Italian architect and designer Piero Lissoni spent an evening at the Graye showroom in Los Angeles last week at a gathering to celebrate his furniture designs for Living Divani and Porro, which Graye reps in the States. Hosted by Graye owner Maria Cicione, the event was focused around Lissoni’s recent work, including thoughtfully designed sofas, beds, chairs and shelving and storage units. Lissoni, soft-spoken and humble, explained his approach to each design in a quick, ten-minute interview.
How do you approach each design project, both philosophically and logistically?
It’s so easy. When I’m working with the different factories, each factory has a special attitude, a special intelligence, and a special culture, and that’s it. I am only the public face for them. It’s impossible to design a chair for a company without considering the consciousness of the company. When I design a chair for Porro, it’s completely different from another chair for Cassina. Two factories, they ask for one chair but they have a different consciousness inside. We have just designed one chair in aluminum for Kartell; we discuss day by day with the engineers and they modify, I modify, they modify again and in the end, I don’t know who really designed the chair, me or them.
Logistically, how do you balance everything?
I use the classical humanistic approach. I like to multitask, culturally speaking, and put different things together. Every year we have something particular like the Salone del Mobile in Milano; I know when I have to start and when I have to finish, and that’s it. And it’s easier for me because I am working for the design companies in Italy but I’m never working for the Italian market; I choose very well my victims all around the world [laughs]. And I’m working for them. Designing something is a worldwide idea.
Tell me what you find rewarding about both your new architectural and industrial designs, and bringing a modern approach to restoration projects like the 19th-century loft in Monza [click on residential, then Villa in Monza]. How do you strike a balance between the new and the old?
It depends on the different level of projects. I was born in Italy: Our history is completely linked with the past, and our past is our future. I design new buildings, of course, I design new factories, I design new headquarters, new houses. But my most special pleasure is when I have to sew, like a tailor, old parts of houses or old buildings and connect them with the new one. And this is one of my favorite jobs. I just finished a hotel in Amsterdam; it will be ready in September. The original building is from the 19th century; I combined the old building with some new buildings inside: a new courtyard completely covered by glass, a downstairs floor with all the services—spa, gym and so on. It’s one part of my job, to be like a tailor.
What are among your most memorable product designs over the years? Do you have any favorites?
Designed by me? No. Designed by me, for sure, no. First, because I am responsible for a lot of different “mistakes.” I never design something and think, “Now I’ve prepared a new icon,” never in my life. When I have to finish something, every time I try to convince everybody I must change things, then change again, change again and change again! Fortunately, or unfortunately, I don’t know, somebody decides for me, “OK, Piero, now, basta, that’s it.” For the last Salone del Mobile I prepared some new pieces for the new collections for different clients—Cassina, Porro, Living Divani, Boffi, Flos, Kartell, Alessi—and it was the same for everybody (probably they’re talking together). The night before I asked them again, “Please, can I change again some details,” and they say, “No, it’s too late.”
What are you working on now?
Now I’m working on a new series of Benetton shops, and a new series of objects for the next Salone del Mobile. It’s so funny: They closed the Salone del Mobile this year on Sunday—normally they close Monday. Monday morning, when they started to dismantle everything, somebody called me and asked me, “Piero, are you ready to start with a new product something for next year?”
I am designing a beautiful project for Ferrari, it’s a museum for them. I just won a competition for a very old building and hotel in Piedmont, a small region near France. I have to do a renovation and a new pavilion, completely new, designed by me. It’s quite an interesting project. And there are some others. Luckily I’m very busy. But now I like to do a lot of jobs in the United States. I hope the market starts up again.
Thank you, Piero.