by Antonella Galli

Malleable, warm, natural: reinterpreting ceramics means putting the accent back on the materic values of earth, on rugged, substantial, forthright characteristics.

While the design of facings and floorings in recent years has moved toward imitative paths, far from the identity of the material itself, today the research of companies and outstanding Italian design studios is moving toward a return to the origins, namely clay, seen in all its aspects: tonal, tactile, structural, historical. Mosaic tile, for example, is an important theme for facings, rediscovered in products that speak a timeless language. Or glazes, with vitreous or color effects, a constant presence on the domestic scene across the centuries. Or the dusty, soft, reassuring tactile sensations – maternal, in short – only the earth can offer. Among the many excellent Italian exponents in this field, four companies, with new collections, are particularly involved in this path of virtuous backtracking; sending out new design stimuli in a sector that seems to be getting tired of too much overt invention. Demonstrating that stoneware and ceramics still have plenty of options for the future, especially when high technology and sincere creative inspiration join forces. Gianluca Rossi and ConCreta As the name indicates, the starting point for this line by Marazzi is clay (creta), in its pure, easily shaped material form. The ConCreta tiles offer the tactile pleasure of clay, with its capacity to transform light into soft reflections. The geometric forms of the various pieces – hexagons, strips, rectangles – seem to emerge from the material itself, like the ton-sur-ton decoration obtained by applying innovative technologies. Gianluca Rossi (Uainot Architetti), art director of Marazzi Group, explains: “Ceramic tile design can be divided into two major trends today: the imitative mood (stone, marble, wood) and a return to materic identity. ConCreta is totally oriented toward this second approach. It is the foremost project of the company for facings, the one that emphasizes the value of ceramics, interpreted according to the themes of dusty texture and nuance. The technical side of the product is decisive. The legibility of the textures is based on ink-jet technologies and the double pressing of powders with different colors. There is no distancing from the original look of the ceramic object, whose expressive possibilities, in fact, are revealed thanks to advanced production technologies. The double pressing permits double and even triple depth levels, effects of chiaroscuro. This line of materials is obtained thanks to highly specialized technology for dual lading of the ceramic base, and the layered texture obtained in the final part of the process. The material conserves the characteristics of very high-quality porcelain stoneware. We have chosen a limited, natural color range, with the addition of two brighter shades – a blue-green and a lime – that are also very often used in interior design.” Massimiliano Adami and the Mosaici d’Autore To make ceramic mosaic start with its design. This is the aim of the Mosaico d’Autore series, composed of three projects on which Ceramiche Refin is working with Massimiliano Adami and DesignTaleStudio, the in-house design unit of the company. Porcelain stoneware becomes a refined facing material, drawing on the compositional technique par excellence, mosaic. In the three proposals of Mosaico d’Autore, the work of the designer concentrates on the characteristics of stoneware tiles, focusing on the back (in Beside, Mosaic 1), the surface (Mosaic 2), and bas-reliefs (Mosaic 3). Massimiliano Adami explains: “My connection with ceramic material began with the Terraviva project for Refin. After Terraviva I continued, with Beside: I didn’t want to create a surface that was an imitation of something else. I tried to work crosswise, bringing out the intrinsic characteristics of porcelain stoneware. Beside puts extreme emphasis on the object as is. It re-assesses the side that is usually hidden; the idea comes from observing the essence of tiles, thinking about potential for reuse, working with craft techniques for glazing. To make the material emerge, the grid on the back that creates a new graphic pattern, nothing forced. I thought about the tile not only as a surface on which to print: in Beside (Mosaic 1) the back of the tile is completely decorated with glazing techniques (solid color or dripping) followed by polishing, to bring out the basrelief structure of the screen. In this way, the stoneware resurfaces. Mosaic 2 responds to the compositional need of the square geometric grid, whose surface is divided thanks to vitreous materials or metal powders. The game of geometries re-creates a mosaic effect, thanks to delicate tones in three shades. This permits construction of the mosaic in free and varied compositions. Mosaic 3 is the biggest technical effort: it works with a structured surface and tries to capture the interference of shadows. In this case the surface of the tile is not flat, it has a jagged bas-relief. This creates a game of lights and shadows on the prismatic surface. The color, then, has to be arranged in parallel bands, to generate different visual effects from different vantage points. The project is very ambitious and experimental, and calls for use of the latest digital machinery”. Diego Grandi and Gouache. 10 Chromatic research and tactile effects are the aspects developed in the collection created by Diego Grandi for Slimtech of Lea Ceramiche. A study of the material in its purest, most immediate form, from color (three warm tones, three cool tones, one neutral) to powdery tactile sensations and the appeal of the earth. The very thin sheets are ideal for creating continuous surfaces, while the Libeccio decoration, composed of equilateral triangles of very thin sheets, combines seven colors in mosaics of great refinement and contemporary taste. Diego Grandi says: “Ceramic material has a heart. Simple imitation is an interpretation of ceramics I try to avoid. I prefer to restore the material’s dignity, to work with it and its traditions, its three-dimensional essence. Gouache.10 comes from the idea of working with a color range that includes Nordic tones, in the decorative matrix of the equilateral triangle. I wanted to combine the compositional modules of the ceramic mosaic, of Mediterranean origin (the triangular form) with these Nordic colors. The triangle comes from Byzantine and Spanish figurative culture. The seven colors of Gouache.10 include three warm, three cool and one neutral tone, like a pivot. The Slimtech sheets are a material of great visual clarity, because they are thin and can be cut with a water jet, in a very precise way. The other main aspect of Gouache.10 is the powdery consistency. I wanted to convey, through touch, the origin of ceramics, the earth: stoneware is a cool material, I wanted to make it warmer, thanks to the color and the velvety texture. Slimtech has great potential for further experimentation: it has lower environmental impact, offers great continuity of surfaces, and could be used for ventilated walls. In the future the panels can also be energy collectors”. Simone Micheli and Wire For this line designed by Simone Micheli for Tagina the material is the starting point: not hidden, not decorated, intentionally displayed in all its roughness, in a return to the roots. The work concentrates on structural and functional capacities, creating a multipurpose organic system (monolithic, of high thickness, frost-proof, draining), to respond to the complex needs of contemporary living. Simone Micheli explains: “The sense of the project is to give value to a material that has an identity. It is the value of earth. The strong point is the 2-cm thickness of the Compact Out 20mm tile, that becomes structural for high-strength floating floors. The Wire project doesn’t aim at making the material thinner. It wants to give new dignity and functional-application possibilities to a material made of earth. The fluid relief surfaces are like earth that crystallizes. The working of Wire does not imitate, but it evokes the pattern of a fabric, a weave that is also chemical and crystalline. The varied colors and dotted structure make it a product with an extremely natural effect, close to the raw material. At the same time, the collection forms a true technical system for the construction of floating floors or pavings installed on gravel, without the need for attachment in concrete. It is completed by pieces with different thicknesses and sizes to cover all the needs of a residence, from the bathroom to the living room to outdoor zones. The collection is design both for residential use and use in public places, or even complex situations like wellness spas. In my project for the spa in the Incontro Hotel of Ariano Irpino (with Mioblu Special Wellness), Wire has been widely utilized, with excellent aesthetic and functional results, due to its strength and skidproof surface; the floating system, without joints, lets water drain off and makes physical plant maintenance easy”. Antonella Galli