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Q&A: Luca Nichetto Talks New Designs for De La Espada and Mjölk

The Italian designer discusses Murano glassware, the 1950s, and couples who spend dinner dates on their smartphones

By Eric Mutrie

Last week, west-end design store Mjölk held a launch party to fête Luca Nichetto’s latest furniture designs for De La Espada. New additions to the Portuguese manufacturer’s Nichetto line for 2016 include Stella, an armchair with a moulded fibreglass seat and Marlon, a dining table set on rounded marble legs. First unveiled during Shanghai’s Festival of Design, these pieces remain on display at Mjölk throughout May in domestic vignettes that also spotlight Nichetto’s other recent De La Espada designs, such as the high-backed Blanche Bergère chair and the mid-century mod-style Harold desk in walnut.

While smaller in scale, another collection of Nichetto creations received just as much attention throughout the night. Mjölk is known for its selection of exclusive housewares envisioned in collaboration with international designers and manufactured by local artisans. In the past, shop owners John and Juli Baker have introduced gardening tools designed with Norwegian studio Anderssen & Voll and brass pendants with Japanese metalworker Oji Masanori.

Nichetto previously worked with the Bakers and New York designer Lera Moiseeva on one of the shop’s earliest exclusives, the Sucabaruca coffee set and Aureola tea set. This time around, Mjölk debuted a trio of Nichetto-designed glass accessories hand-spun in Murano, Italy. Uki is a handsome tealight holder set on a made-in-Toronto brass or copper base, while Zen is a tall orange, rhombus-shaped vase and Han is a complementary stout blue vase.

We sat down with Nichetto at Mjölk to find out how these new designs developed.

From left to right: Zen, Han, Uki, and Nichetto’s past collaborations with Mjölk and designer Lera Moiseeva, the Sucabaruca coffee set and Aureola tea set.
From left to right: Zen, Han, Uki, and Nichetto’s past collaborations with Mjölk and designer Lera Moiseeva, the Sucabaruca coffee set and Aureola tea set.

Were you surprised by the international recognition that the Sucabaruca coffee set, your first collaboration with Mjölk, received at the Stockholm Furniture Fair?
I always knew that Sucabaruca would appeal to the European market, but I was still surprised by the amount of attention it got. When I met people in Sweden who knew it, I realized that Mjölk was really exploding. Of course, it was a process that Claesson Koivisto Rune started. When I came to Toronto for the first time three years ago, Eero Koivisto recommended that I visit the shop. It was so weird to find this in Toronto. It’s not only the selection, but also the environment and the sensibility. It’s the best shop in the world.

What made you want to design a tea light holder for your latest collaboration?
Uki is about making a situation cozier, and hopefully pushing people to have a good chat – especially now that we are living with so many devices. It’s sad for me to go to a restaurant to see a couple who are having dinner together but are just looking at their phones. It gets me thinking about how to build a more intimate environment.

Uki is available with a brass base and grey diffuser or a copper base and white diffuser.
Uki is available with a brass base and grey diffuser or a copper base and white diffuser.

What is the process like with a long-distance collaboration like this?
I have a very special relationship with [Mjölk co-owners] John and Juli Baker – we understand each other. Otherwise it would not be so easy. It also helped that I’m from Murano originally, so I have a lot of contacts in glass-blowing there that I introduced John to. Uki is an interesting fusion of cultures, because it’s partially handcrafted in Italy, and partially handcrafted here. The Toronto maker of the brass and copper part, Harnisch Lamps, also has a connection to Denmark, because they hand-spin the metal on the same cast-iron machines that their family brought over when they moved here.

Uki’s glass diffuser appears to be a globe, but is actually subtly angled. Why did you choose that shape?
I designed Uki so that the tealight inside is raised up a little bit to get more oxygen. Since that positioning creates shadows, I shaped the diffuser to get the kinds of shadows that I wanted. I also needed to connect the lamp aesthetically with Zen and Han. With those, I used simple, almost Bauhaus-like shapes that make for very versatile objects. They can be oil diffusers, flower vases, toothbrush holders – whatever. And for Uki to work with them, I didn’t want it to be super smooth.

