The List #6
A monthly list curated by Antonella Dedini
The new year is almost here, and most of us are full of energy and new year’s resolutions. One place where many of us begin making changes each year is by reorganising our homes: something that also can help us do a little mental housekeeping.
And that’s what lists are for: to have a clear view of the things we need to accomplish and to convince ourselves to prioritise them correctly. I personally group tasks by type and category, writing them down in notebooks and then making organised piles around the house.
Then the issue is finding the right space where to store things, but also coming up with smart and practical spaces so that we don’t forget where we put them. We need handy drawers, cabinets, and other storage spaces. If we have pieces like this, we should keep them around. And if we don’t, it’s the perfect time to think of picking up some new storage pieces that are not only functional, but aesthetically pleasing, too.
This month’s list is all about unique storage spaces and draws as usual on art, the history of design, and on new products by contemporary designers.
REAL LIFE TETRIS
If you’re looking for someone to help you reorganise, Michael Johansson is the man for you. Adapting the concept of the famous game Tetris, he cleverly arranges objects in spaces to create amazing collages with unused goods in a surprisingly colourful and eye-popping way.
The Swedish artist has openly stated that his creations have a strong humorous component in order to deliberately provoke viewers and remark on the everyday items that pervade our homes.
Johansson collects old furniture, household items, and equipment from second-hand shops and flea markets. He carefully sorts, stacks, and organises this chaos of everyday objects by colour and then turns them into geometric and abstract sculptures.
“My idea is to take the function out of everyday objects and simply make them an element of colour and form”. In our daily lives, we tend to accumulate things which we are indifferent about. We are anaesthetised, losing our awareness of clutter. An American study calculated that there are at least 300,000 objects in every home. Perhaps looking at our things with fresh eyes can give us some inspiration, and a question to ask ourselves is: should I put this in its place or just throw it away?
Is disorder preordained or merely the imprinting of our culture? Objects leave behind an aura of their presence, speaking to us, demanding attention, and claiming their rightful space in our lives.
Objects are us, books are us. Objects, including photographs, old books with their crumpled pages, dedications, anonymous declarations, clippings and unmentionable secrets, demand our respect.
Finding the right space for our books isn’t always easy: many of us have dreams of cataloguing our entire collections. In the meantime, a form of profound respect for ourselves and for our books is to place them in the right, unique spot in special bookcases or bookshelves.
CLASSIC OF THE CLASSICS
In 1943, architect Anna Castelli Ferrieri married chemist and entrepreneur Giulio Castelli, who would later go on to found Kartell, renowned and innovative Italian company that still produces plastic furniture to this day.
Anna began working with the company in 1949 alongside her husband and she developed various projects that made the history of design. Her modular, stackable, brightly coloured, and versatile cylindrical containers date back to 1967. The streamlined, functional lines of her design offered a low-cost way to store objects.
She was also a lecturer at the Polytechnic University of Milan from 1984 to 1986. I personally had the good fortune of being one of her students, and remember her as a kind and generous teacher. She passed away in 2006.
A MONUMENT TO MEMORIES
At first glance, this towering wooden bookshelf almost seems like a piece of furniture from a Harry Potter movie or Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence.
Instead, it is made from numerous irregularly shaped wooden shelves where the artist has skillfully arranged hundreds of books, school books, tickets, small objects, furnishings, clothes, photos, newspaper cuttings, and many other objects.
Objects like these are the stuff of memories and are those that tend to accumulate in our homes without a specific storage space. This sculpture is an ode to memories and to the objects those memories are made of.
ART AND DESIGN
Gio Ponti and Piero Fornasetti worked together for the first time in 1933 and went on to continue their important professional relationship that would last for decades.
Their work intensified in the 1950s, when Ponti brought Fornasetti to work with him on numerous prestigious projects. Ships, villas, hotels, and the Italian bourgeoisie reaped the benefits of the partnership between the two, which went forward thanks to their tested methods: Ponti would do the design designs, Pietro Chiesa would create them, and Fornasetti would decorate them.
Piero Fornasetti was a Milanese artist and a painter, carver, sculptor, miniaturist, illustrator, and interior decorator. He designed a magical world of figures, animals, and objects that bring joy, and his iconography is animated by a unique expressive force and surreal imagination. The beauty of his objects, like the cabinet pictured, was that he created a timeless style of modern living. His work could be classified as being a mix of art and design.
