics. Boro Boro Sashiko is a traditional Japanese embroidery technique for recovering different pieces of cloth which, when combined, form a canvas. Boro means "worn rag", and Sashiko means "small cuts" about the simple point that makes up the geometric patterns. The technique was born in Japan in the Edo period (1615-1668) among the rural populations of the country's north. It quickly became one of the best-known and most popular manual arts. Over time, Sashiko has evolved a lot, becoming a refined needle technique.


Hella Jongerius, Diamond Vase, Galerie Kreo, Paris 2019.

Limited edition

Hella Jongerius is a Dutch designer who is internationally considered one of the most influential of her generation. Since the 1990s, she has been experimenting with different materials, industrial processes, and traditional craft techniques in ceramics, fabric, and glass. Blending craftsmanship with advanced technology and celebrating the imperfection of objects and materials, she explored the boundaries between the old and the new by applying sophisticated technologies to the simplest ones.

Shown here is a porcelain vase with a mix of three-dimensional patterns and iridescent colours that change intensity following the light path during the day, from dawn to dusk, in shade or light, depending on where the vase is positioned. The technique involves the application of thick layers of matte and glossy enamel, which, superimposed on each other, create stunning colours.


Patricia Shone, vase from the Erosion collection, Isle of Skye (Scotland), 2020.

The Raku ceramic processing is of Japanese origin and is linked to the Tea ceremony. The technique used by the artist Patricia Shone starts from this tradition but is enriched with different finishes: the oriental Raku technique requires that during the manufacturing process, the object undergoes a strong thermal shock with multiple firings at different temperatures. When the objects are extracted from the oven, during the various steps, they are immersed in fuels, sawdust, peat, leaves or newspaper, which activate a so-called "reduction" process that chemically draws oxygen, creating surfaces with a unique colour. To this, Patricia adds an ancient American technique: the precooked piece is given a layer of enamel which, after further cooking and cooling, shrinks, creating breaks and natural cracks. In her vases, you can see terrestrial and marine landscapes and rocks of the thin soils of the Highlands in an extraordinary contrast of strength and fragility. Each object is a unique piece.


Gio Ponti for Paolo de Poli, Set of three fire-enamelled copper vases, Padua Italy 1950.

"If there is an Italian enamel art, this is due to De Poli... to the esteem and admiration that he is earned...". (Giò Ponti)

De Poli was a great master in creating glass-based enamel objects on metal or glass. The technique protects the metal from oxidation and is available in different colours, shades and finishes. It is an ancient technique dating back to the Egyptians, who also applied enamel to stone objects to embellish them. Poli refined this work to the point of becoming an internationally recognized artist. Starting from the 1930s, he experimented with small refined objects characterized by shape and a thousand colours. He collaborated with the great architect Gio Ponti to create furniture, decorative panels, animal-themed sculptures, and functional objects such as vases, handles, plates, ashtrays, and cups.


Shiro Kuramata, "Star Piece" terrace, fragments of coloured glass and white marble; the material covered the floors and walls of the first Issey Miyake store in Tokyo and became the material for the Kyoto table, for Memphis, Milan, 1983

"An aesthetic icon of the best architectural tradition, the sown in stone and marble fragments, an extraordinary artifice of craftsmanship over the centuries, bursts into the radical culture of Memphis in the 1980s with the strength of a happy wonder".

Shiro Kuramata, the young architect from Tokyo, charmed Issey Miyake in the late 1970s and then Sottsass's Memphis in Milan in the 1980s. He proposed an unexpected white terrace on which he inserted fragments of brightly coloured glass: an unexpected chromatic and material language, which shifts the aesthetic boundaries of a traditional "natural" material while continuing to dialogue with the alphabets that have made it successful over the centuries ". (Frida Doveil, architect and researcher for @deden_designlist # 42)


Claudio Bitetti, King stool/coffee table in turned natural cork, Mogg, Italy 2015 suitable for indoor and outdoor furniture. 

