By Maddalena Padovani

When they were young they dreamed of being architects in Australia, leaving Venice to find new ground for the creativity they had inherited from a family whose name has been linked for generations to the art of glass.

A name to live up to, since even today Fratelli Toso – the company founded by their great-great-grandfather back in 1854 – is known as the main force of artistic renewal, in the mid-1900s, that revived the fortunes of Murano and the many glassworks that had found themselves in a state of crisis after the fall of the Republic of Venice. Maybe due to their unruly heads of curly hair, a family trademark of sorts, the brothers Pio and Tito Toso still have plenty to do with glass in their activity as designers based in the province of Treviso. Though design is an almost chance discovery that is now taking them, with success, along different paths. “Our grandfather,” they say, “blew and designed objects and chandeliers, in glass. Our father also worked on glass, as a draftsman. From our childhood we have spent time in glassworks, so the material has entered our hearts and minds in a perfectly natural way. At the glassworks you come to terms with five centuries of history, research, intelligence and experimentation, leading to maximum development of the techniques, ready to immediately express transparency, colors, reflections in this magical material.” After the two took their architecture degrees in Venice and had already done projects inside and outside of Italy, Pio and Tito found themselves operating in the world of design, first by creating glass objects for their father, then by designing furnishings for small companies based in the Veneto. “We ended up falling in love with the job of the designer,” they explain, “especially the possibility of intervening in the process that leads from the idea to the making of the product.” The desire to apply their knowledge of glass in this sector came quite spontaneously, so at the start of the 2000s they did their first projects for Foscarini and Artemide, paving the way for other collaborations with Italian design firms. In the area of domestic design, the two brothers have a winning card to play: unlike many other designers, they think of projects as being in glass from the start; this means optimizing use of the material for greater feasibility, lower costs, easy industrialization and poetic results. But behind the rigorous research there is always a goal that goes beyond the pure technical aspects, namely that of updating the language of the materials, or giving contemporary meaning to ancient methods and ways of working. Just consider the two new products they presented in April in Milan: the Meteorite lamp produced by Artemide and the Grace collection of objects for the table from Guzzini. The former comes from the search for a new expressive meaning of blown glass in the field of lighting; in particular, from the passion for Venetian ‘beaten’ glass and the ‘unfinished’ effect grinding can give to the material. “Meteorite,” the designers say, “has a very fascinating value, a content of empathy in its DNA, that of the perception of time. The time to think of the project, the time used by the craftsmen to make it by hand, to blow the glass and work it. We want the lamp to convey these things, to talk about care and love. This is why we have developed a particular blowing and grinding procedure that generates interesting luminous depth effects when the object is lit, making this beauty accessible to all, in a democratic way.” The secret lies in a special multiple opening mold used for the blowing phase, followed by sand blasting, taping and etching. The result is a particular surface effect full of lights and shadows, while production time is reduced: an innovation based on a logic of industrialization that reduces production costs to make it possible to offer the lamp at a reasonable price. Glass is back, but this time as a source of inspiration and innovation, in the Grace project. The collection comes from a love affair with the plastic materials of Guzzini, especially their qualities of transparency, color and shine, which Pio and Tito immediately associate with art glass. “The initial brief,” they explain, “was to find a new expressive language using the technique of two-tone molding. We tried to do it in a simpler, more immediate way.” This time the techniques behind the idea are rigadin (which gives glass a typical pattern of parallel ribbing) and filigree (using the insertion of colored glass reeds to achieve an embroidered effect inside the material). “The technical research Guzzini has developed in co-injection molding,” the designers say, “permits bonding of different types of plastic to have a perfect fusion of colors and effects. In the Grace project the experimentation focuses on cutaways that make it possible to perceive the transparent tone coupled with white, and to create an evocative play of colored reflections on the surface where the objects are placed.” The project comes from the material, not vice versa. “We look for the synthesis in forms and colors to emphasize the quality of this precious plastic. And the use of this material makes objects affordable for a vast range of consumers.” Not only glass inspires Pio and Tito Toso. The products presented this year with their signature, like the Flag coat rack for Pedali, the Wind and Tab hoods for Falmec, the MyFrame chair for Segis, demonstrate the acquisition of a new professional maturity that is taking them onto a wide range of different paths, where what counts is not the image but the methodological approach. Works in progress including a collaboration with Hausbrandt for an object connected with the world of coffee; the project of an interactive frame that updates the use of the iPad in the office and home automation sector; collaboration with a company that produces cannons to destroy dust; and a project for a company that focuses on environmental fragrances. “Maybe a time comes,” the two brothers say, “when a designer no longer wants to see his own reflection in his products. The aim of the job shifts from personal satisfaction to service, from an aesthetic vision to an ethics regarding companies and end-users. A sort of ‘magic’ that makes the design horizon less ‘personal’ and more ‘universal.’ If we are working a lot today, maybe it is because of this turnaround, and our humble, pragmatic research.”