Sideboard and chest of drawers from the Ziqqurat collection FLOWERS collection by DriadeLab for Driade. Laminate structure with external floral decorations, black lacquered interior, and textured finish.
LAMINATE AND SURFACE DESIGN
The history of laminate is a fascinating one. This extraordinary material revolutionised furniture design in the post-World War I period.
From 1910 to 1912, Baekeland, the inventor of Bakelite and considered to be the father of laminated products, patented the use of phenol formaldehyde resins to soak fibrous sheets. One of the most common synonyms for plastic laminate is “Formica”, the name of the historical producer by the same name: the Formica Corporation, which was founded in 1913 by Herbert A. and Daniel J. O’Connor, following their invention of high pressure laminate, which was first used as an electrical insulator.
But it was not until 1927 that a layer of melamine resin was added to the laminate, allowing it to be used as a decorative material. The name “formica” derives from “for mica”, meaning that the new product was intended to replace mica which had been used until then.
It immediately became clear that decorated plastic laminates would be widely used in the furniture sector, which in those years was shifting its focus from artisanal production to industrial production and was experimenting with the use of plywood. Yet plywood lacks a smooth surface and requires additional finishing. The use of plastic laminate was the solution, as it is highly resistant to aggressive solvents, acids, and wear and tear. This made it a highly popular material in the furniture industry, especially for kitchen worktops, bathrooms, flooring, and desks, and it was also far more affordable compared to marble and steel.
ON ONE LEG ONLY
Gio Ponti was one of the greatest designers and architects of the 20th century. He is known for the versatility of his projects, ranging from architecture, furnishings, and art direction. He even oversaw magazines such as Domus, which he founded in 1928.
Among his important assignments was his being commissioned in 1953 by the Fernandes family to design the interiors and furnishings of the Royal Continental hotel in Naples. This was a triumph for Ponti’s famous designs, which are still on display today in the world’s most important museums and galleries. The Royal Continental hotel featured chairs including the famous Superleggera, Distex, and the 498 model produced by Cassina, as well as beds, tables, storage units, and wall units produced by Giordano Chiesa.
The dresser pictured is aperfect balance – literally and figuratively – between aesthetics and function.
Its decorative elements serve a purpose, with standard drawer handles being replaced with delicately carved-out sections. And its single supporting leg makes it almost appear to float against the wall.
Produced based on original drawings in the Gio Ponti Archives and under the artistic direction of Studio Cerri & Associati for the Gio Ponti Collection.
ELBA BEACH CHANGING ROOMS
“[These are]…drawings and impressions I created during the time I spent on the island of Elba. In all reality, I simply noticed the special theme in common that the beach changing rooms had.
And not just on Elba. The thing is that seeing is not enough. You have to watch until you take possession of the image, and through the image of the object. I have encountered thousands of changing rooms, from the beaches of the Mediterranean to California to Argentina. And I have been pleased to see reproductions of my cabin. But I do not consider them copies. Instead, it’s like seeing things again and rediscovering them with amazement.
The changing room is a small house: it is the reduction of a house, it is the idea of a house”.
Aldo Rossi, 1992
ALDO ROSSI AND FURNITURE BY LONGONI
Bruno Longoni’s workshop is a furniture shop that makes made-to-order furniture with great attention to quality and detail since the 1980s. These include pieces by the great architect Aldo Rossi, who for many years worked together with Bruno Longoni to create exquisite pieces of furniture. I would like to quote Rossi’s writings here, as his words are far more eloquent than mine.
“A piece of furniture is a mixture of form, function, material and beautiful details attributed to architecture. It is – or at least I believe it should be – an ‘object of affection’: the myth of ‘do it yourself’ collapsed together with its bad results. So artisans regain their autonomy and virtue, supposing they ever lost them. These are some conclusions I draw looking at Bruno Longoni’s furniture”.
Aldo Rossi, Milan, 15 April 1993
“Whilst in the Cabina dell’Elba the irony of the project was underlined, in the wardrobe called Fiorentino (Florentine) the piece itself becomes architecture. I decided to call it Fiorentino not because of its inlay, but for its massive, almost monumental dimensions, its capacity of creating a space. The limit between architecture and sculpture can be found in the great furniture of the past. And this is a limit full of suggestions which can be found in Bruno Longoni’s production”.
Aldo Rossi, Milano 15 marzo 1995
Perhaps one of the most famous secretary desks in the world, this piece has wooden drawers and a pull-out shelf protected by a sliding shutter. The interior layout is instead designed for catalogues and other documentation.
