When Milanese designer Guglielmo Poletti was approached in April 2020 by iconic Italian lighting brand Flos to discuss the possibility of a collaboration, there were no preconceived ideas about what this synergy could produce. "There was no brief and I started working very freely," recalls Poletti. "I like to work like this to explore the potential of a project." He came up with a number of proposals in continuity with his previous research from his time at the Design Academy Eindhoven, that eventually shaped the direction of the To-Tie collection.
The new collection of three table lamps draws its inspiration from Poletti’s innate interest in the use of tension in relation to architectural constructions and his research on furniture that utilizes a cable as its main structural role—most significantly a prototype for a tensioned table joint. This idea naturally evolved and shaped the direction of the lighting.
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"Rather than the single ‘eureka’ inspiration, I believe in the consistency of research—the challenge is to diversify the outcomes," explains Poletti. "It was six years from the moment I created the detail for the table to the To-Tie lighting collection. That long process allowed the lamp to achieve a conceptual purity and incorporate several layers of meaning."
One of Poletti’s aims is to make "self-explanatory" design—and few design pieces have the clarity of expression in both construction and materiality as the To-Tie lamp. The lamp comprises three distinct parts: a solid aluminum bar that contains the LED light source, a borosilicate glass body, and a textile-wrapped cable that ties everything together through mechanical tension alone.
The aluminum bar doubles as a handle to move the lamp around the room, while the cable is both power source and crucial construction detail. Nothing is superfluous and every piece serves a function. "The lack of arbitrary elements is what makes the projects strong and more mature," says Poletti.
While Poletti had initially proposed a large suspension lamp to the Flos development team, the first prototypes were not successful. "You need to see the real light to understand the value of an idea," he says. "That’s one of the things I like about lighting design." While discussing the prototypes with the Flos research and development team, the designer noticed a classic Aoy table lamp designed by Achille Castiglioni in 1975 sitting on a nearby table.
A few days later in his studio, Poletti recalled the glass body of the Castiglioni lamp and realized that if he simply removed the top from his table designs from years earlier he would have all the ingredients for a new lamp. So, he created a rudimentary prototype. "I immediately understood it was the object I was looking for," he says.
While the reductive format of the lamp might appear simple, the refined detailing and finishing was a complex process that took more than 18 months. "When something is so naked, its success is in the difference of a millimeter," the designer explains. "It’s where you hide an element or create a finish that is pleasing to the touch."
The aluminum bar, for example, has been worked with diamond dresser to obtain a texture that invites touch and offers grip when it is used as a handle; while the edge of the borosilicate glass is hand-finished to maintain a smooth 90-degree edge that complements the purity of the geometry. And the cable is covered in a premium textile that elevates a utilitarian element that is most often hidden away or disguised.
Thanks to its peculiar configuration, the To-Tie collection is impactful in an interior space when it is off and not in use as it is when it is turned on. There are three models each with different proportions.
The smaller T1 is designed for more direct use, such as a night table in a bedroom. The larger models are more architectural in their scale—the T2 is tall and narrow, while the T3 is wider and more open. With a 180cm-long electrical cable, both can be moved freely around a living space for either functional or atmospheric lighting. The ephemeral circular projection of light trapped within the glass is particularly effective at illuminating a specific scene or corner of the room.
"My background is in furniture design, but I love lighting as it is more abstract and less constricted by fixed typological forms," says Poletti. "You open up so many different worlds in lighting design. The form can be reimagined and the materiality and construction can really push the boundaries of a technique used for the first time for that purpose—and this is what Flos has always done."