Cork is an ecological, bio-compatible natural material because it is biodegradable, fireproof and waterproof, immune to mould and insects, and can act as a sound-absorbing material, insulates from humidity, muffles noise and is fireproof. It is not toxic. Indeed it is hypoallergenic; it does not absorb odours. It is light and compact. Easy to work because elastic and soft but resistant. And if it comes in handy, it floats. It offers a considerable contribution to environmental sustainability because produced from a particular type of oak, Quercus Suber, the only tree whose bark regenerates every nine years after decortication, constituting an example of a natural circular economy.

Why use it as a structural material in furniture? All the cork produced can become a new raw material according to a virtuous process of the Circular Economy. All scraps generate other products or are an integral and necessary part of different production processes. At the end of its use, it can be 100% reused in endless applications.


Frank Gehry, Wiggle Side Chair, Vitra, Switzerland 1972

+ Giorgio Caporaso, modular bookcase system Moretto honeycomb cardboard, Lessmore, Italy 2019

Making cardboard furniture becomes a different way of doing design; it means offering the basis for a philosophy of sustainable living that communicates respect for the environment and health. It means welcoming the needs of an increasingly mobile, nomadic and changing life.

Recently, the architect Giorgio Caporaso designed a modular bookcase system in honeycomb cardboard that is very versatile in composition. It is a poetic, bizarre, curious object. Strengthened by its sustainability and out-of-the-line character, it becomes the protagonist of the environment, catches the eye, and fascinates. Those who observe these cardboard shelves want to try them, touch them, and test their resistance to surprise themselves. It can be customized with coloured finishes to match the mood of different spaces. Among the architects who have used cardboard with great success: the Japanese Shigeru Ban designed cardboard structures to create entire buildings, and Frank Gerhy, in his continuous experimentation with materials, designed the famous Wiggle chair in the '70s, a forerunner of those values of sustainability indispensable today. The creation of Gehry paved the way for a trend that today is widely taken up by creatives worldwide.

The cardboard furnishings are versatile, very resistant, light and recyclable. The cardboard is derived from recycled paper and can be assembled without adhesives and other harmful substances.


A collection of fabrics that reuses commonly discarded onion and garlic peels.

Onions are grown all over the world. Their peel is usually thrown away in the compost.

HUID is a biotech start-up that uses onion waste to open a plastic-free future. Creating alternatives to single-use plastics, HUID uses food waste to create circular material solutions.

The by-products involved in the production of HUID can also be recycled in a local community for other purposes: the water used to treat the hides before processing can be used as a textile dye for artisan purposes or as a base for a vegetable broth.

The process is not fully defined, but the onions are boiled and bonded together with a casein-based adhesive, making them strong even if exposed to water. Then, scraps or small pieces of leather, which are not large enough to be made into veneers, are ground to become raw material and be processed again.


Sneakers Hana, Id-Eight, designed and produced in Italy.

ID stands for Identity, and EIGHT embodies infinity, the ability to regenerate and eco-sustainability.

They are sports shoes entirely made with waste materials derived from by-products of agricultural or industrial activities, including pineapple leaves, apple peels and cores, grape stalks and seeds, organic cotton and recycled plastic.

In particular, the bio-materials used here are:

Piñatex, made with the waste leaves of pineapple grown in the Philippines; Vegea, obtained from the bio-polymerization of marc;

AppleSkin (cartamela), obtained from the bio-polymerization of apple peels and cores also in Italy;

Recycled Lycra and mesh (waste plastic) for inserts on the upper, sole, laces and label are also made of recycled materials, as is the box that contains the sneakers.

They are all biodegradable and cruelty-free materials.


Cristiano Ferilli, Leuca sunglasses in Sikalindi® prickly pear fibre, Ferilli Eyewear, Italy 2019.

The prickly pear plant is fast growing and infesting, so much so that annual thinning is essential in some agricultural areas of southern Italy. From the waste of this practice derives the natural Sikalindi fibre extracted from the still green cladodes (blades), just cut from the plant, through a unique patented process. This process is entirely ecological and does not use polluting products. Once extracted, the fibre is dried, thus acquiring the desired woody consistency. Like ordinary wood, it has spontaneous and always unpredictable veins, thus offering a material that is always unique and unrepeatable in terms of pattern and colour. Moreover, it is a material used to make furnishing objects and accessories such as eyeglass frames as it is particularly elastic and resistant. Subsequently, the application of exceptional products and impregnating resins for wood have the purpose of preserving the material to make it waterproof.


