With its wealth of art and crafts, Venice is a constant source of inspiration for contemporary design.
And a factor of pride and reference for the designers who grew up amidst its canals
by Domitilla Dardi
In The Stones of Venice John Ruskin, in 1853, started with the city to sustain some of his famous theoretical precepts: the power of imperfection as the value of handmade things, and thus of craftsmanship against the vital paralysis of the industrial product; the support of the beauty of contamination and the variety of materials and decorations found in such an extraordinary city.
In the past many authors have been inspired by the special character of the city: from Mariano Fortuny, the last heir of the textile tradition that dates back to the ‘Silk Road,’ thanks to which he made dramatic lamps in the early 1900s, to Carlo Scarpa, who transferred the rich detail of Venetian architecture into true joinery gems, like his famous Doge table.
In the collective imagination crafts, variety of materials and decoration are still synonymous with the city on the lagoon. And they are also topics around which contemporary design never tires of reasoning. Never before as in recent years has there been so much reflection on the anthropological essence of design, while attempting to make a bridge between past and present, without nostalgia, second thoughts or retroactive fashions.
Today, for many authors who were trained here in the city, Venice is a constant reference point, reflecting the pride of belonging to a venerable history whose fame has always been global. Giorgia Zanellato and Daniele Bortotto, for example, have pondered Venice far and wide, most completely in the project Acqua Alta, which starting in 2014 has led to various productions for various brands.
The starting point is the desire to grasp the true essence of Venice, which they have identified with the phenomenon of the high tides that invade the urban fabric, creating exceptional effects. The stones of Venice, its surface, its walls are an ode to stratification, a masterpiece of vital imperfection – as Ruskin would have said – that creates a spontaneous decoration that sinks into the material, even prior to the architecture.
Zanellato and Bortotto bring this vivid reality into fabrics for Rubelli, with changing hues that remind us of the lichen that coats the walls of palaces along the canals; but also into the La Serenissima upholstered furniture system for Moroso, which starts from the layering of Venetian stones to make seats that spring from the same compositional idea; or the Giudecca carpet for cc-tapis, which reinterprets the image of marble steps bathed in the water of the lagoon.
Obviously glass had to be a factor: and here too, the Venetian duo make use of an ancient local form of workmanship, and with Ongaro & Fuga they have created a mirror and a lamp that counter the linear character of their geometric support with decoration that resembles petals and leaves, generating an effect of perfect balance between organic and abstract.
Closer to the theme of transparency in glass, also in multiple color variants, Matteo Zorzenoni has designed Blow Bowl and Twist for NasonMoretti, both works that link back to very old techniques of glass blowing, reinterpreted with the freshness of contemporary design.
The most international member of this generation of Venetian talents, Luca Nichetto, is still proud of his background as well. Operating in Italy, Northern Europe and the Far East, Nichetto brings a Venetian accent to the heart of his projects. Besides the reference to glass – see his Gémo inspired by the ground glass lamps of the Venetian tradition – the image Nichetto seems to have brought with him in his design wanderings is that of the boats on the canals and the lagoon.
The sea dotted with little vessels that enter the city is a reference point the designer has used for the abstract design of the Regata Storica carpet for Nodus, or the recent Canal Chairs for Moooi. Here it is the prow of small boats anchored along the canals that generates a multiform, multicolored memory. It makes the designer think about the fact that in the domestic landscape the most visible part of a dining chair is the back, in an association with the image of moored boats that becomes a forceful guideline in the project.
Every boat is different from the others, and its decoration reflects the personality of its owner; likewise, the chairs can be personalized by means of a wide range of fabric coverings, ready for customizing with names, coats of arms, decorations.
The theme of the power of memory is absolutely central in the case of an iconic city like Venice. Also for this reason, some designers who live and work in the city have explored a typology in which memory is a primary function: the souvenir.
Zaven has delved into reflections that lead to small objects that have the rationality of authentic memory and the tact of lightness: jewels that remind us of carnival masks, reinterpreted through digital geometry and 3D printing; or chocolates with the miniaturized forms and proportions of the city’s monuments, placed in dialogue with the profiles of the ocean liners that regrettably invade its skyline.
Marco Zito has also contributed, with his ferryboats in solid wood, to the project of Pieces of Venice, a small brand entirely focused on the theme of the souvenir. In this case the idea is to take a true piece of the city back home, because all the products are made by hand with wood salvaged from piers and poles. Again in this case, every piece is unique and different from the others, thanks to its imperfect nature.