It has a familiar shape, and with its classic forms it also exudes a contemporary feel, leading us to rediscover and love “the ancient sense of things” as Aldo Rossi used to say. Those things that reassure us and give us comfort, and put us in touch with our history. Many of us grew up in homes that were full of furnishings owned by those who came before us. So we shouldn’t surprised by our innate love of good taste and beauty.
THE MASTER OF MARQUETRY
This list simply has to make mention of Boulle, a famous cabinet maker who worked in the service of Louis XVI in France in the 17th century and who became famous for his special inlay technique that many tried to imitate up to the 19th century.
Boulle was awarded the title “Master of Marquetry”, and it was rare for an artist to be recognised as a genius by his contemporaries.
His decorative techniques influenced later styles, and his furniture was veneered with tortoiseshell inlaid mainly with brass and pewter in elaborate designs that often incorporated arabesque decorations, and gilded bronze. If you are lucky enough to have a piece of his at home, hold on to it!
HELEN OF TROY
HELEN OF TROY
In this close-up of this precious antiquity, Helen of Troy, queen of Sparta, is depicted looking at her precious crown preserved in a chest. This is an ancient representation of a piece which was used for travel.
This is one of the most innovative and functional pieces of furniture in the history of design. The Combi Center cabinet is a system of cylindrical elements that can be stacked and have different heights and functions. The combinations can serve a multitude of purposes, whether as bookcases, bar furniture, living room tables, flower boxes, and much more. Each module can turn into different configurations, creating unique solutions. As we know, Joe Colombo was a genius.
Shiro Kuramata was one of the greatest Japanese designers of the 20th century. Thanks to his beautiful, elegant, precise and coherent designs, Western design culture was forced to question its parameters of that time.
The concept that all arts are part of a single continuum is essential to understanding Japanese culture. For Shiro Kuramata, this multidisciplinary approach was fundamental to overturning the idea of functionalism, which was an ideology to be overturned; gravity, which was a force to be overcome (or at least outsmarted); and light, which was an element to be captured.
What emerges from his idiosyncratic design philosophy is a purism in form and function: doors are rarely obstructed by handles, glass and steel mesh chairs only grudgingly acknowledge the ground, colourful acrylic blocks seem to glow from within, and dancing chests of drawers appear. In Shiro Karumata’s designs, there is a fascinating dissociation between form and function. He was truly a poet.
WOMEN AND DESIGN
Charlotte Perriand was a woman who worked for one of the most famous architecture and design studios of the 20th century and whose male counterparts, Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret, were not very generous in acknowledging the authorship of her projects. Yet she has always been behind the firm’s most iconic pieces.
When she was a young graduate, she went to Le Corbusier looking for work. He told her: “I’m sorry, but we don’t embroider cushions here”. Yet she didn’t lose heart and proved, through an avant-garde project, what she was capable of. Her bookcase, originally called The Mexican Bookshelf as it was designed for the Maison du Mexique at the Cité Internationale Universitaire in Paris, was initially produced by Atelier Prouvé, which led to the erroneous attribution of the design.
It is a double-sided, self-supporting bookcase that is extremely versatile and modular in size and colour (a novelty at the time). Sliding trays run along the front faces of the shelves, offering the possibility to conceal some parts and place others on display.
Perriand’s designs went on to contribute a unique touch to Le Corbusier’s architecture, and her work took her to the forefront of interior design history.
Part of Le Corbusier’s housing project in 1925 for the Pavillon de l’Esprit Nouveau in Paris, these storage units marked a turning point in interior design and revealed Le Corbusier’s novel concept of domestic living. The introduction of modular containers was a revolutionary choice that went beyond the traditional concept of furniture.
The LC20 Casiers Standard system was designed to contribute to the architectural aspects of a room as they create partitions. In 2016, Cassina re-launched the Casiers Standard in a more contemporary and functional style.
REUSE AND RECYCLE
This clever design reminds me of a famous outdoor barrel stove kit, the first stove sold in kits. The object was initially intended to recycle fuel barrels brought from ships and abandoned on the Alaskan coast, making it perhaps the first sustainable design product in history.
Here’s another clever way to reuse old industrial iron drums: 4 wheels, a clever vertical opening, and voilà: they become containers for home and outdoor furniture. Available in any colour, elegant, and streamlined in form, Barrel12 elements can be used as planters, poufs, bookcases, bar containers, kitchen furniture, and even outdoor sinks and stovetops. Simple, contemporary, and ingenious.