Marco Trevisan, Diamond Bag. The whole collection is Made in Italy with Desserto, vegan leather.

Two farmers, Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez, developed a technique in Mexico to transform the robust fibres of the cactus into a very realistic-looking "vegan" skin. It's called Desserto. The cactus is a symbolic plant of the country, it doesn't need water to grow, and there is plenty of it. The mature leaves are cut from organically grown cactus plants, cleaned, crushed and then left in the sun to dry for three days before processing. The material can then be dyed naturally. Difficult not to mistake it for natural animal skin for its softness and aesthetics. A significant factor is that this leather is breathable.


Elissa Brunato, Bio Iridescent Sequin fabric, UK 2019

Working alongside materials scientists Hjalmar Granberg and Tiffany Abitbol of RISE, Swedish research institutes, Elissa Brunato created sequins for embroidery, which use the ability of wood to form structures that refract light. In this way, this iridescent bio sequin fabric can shine naturally without the addition of chemicals.

Today, with biotechnologies, materials that were once unthinkable can be created. These beautiful biodegradable iridescent sequins are made with zero waste from wood cellulose. Bio Iridescent Sequin finds an answer in the search for biotechnologies capable of exploiting naturally abundant materials to create iridescent structural colours. Here the original wood material can mimic the fascinating visual aesthetics of beetle wings. The material remains as light and strong as plastic but is compostable.

 It is an entirely new way to approach colour and finishes in the textile and fashion industry.


Perseo fluorescent vase, Dygo Design, Italy 2019

Pop fluorescence and experimentation with ancient techniques with the modern transposition of the "repoussage" technique, a decorative deformation that, instead of being applied to metal processing as per tradition, is here made on an innovative and ecological bio-plastic: PLA (Polylactic Acid), derived from the transformation of sugars present in corn, beet, sugar cane and other natural and renewable materials and not derived from petroleum, unlike traditional plastic.

This material can add an additive during processing that makes it fluorescent thanks to a unique, highly concentrated pigment that will make it shine in the dark. The light thus assumes the same quality as visual materials, which are transformed into linguistic means, expressive tools and sometimes poetic vehicles. The effect will capture the attention in space and, as in a "fluo" work of Pop Art, will bring out the shapes of the vase, its three-dimensional surface and its material patina.


Francisco Gomez Paz, Paolo Rizzatto, Hope lamp, Luceplan, Italy 2009.

This lamp represents a contemporary interpretation of traditional chandeliers that in the past used drops of Venetian glass or Bohemian crystal to refract light. To recreate the same effect, indeed to enhance it, polycarbonate leaves were used on the principle of Fresnel lenses. Hope offers an incredible and sparkling show. This composition of thin transparent sheets creates a light and airy volume around the light source. The plastic material has worked to resemble glass: it has all its beauty and reflective qualities but with a lower weight.

The Fresnel lens, one of the many optical devices introduced by the French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel (1788-1827), whose studies led to the demonstration of the wave nature of light, essentially consists of a concentric series of stepped prismatic rings with a combined effect equivalent to that of a regular lens of the same aperture, but necessarily much thicker, heavier and with more significant losses of light by absorption. It was first used for creating a navigation lighthouse and later in photography and car headlights.


Lorica, Research of artificial leather, Domus Academy Research Center, Italy 1988.

At the end of the 1980s, artificial leathers, such as Lorica, were considered interesting for sectors such as car interiors, given the very leather-like aesthetics and hi-tech performance. But they lacked a personality of their own and had a long way to go to take the environmental component into account.

The designer of materials, Frida Doveil, tells us:

"The project on which we worked at the DA Research Center led by Antonio Petrillo aimed at defining aesthetics other than leather. Taken from the plant world and based on the DNA of the material (based on polymeric microfibers, the same ones that today can be obtained by recycling PET bottles), which could give this new material a distinctive and less "synthetic" identity.


Gio Ponti, Ponti 949 chair, BBB Italia, 1940 - outdoor version in Resysta® *

Re-editions, restyling of great classics, and real icons re-proposed on the market that responds to the current need for reassurance and identification. Textures, colours and unusual materials often characterize the most recent versions and reinterpretations of these well-known objects, whose longevity also seems connected to their fabulous (and apparent) simplicity, the most precious fruit of authentic design culture.

