By Danilo Signorello

The bath fixtures district of Civita Castellana, near Viterbo, has its roots in history, as seen in the pottery relics found in the zone of Falerii Veteres (the Latin name of this city in Latium) dating back to the 4th century BC.

More than two thousand years ago this was the land of ceramics, though the first workshops for the production of tableware and artistic pottery date back to the end of the 1700s, and the industrial production of dishes, tiles and bath fixtures began in the early 1900s. These are the roots of Ceramica Flaminia, a company specializing in ceramic bath fixtures founded in 1954, which still keeps the entire chain of production (prototyping, model-making, pouring, glazing and firing) completely in-house, in its plants at Civita Castellana and Fabrica di Roma. Production processes that combine the most evolved mechanization with the skills of fine craftsmanship. All rigorously Made in Italy. A company that has focused on design to explore the expressive virtues of ceramics, triggering new trends and inventing new languages. Towards the end of the 1990s the Acquagrande washstand designed by Giulio Cappellini (who became the art director of the company in 2004) represented a true revolution, becoming the protagonist of the bath space thanks to its strong presence and large size. Since then the design landmarks have multiplied, with certain projects becoming true icons: from Tatami (Ludovica+ Roberto Palomba), the very thin ceramic carpet influenced by the culture of the oriental home, to Link (Giulio Cappellini and Roberto Palomba), the versatile toilet and bidet to combine freely with the many models in the Flaminia catalogue; from Twin Column (Ludovica+ Roberto Palomba), the washstand as sculpture, to the materic experimentation of the Mono’ line (Patrick Norguet); from the eclectic, brilliant creativity of the Roll washstand (Nendo) to the unique pieces of the Como collection (Rodolfo Dordoni) inspired by natural pools of water. Many internationally acclaimed designers have joined the Flaminia team: Paola Navone, Jasper Morrison, King&Roselli, Angeletti & Ruzza, Alessandro Mendini, Nendo, Fabio Novembre. Their creations can be seen in the showroom at Via Solferino 18 in Milan, opened in 2005. Design as experimentation, innovation and emotion was also in the spotlight during the latest Salone del Mobile in Milan, with new projects, including expansions of certain lines, like the Bonola wall-mounted toilet and bidet by Jasper Morrison, the Nile countertop and built-in washstands by Patrick Norguet, the App toilet and bidet by Flaminia Design Team, and Rocchetto Colors, the ceramic stooltable designed by Alessandro Mendini, Flaminia’s first foray into interior design. Augusto Ciarrocchi, now president of Flaminia, represents the second generation at the helm of the firm (he is the son of one of the founding partners): we chatted with him about the origins, the present and the future of a brand that also features faucets, objects and complements for the bath in its catalogue. First of all, how did Ceramica Flaminia get started? The company was founded in 1954, during a period of strikes for higher salaries, when 23 young workers from Civita Castellana decided to create Ceramica Flaminia, which in January of the following year began to produce bath fixtures. The work was done by hand, in all its phases, and the firing was done in a wood-burning kiln. Now we are up to the second and third generations, and the company has about 150 employees, working in the plants at Civita and Fabrica di Roma, with the most modern industrial methods. What is the situation in the Civita Castellana ceramics district today? Do the companies work together as a system? What about future prospects?  There are about 40 companies in the district, and they have felt the impact of the crisis that began back in 2008. But this situation has also prompted greater cooperation (agreements for disposal of waste, organization of training courses). The capacity to stand up to the crisis makes companies stronger, and there have not been any dramatic closings of plants, also thanks to the small-medium size of the companies. So we feel optimistic about the future. The values of Flaminia are quality of raw materials, entirely Italian production, fine finishing and collaboration with designers. First comes the question of materials: where do they come from, how are they selected, what characteristics should they have, and what results should they achieve? We import clays, kaolins, feldspars and quartzes from France, Germany, Spain and the UK, to guarantee a level of quality that cannot be found in Italy. Flaminia, in particular, purchases blends already prepared by companies in the territory. Where the glazes are concerned, we have a color division that like the rest of the firm operates with complete respect for the environment, with ISO 14001 certification. The final result has to be a high-quality product with perfect surfaces, strength and durability. What does Made in Italy mean for Flaminia today? Italian quality is unique, at the highest levels. We are niche manufacturers, and we have made a courageous choice: to focus on quality by wagering on extreme forms, through design. Unfortunately, at a government level, no label yet exists to protect bath fixtures Made in Italy, and European regulations are also lagging behind. Our association with the Ceramics of Italy trademark is an attempt to fill this void, protecting our products from the thousands of pieces that are passed off as Italian, but do not have the characteristics of a true Made in Italy product: design, quality, style, reliability. How can skilled craftsmanship and avant-garde technology work together? Manual skill is an added value. Different phases of the making of every piece (from the initial slip casting to the finished product the process lasts about six days) require manual intervention. In the territory of Civita Castellana this kind of craftsmanship is in our blood, in the DNA of those who live and work here. For Flaminia, design has been a decisive factor. What is its strategic role for the growth of a company? Wagering on design in the mid-1990s was a choice that saved us. Without that choice we would probably never have survived the present crisis. It was a rather daring decision, at the time, but it opened up a path that has helped us to find alternatives. Today it would be hard to market a traditional product made by everyone, without the added value of design. Design lets you create objects that respond to the desires and needs of a society that is always evolving, in terms of habits and economics. For Flaminia, design also means being open to experimentation: together with Giulio Cappellini, art director since 2004, the company calls on internationally acclaimed designers who have never worked with ceramics before, as well as young, up and coming talents. What lies behind these choices? After a phase of enthusiasm, with a rather pioneering design approach, as seen in the first piece produced in 1997 (Acquagrande, designed by Cappellini), we began to work more methodically: together with Giulio, we decide what product should be launched on the market in that moment, and the characteristics it should have. Then we find the designer on the basis of these decisions. Though the process often happens inversely: young designers show us ideas that are evaluated and possibly put into production. This too is experimentation and openness to novelty. The choice of Cappellini as art director was also innovative, a true challenge that has really paid off. In this design-oriented perspective what is the importance of a classic line like Flaminia Archivio? Flaminia Archivio is a container for the fundamental historical typologies in the company’s evolution, representing a large segment of production. At the moment it includes the Efi and Fidia collections. Various markets demand this line, from China to Russia. In Italy it is used for renovations of historical buildings. Sustainability is one of the points that determines the quality of a company and its products on the market. How does Flaminia operate in this sense? The main plant is in a precious natural setting, along the Treia River. Our environmental impact has been reduced to a minimum. Discharged water is recycled, purified and put back into circulation; excess unfired material is reutilized, while fired scrap is ground up and recycled; leftover slip is sold to manufacturers of lower-quality ceramics; the plaster molds are crushed and sold to cement factories in the zone. Can you tell us about projects and products on the launching pad? At Cersaie, in September, we presented the expansion of the Nile collection by Patrick Norguet, and the Bonola collection by Jasper Morrison. App, a collection created for the contract market, now has a wall-mounted toilet with a rimless drain, for better hygiene. Research and experimentation continue, in the perspective of international design enhanced by our roots in the territory, with its tradition of work with ceramics, a true added value for every Flaminia product.