Crystal Talk
Text: Norman KietzmannPhotos: Nathalie Krag, Giovanni Gastel


Profil Lissoni

The world of design can at times be very loud.

Piero Lissoni's world, however, is different. Clear lines, subtle forms and an eye for special materials surround his designs with sophisticated simplicity. Trained as an architect in Milan, Piero Lissoni has operated primarily in interior design, and as creative director and chief designer, has had an important influence on the fortunes of companies such as Boffi, Porro, Living Divani, and Tecno, to name a few. With his Milan-based studio "Lissoni Associati", which now has over 70 employees, he is consistently working at the interface of architecture and design, and designs not just new products, but also entire hotels, apartment blocks, company headquarters and even yachts - from the façade down to the very last detail. In April 2008 the master of sensory minimalism finally afforded us an insight into his Milan studio.

It is just after 10 a.m. when we reach Via Goito at the heart of downtown Milan. A small path leads off from the street into the green courtyard, where Sati, an elegant female Golden Retriever, greets us. When Piero Lissoni appears, we first go to a café two streets away to have a small breakfast. After all, it's no use starting the day on an empty stomach. Back in his studio it is remarkably quiet. The walls are painted white and plenty of light streams into the rooms through high windows. This building was once home to a silk factory. Normally 75 people work here on a total of three stories. However, the Milan Furniture Fair, which currently seems to have the entire city in its grip, exerts a noticeable strain on the "Lissoni Associati" studio too - even if everything radiates a natural calmness.

Piero Lissoni loves understatement, yet is thoroughly aware of his position. Like hardly any other architect or designer in Milan, he is currently managing an impressive range of projects and clients all at the same time, including names such as Alessi, Cappellini, Flos, Karell, Knoll International, Thonet and Glas Italia. Be it at the Furniture Fair or in the numerous showrooms throughout the entire city, his signature is always visible. Piero Lissoni is not just represented by his own studio and numerous products. As Art Director for Boffi, Porro, Living Divani and Tecno, he also has a visible influence on the output of other designers who work for these firms.

It all started in 1985, when Piero Lissoni, having studied architecture at the Politecnico di Milano, went to work as a designer for the company which still forms the basis of his creative direction today, namely, the Italian kitchen and bathroom manufacturer Boffi. A mere 12 months later he founded "Studio Lissoni" in Milan with Nicoletta Canesi, which was later renamed "Lissoni Associati", and quickly established a scope ranging from architecture and interior design, industrial design and graphic design to art direction and corporate images. Whereas in Germany these disciplines are traditionally pursued individually, Lissoni effortlessly handle them all. The reason for this may well also be the traditional Italian education system, in which a designer first starts as an architect and then gradually changes from large to small scales.

This approach may well have been decisive for Boffi's success, with which, after all, Piero Lissoni also made a name for himself internationally. For instead of designing individual products for kitchens and bathrooms, he focused on rituals and their development in a space, which were in turn translated into various product ranges. He also succeeded in overlapping disciplines while working for the Italian furniture brand Porro, for which he designed an extraordinary office furniture collection. Instead of gray and cool materials as we would otherwise expect in typical office products, Lissoni championed warm, tactile and high-grade materials. After all, the aim is indeed to design the time you spend at your workstation as pleasantly as possible.

The fact that Piero Lissoni not only designs this way of thinking for others but also lives it out himself is evident when we look at his Milan studio. Instead of classic conference rooms there are two libraries and his office, which at first glance does not look like an office at all. There is no point looking for a computer here; instead there is a multitude of small objects, figurines, sculptures, pictures and countless books piled up on the tables and along the walls. They are mostly historical artifacts or things he discovered while traveling in foreign countries. Seen together with the bright, unobtrusive architecture of the building, an unusual mix full of contrasts arises which makes the objects enter into dialog with each other.

Even though Piero Lissoni's style is clearly rooted in purism, he is never dogmatic and certainly not anemic. With high-grade materials, intricate details and a sensory tactile aspect, his designs are of an almost timeless quality, whether a chair, a yacht or a factory building.

Whereas at the outset of Piero Lissoni's career design projects were at the forefront, at present architectural projects are once again featuring more often in his work. For example he designed the new headquarters for the furniture company "Living Divani" and is currently planning an exclusive holiday resort on Dellis Cay, a tiny island of the Turks & Caicos Islands north of Haiti. He proved his feel for a sophisticated and simultaneously calm hotel architecture with the interior design of the "Bentley Hotel" in Istanbul and the "Monaco & Grand Canal Hotel" in Venice. However, with the "Mandarin Oriental Hotel" and the spacious private villas he is planning to build on Dellis Cay 2010, he is going one step further, designing everything himself, from the façade to the shower fittings. And there is another subject which particularly appeals to Piero Lissoni, namely, big boats. He has already caused a stir with a 36-meter yacht and is currently planning a motor yacht for a private client which is a stately 90 meters long. This too is entirely his creation, from the hull through the structures on deck to the complete interior.