Keeping It Real

A Q&A with Piero Lissoni, of Lissoni Associati
By Alice Liao
April 19, 2012

Architect and designer Piero Lissoni has done it all. His vast portfolio of international projects encompasses high-profile hospitality, retail and residential work, as well as yachts, and he has lent his vision to a multitude of well-known furniture, accessory, lighting and kitchen and bath brands, such as Alessi, Boffi, Cappellini, Cassina, Flos, Kartell, Knoll International and Poltrona Frau, to name a just few. Lissoni is the recipient of several awards, including an Elle Decoration International Design Award for the Glass Bathtub by Boffi and a Good Design Award for the Hi Tech chair by Divani.

If someone had asked you when you were a child, “What do you want to be when you grow up,” you would have answered…
To continue to be a child—at heart—forever.

What’s the biggest misconception about what you do?
We’re only workers, really. It’s nothing to be too impressed by. Of course, we work with incredible levels of activity, and we’ve had many good opportunities. I don’t wake up each day with a fantastic idea and convince a client to spend lots of money on that idea. This is completely not true of my experience. For me, the best projects require constant discussion.

What “words of wisdom” can/do you share with others?
Whom you work with makes all the difference. Without a good client, designers alone are a non-existent entity. My work depends entirely on the continuous dialogue with my clients. But a great entrepreneur is someone who is able to choose and take risks.

What are some issues that you’re passionate about?
Today everybody talks about ecology and the environment, but more importantly, we need to produce less and to produce better. Plastic is as ecological as wood. It is not an issue of material but how you use those materials.

Do you derive any ideas from nature or other disciplines, such as music, theater and/or literature?
All of the above. I also get ideas from street markets where the vegetables are very flavourful, the clothes are very beautiful, flowers are very fresh and the vendors are not supercilious or disdainful.

What is the most intriguing aspect of your job?
That we make lots of mistakes. Mistakes are the secret to working. We throw away nearly 90 percent of our ideas. Sometimes we create a prototype, modify it again and again, until finally we decide it is OK. Mistakes often lead to better ideas…

What was your most difficult design challenge?
I remember doing a building once with new technology built right into the concrete, and of course, it was a disaster. We conducted some one-to-one scale tests. Aesthetically, it was beautiful, but technically, it was a disaster, so we had to abandon it.

Do you have a signature style? Personal design philosophy?
The good design produced by the great masters was simple, functional, ethical and beautiful. I am inspired by that. Design, for me, is the application of my own taste. When I work, I invent, I revisit and I draw elements that allow me to be part of this world aesthetically.

The Duemilaotto kitchen (above) and the PH collection (below) designed by Lissoni for Boffi

What do your kitchen and bath collections tell us about contemporary life?
They allow the expression of an individual’s attitudes and worldview—your own history, your culture, your capacity to combine different worlds and make them work together.

What is your favorite color?
Beside white, I like orange. I use it very often when I work on product design and interiors. The Italian designer Bruno Munari was once asked about the meaning of “good design.” He replied that the best example of design for him was the orange, an object almost perfect for the absolute coherence between shape, function and the minimal usage of decoration in its texture and the color of its skin; blue would have been totally wrong.

Lissoni also designed the Aprile kitchen from Boffi

People would be surprised to find out that you…?
I don’t download books. I like to turn pages. I was born in another century.

What would you be doing if you weren’t in your current profession?
I can only be an architect.

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