A curious mind is a designer’s dream. Meet Italian designer Alessandro Zambelli, whose innate curiosity allows him to create beautiful products often inspired by the most unusual ideas.
Being passionately curious is a good trait for a product designer to have. Alessandro Zambelli owns up to having a curious mind. His interest in traditional craft and their makers has led to a lifelong interest in ‘old’ things and how they can be kept alive and relevant in today’s world.
Zambelli studied industrial design and material engineering in Milan. He then started his career at Agape, Italy’s leading bathroom designers, in 2000. In 2003, he founded his own studio in Mantua. Since then, Zambelli has created some inventive and creative products, most of which have a tangible connection to the past, yet are firmly rooted both in the present and future.
One of Zambelli’s first big projects was the Estetico Quotidiano for Seletti (2006). A first glance at this collection of dinnerware and glass makes you do a double-take because it looks like it is made out of disposable materials – plastic, paper, wicker. Zambelli took the idea of a “poor” object and changed it into something to be treasured by recreating it in porcelain and borosilicate glass. So you have very authentic-looking porcelain ‘cans’, glass bottles that look uncannily like plastic ones and dishes that resemble the tin ones your grandmother had.
The Palace range of tableware (2011, Seletti) is a stunning concept that is museum-worthy. You could display this behind glass, under a spotlight, or be brave and actually use it. The modular design makes the porcelain set both stackable and compact.
The set of tableware for six people shows palaces and renaissance architecture. The designs are fluid and complex, and make sense even when taken apart. This takes the idea of ‘decorative’ tableware to another level altogether. Similarly, the Keytlery (2011), a set of 24 pieces of electroplated cutlery are recreated in the shape of old keys making it an ideal companion to the Palace dishes or a startling contrast to every-day tableware.
Zambelli’s furniture designs are complex, yet leave you with a deep sense of nostalgia. The Filos chair (2010) has an interwoven design that reminds you of vintage woven chairs. The Beeth rocking horse (2012) is conjured out of wood and cork, a reminder of old board games made from toothpicks and corks. The School Joke Chair (2012) is a modern interpretation of the classic classroom chair and comes only in white but with chair legs and screws available in different colours.
The Paniepesci (2012) chair is an exercise in poetry. Made out of panels of curved wood with a graduating colour mosaic, the chair has intent that goes beyond the pleasing colours. There are biblical elements, geometry, history and sentiment.
The Wire (2014) collection for Seletti is inspired by the European Art Nouveau period with strong metal elements and sharp design. Five pieces with brass wire fittings – a chest of drawers, a wardrobe, a cupboard, and two storage units are not only useful but eminently decorative with thin gold lines surprising you as they curve around the furniture. The gold key turns out to be a structural feature, a permanent handle, as it doesn’t turn, but adds an interesting element of whimsy.
Zambelli’s designs for lighting are also quite special and innovative. The Affilia (2014) is a gorgeous piece of lighting meaning ‘leafless’. The bare, stripped-down light is a perfect rendition of no-fuss design with a simple base of Swiss pine. The lace-like diffuser with its tiny geometric shapes throws out interesting shadows and in itself, makes the light a work of art.
The hexagonal Woodspot lamp (2014) is equally sensuous even with its sharp angles that make the lamp stand like a photo frame. Assembled and varnished entirely by hand, the lamp’s unusual profile makes it stand out.
The Lume (2016) on the other hand, is truly luminous and was created to symbolise closeness and affection. A small candle-holder has a parabola on top, a tribute to old bicycle lamps. The Lume is available in several luscious colours making it an ideal little gift.
The Tesa (2012) is a leather lamp reminiscent of hats that were long at the sides to protect the wearer’s face from the sun. The Crystaled series of lamp (2012) are designed like gems, not only in their shapes (sphere, cube and diamond), but also their jewelled colours. Conversely, the Coverage (2012) is a ‘bare’ iron lamp with rubberised coating. Its extended arms hold the bulbs out like claws and the mottled iron coating makes it look older than it is.
Zambelli’s designs for accessories are also pretty quirky like the Dinn clock (2014) that has a bell inserted in the circumference of the clock. Inspired by the originality of Paganini’s ‘La Campanella’ (the little bell), “the minute hand terminates in a tiny hammer which nudges the clapper of the bell hourly, ‘on the dot.’ The clapper swings. It rings the bell. Dinn!”
From music to nature, to history and mathematics, Alessandro Zambelli’s designs are born out of curiosity and end up being lovely and quite magical indeed.
Text By Chryselle D’Silva Dias
Photographs Courtesy The Designer