Design is fine



“The relationship between design and craftsmanship is like a subterranean river – flowing and acting deep below, even while it remains invisible.” Giulio Iacchetti, an internationally renowned designer, has always paid close attention to the evolution of the relationship between craftsmanship and design.

An example of this is Internoitaliano, a production network made up of artisan workshops with which he designs and produces furniture and home accessories inspired by the Italian way of making and living. Or Tempo Artigiano, a project in collaboration with the Municipality of Sarule and the Nivola Foundation to modernise objects from the Sardinian weaving and ironworking traditions, revisited from a modern perspective, to be marketed outside the island.


Iacchetti, who is from Lombardy, has a special relationship with Sardinia.


“I have always been attracted to artisan crafts, including as a source of inspiration. The turning point, however, was in 2008, when I was invited, together with other ‘mainland’ designers, to the last biennial of Sardinian craftsmanship, promoted by the then Governor Soru. On that occasion, together with some local artisans, I designed a family of knives and some ceramics. It was then that I got to know Fertilia, one of the towns built during Fascism: today a town with a strong urban personality. I was enchanted by it and immediately understood that sooner or later that place would become a part of my life.”


Giulio Iacchetti’s home in Fertilia – ph Max Rommel


And so it was. In Fertilia, Iacchetti and his family are now at home. They leave Milan for Fertilia as often as they can and spend every summer there along with grandparents and friends.  “For us, Fertilia is not the classic holiday home but a real home, not transient but consistent” he says.


“Once I had settled in, the first thing I wanted to do was to create relationships with local artisans. One significant meeting was with Diego Moretti of Ebanisteria Meccanica, a young and very skilled craftsman. This gave rise to the idea of working together, each bringing his own values: on my side the design aspect, with an international design idea, and from Diego truly remarkable craftsmanship. Together we started generating new icons and continued working with other local companies, following a format I had conceived myself, ‘Tempo Artigiano’ [Artisan Time]. Last year the project took me to Sarule, near Barbagia, where I set up a workshop with several local artisans, including the women who weave carpets on vertical looms. Many of these objects are now on display at the Tavolara Pavilion in Sassari, the exhibition on contemporary Sardinian craftsmanship: another connection that binds me more and more to the island.”


Fulmine, designed by Giulio Iacchetti for Ebanisteria Meccanica – photo Gaia Anselmi Tamburini



A living craftsmanship, which was also firmly present at the recent Salone del Mobile in Milan. Which characteristics enable such an immediate and contiguous contemporary reinterpretation?

First of all, I believe that Sardinian craftsmanship is the only one in Italy that encompasses the whole productive spectrum: it ranges from rugs to textiles, from metalwork to woodwork, via ceramics and jewellery. The very powerful level of aggregation it has with our contemporary world undoubtedly comes from the undisputed symbolism, quality and originality of the materials used, but we must not forget the work of the great Eugenio Tavolara.  Through the work he did with I.S.O.L.A., this artist and designer allowed Sardinian craftsmanship to emerge from a purely practical and functional dimension to become a true form of popular art. The lesson we can take from this experience is that craftsmanship, if it is alive, renews itself: Sardinian craftsmanship, thanks to Tavolara’s work, has been able to reinvent and update itself, without ever losing sight of its ideological and stylistic content. There has been a kind of translation operation, a taking beyond these values: craftsmanship lives in change. Today we are faced with a very active sector, which also includes young people who believe in their work and in a sense of belonging as a vital expression of being Sardinian and of living in those regions.


Boes – designed by Giulio Iacchetti for Ebanisteria Meccanica



So what synthesis emerges from the international designer Iacchetti and the island identity?


Ebanisteria Meccanica we developed a mirror reminiscent of the shape of a bull’s head, a clear reference to the symbolic animal values of Sardinia, revisited. Again with Ebanisteria, we made other objects, such as the hobbyhorse with wheels for children, Fulmine: in this case we created a toy, but one inspired by the great equestrian tradition and the love that Sardinians have for horses and riding.


For the 2008 Sardinian Biennial, I developed a new form of the Arburese knife, which is less well known than the typical knife of Pattada, restoring the design of a knife for domestic use that draws inspiration from the robust forms of the tool habitually used by shepherds. The operation I carried out was therefore to extrapolate an element from a noble and respectable occupation such as that of shepherding, and give it a hook that would make it comprehensible for wider use. Translating those forms and inspirations into more everyday uses.

The “Arburesi” knives  – Giulio Iacchetti design


But can such characteristic objects, even if given a contemporary perspective, really be at home in houses around the world?

I believe this is no longer an issue. In fact we need local authenticity in our homes, which are increasingly predisposed to accommodating different territorial expressions. These are not folkloristic or naive objects, but things that hold a symbolism charged with meaning. A Sardinian rug can be introduced into a contemporary interior anywhere in the world and work really well. The real issue, however, is that not everyone knows about it: the work needed primarily concerns communication, because the reservoir of things that already exist and are artfully made is there, and it is significant. For years, the internet has been helping us by making these things visible and available to everyone.


So, in conclusion, do you think that this proximity to artisan culture can also benefit the world of production?

I think that going back to that dimension of design is regenerating for everyone: both for the craftsman who needs new ideas, because tradition is not enough, you have to go further, and for the designer too, who sees the perfect alignment between his dream, his interest in bringing an object to life, and seeing it immediately realised. And the production sphere can also benefit from this, overcoming the relationship mediated by many factors such as marketing, commercial, which are necessary but which distance the idea from its immediate realisation.

I firmly believe that an affinity with craftsmanship is strategic for today’s world of manufacturing, for the generation of new products, which draw on the incredible heritage of traditional historical workmanship, manual skill and a powerful repository of knowledge. This is an absolute that I have always believed in, and particularly so in recent years.



Marvis Holder, recente progetto di Giulio Iacchetti