And Gio Ponti was the protagonist of it. The Ponti 949 chair is now re-edited with brilliant and innovative material to use the seat even outdoor.

Who said that the icons of the history of design must now remain only in museums?

Wasn't keeping up with the times the dream of those who had designed them?

* Resysta® is a highly durable material, resistant to sun, rain, frost and even salt water. It keeps its colour perfectly even if it catches the light. It is made up of 60% rice husk, 22% common salt and 18% mineral oil and maintains the visual appearance of the wood. Compared to wood, it requires minimal maintenance and is highly resistant to pests, moulds and cracks. It is a completely recycled and recyclable material. It has the look and warm patina of the wood.


Bruno Munari, Falkland, pendant lamp, Danese, Italy 1964.

Genius and tights. One of the many beautiful insights of this great designer.

"One day, I went to a knitwear factory to see if they could make me a lamp. We don't make lamps, they replied. I answered: you will see, you will make them".

In those years, Bruno Munari approached Japanese aesthetics to design this lamp commissioned by Danese. Using the same tights material, he solved the problem of yellowing paper that was not washable, while another intuition was obviously to use a technology that already exists for the production of the lamp. It is a suspension lamp whose shape comes from the tension of a synthetic fabric tube and the weight of some metal rings: it is a spontaneous shape generated only by the tension of metal rings. Seven metal rings of different diameters, a fabric tube, a single bulb and an aluminium reflector follow the shape of the fabric's curves. Easy to assemble, wide after assembly, but small and practical to carry. Bruno Monari knew how to design.


Chris Bangle, BMW GINA Light Visionary Model, Germany 2008.

GINA is the acronym for "Geometry and Function in 'N' Adaptations". A car with a fabric body to be as light as possible and versatile instead of being made of steel, aluminium or carbon fibre. But the innovative thing is that its seamless stretch fabric body is stretched over a movable metal frame, allowing the driver to change its shape at will.

Chris Bangle, then Head of Design at BMW, asked his team to challenge conventional design principles and processes. The point was not to find a new model to produce but to do a lateral thinking exercise in a challenge that led to new directions. It's called Research. And it is the only activity considered unproductive to companies and managers of modest vision. Chris Bangle now directs his research centre, mainly in consultancy, design management and strategies for companies.


Mario Bellini, Le Bambole sofa, B&B Italia, 1972.

Using cold-foamed polyurethane in moulds has radically innovated the design concepts of upholstered furniture. B&B Italia developed the technology in 1966. 

A machine that creates and "spits" rubber ducks by working cold polyurethane, injecting it as a foam into moulds. The meeting with the architect Mario Bellini made the most of this new technology. But you have to know how to imagine new applications. In the 1960s, Piero Busnelli got the spark: why not try the sofas too? A revolutionary sofa was born: Le Bambole. The couch "is not covered in fabric, but is built-in fabric". A transgressive advertising campaign was launched, which ensured Le Bambole, with its censorship, lasting success thanks to the contribution of the art director Enrico Tabacchi, the young photographer Oliviero Toscani and the top model Donna Jordan.


A. Denis Santachiara, Pencil, Mechanical Pencil in Steel, Cyrcus Design, Italy

B. Alessandro Mendini, Monster, 900 Silver Sculpture Tureen, Cyrcus Design, Italy

C. Alberto Ghirardello, Synapses, Gold Plated Steel Bracelet, Cyrcus Design, Italy

The "Download Design" is a new branch of design coined by the designer Denis Santachiara, the visionary forerunner of 3D printing and founder in 2013 of the movement, the first author design company that produces and sells online through digital fabrication processes.

A 3D printer builds the object by depositing, layer by layer, the material according to numerical indications related to the design. Today the 3D printable materials can be many and of different characteristics and textures. Even chocolate can pour today from a 3D printer.

The design system is changing. New production technologies, combined with the most innovative materials, will trigger new Research lines, new areas and awareness capable of giving more excellent value to the design culture.

The revolution has only just begun, but it is proceeding rapidly.