Interview with Piero Lissoni in Milan
Piero Lissoni is the quintessential Italian designer.
One of the most influential figures in the industry today, Lissoni follows in the traditions of Italian style and quality manufacturing established by Gio Ponti, Achille Castiglioni and Ettore Sottsass, while bringing his own elegant, sophisticated, and decidedly international, approach.
Whether through his interdisciplinary studio Lissoni Associati, headquartered in Milan and New York, or as art director for no fewer than seven brands, Lissoni’s extensive and varied career has seen him create work in architecture, furniture, graphic and industrial design that has already become iconic.
Here he speaks to Salvatori about his attitude towards stone, his inspirations, and the importance of always learning.
What qualities do you associate with natural stone as a designer?
Stone, for me, is a very serious material. You have to respect stone and the people who work to extract it from the mountain – I never throw anything away if I don’t have to.
Are there any particular designers whose use of stone you admire?
One of my absolute favourites is Mies van der Rohe. He used stone like paint, cladding whole walls with marble or travertine, and he used it correctly – he never tried to force the stone to be something it wasn’t. And like the Romans or the architects of the Renaissance or the Neoclassical architecture of Andrea Palladio, van der Rohe knew how to cut the stone in a way that did not waste anything.
How did you come to work with Salvatori?
I wanted to work with Salvatori after Gabriele [Salvatori, CEO] showed me Lithoverde, the surface made from recycled stone. I thought this was a particularly sophisticated kind of creativity, an intellectual and environmental consciousness that formed a special link between us.
With two of the projects you have worked on with Salvatori – Colonnata and Dritto – where did the idea come from? How did it develop?
The idea for Colonnata came from thinking about how to make the most of all the different types of stone produced by different quarries, and how much is never used. I designed the bookshelf to minimise the amount that was thrown away while maximising the quality of the design. It involves industrial techniques in its production and yet, because the kind of stone we use changes each time, each Colonnata is different.
In 2019 you need to be intelligent as a designer. It’s easy to talk about the importance of recycling and the honest use of materials, but sometimes it’s only an intellectual point of view. I try to be a good designer, not by focusing on the quality of materials, but on the limits of the materials, which become their qualities. With stone, it is this desire to avoid wasting what we extract that becomes a positive – it was the case with Colonnata, in finding a use for the excess stone, and it is the case with the Dritto tables, which are almost impossibly thin in order to maximise the amount that can be produced from one piece of stone.
*What does Salvatori offer to you as a designer?
It is like being in a playground. It is rare to be able to work with a company that has almost a century of experience, or with the quarry workers who are like sculptors, with their intimate knowledge of the material, or the engineers who can operate these high tech machines – it gives you a great deal of freedom in your work.
Most importantly for me, you learn a lot. Whenever I made a mistake in my design, they would try to design something around it, to treat it like a positive part of the process – I find this to be a very Italian attitude.