Nichetto’s Stanley sofa for De La Espada.
Nichetto’s Stanley sofa for De La Espada.

You’ve designed pieces for Casamania, Kristalia and many other manufacturers. What’s different about designing furniture for your own Nichetto brand manufactured by De La Espada?
There is more freedom in terms of vision. When I’m designing a sofa for Cassina, I need to consider the company’s catalogue. Otherwise, I might be doing a sofa that would be good for Moroso but giving it to Cassina and it’s completely wrong. With De La Espada, I have control of the entire landscape – art directing, branding, everything. That is not typical in Europe. In North America, I know many designers are producing their own collections but in Europe, that’s only just starting now. There are so many new designers and not a lot of space for young people to work with big companies.

Your Nichetto collection revisits the design language of the 1950s. What about that period appeals to you?
Thinking about the world that we are living in now, I see a lot of similarities to the ‘50s. We are coming out of a big global crisis: the recession. And although it did not cause physical destruction like the war, it did cause mental destruction. Also, with cities so popular now, people’s homes are getting smaller. Even those with money don’t have a flat of 200 square metres. So I wanted to do something that can fit in smaller environments but that can also still be arranged to work somewhere huge. It’s not that I want to do vintage pieces – it’s about finding that right balance where something looks like it could have been designed 50 years ago or like it could have been designed now. All of my furniture has the ambition to be timeless.

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The Nichetto Marlon table and Stella chair by De La Espada.

What are some of the ways that mid-century modern era is reflected in your De La Espada designs?
My new Stella chair has a seat made from a popular 1950s material: fibreglass. It’s been a long time since someone did a fibreglass chair because everyone says the material is not eco-friendly. And maybe it’s not from the production side, but it’s super eco-friendly in that it has a much longer lifespan than plastic. If you scratch fibreglass, you can repair and re-polish it yourself. It also creates a perception of high quality. For Shanghai’s Festival of Design, we presented Stella with the Marlon table in black marquina and it was a perfect match. The fibreglass almost looks like the marble.

Nino ottoman and Elysia lounge chair.
Nino ottoman and Elysia lounge chair.

Your new Nino ottoman is designed to match one of your first designs for De La Espada, the Elysia lounge chair. Was that a piece you developed based on customer feedback?
Yes, Nino was actually suggested by John [Baker, the co-owner of Mjölk]! He told me that a lot of his customers were looking at Elysia and asking for a matching ottoman. So Nino was born to work with Elysia, but because of its simple aesthetic can also work easily with my other furniture. That’s why I named it Nino and not Elysia Ottoman. Not only does Nino sound better, but it shows that it can also be paired with my Blanche chair, or used as a standalone piece. I like for everything to have its own personality, but to work together as a family.

Mjölk’s living room vignette includes Nichetto’s Stanley sofa, Blanche Bergère armchair, Kim coffee table and Steve pouf.
Mjölk’s living room vignette includes Nichetto’s Stanley sofa, Blanche Bergère armchair, Kim coffee table and Steve pouf.

Your setup here for Nichetto Residency is a combination of dining room, living room and office vignettes. What fresh insights do you gain when arranging your pieces in a new environment?
The colour and the materiality are the two biggest things to consider. When I was thinking about Mjölk’s environment for this Nichetto Residency display, I knew that my Steve pouf could work in gold velvet, but not with the Elysia chair in red. It becomes too pop for here. It’s also interesting to see how people react to the designs here compared to how they reacted in Shanghai, where these pieces were launched. The perception of quality is completely different. Here you can see people touching the wood, while in China they are more interested in the comfort of the foam.

What’s next for the Nichetto collection?
In the future, I would love to do some pieces for outdoor.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Uki, Zen and Han are available exclusively at Mjölk for $240, $140 and $120, respectively. Nichetto Residency remains on display for the duration of the month.

 


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