Designer Profile: Valerio Sommella

Designer Profile: Valerio Sommella

Karno.in.ua talks to the young , whose explorations have taken him from litter boxes to Moooi carpets. 

In the beginning
I actually wanted to be a marine biologist, but I was living in Milan, and that would have meant travelling away. I always liked making things, so I ended up studying industrial design at the Politecnico di Milano. As soon as I started, it felt quite natural. I had no doubts from that point.

Sommella has launched four products, including the Koki spoon and Bulla bottle opener, with Alessi. Four more are in the works

Sommella has launched four products, including the Koki spoon and Bulla bottle opener, with Alessi. Four more are in the works.

First mentor
The one guide, the maestro, that I’ve had in my life – and I owe him a lot – is Stefano Giovannoni. I began working for him in 2004. For him, one of the key elements is that we design objects for people to buy. Of course, there is an artistic and stylistic element in it, but for him it was very much related to future markets and what people will desire in a couple of years.

Sold in table and ceiling models, the Kushi lamps for Kundalini won a German Design Award earlier this year.

Sold in table and ceiling models, the Kushi lamps for Kundalini won a German Design Award earlier this year.

Wandering to Marcel
After three years with Stefano, I wanted to see the other side of the coin. So I moved to Amsterdam to join Marcel Wanders. It was completely different. Marcel’s is a much bigger company, and there is a very decorative approach. For the 2007 Salone del Mobile, the first year he had a solo show – a big exhibition in Via Tortona – I worked on some of the Crochet collection. It was really hands-on, making things in the workshop.

A speculative work, the Ova lamp, was designed shortly after Sommella launched his studio.

A speculative work, the Ova lamp, was designed shortly after Sommella launched his studio.

Return to Milan
At the end of 2008, I went back to Milan. It was the right time to open my own company and to start doing things my way. The hardest part when you’re on your own is to get clients and figure out the business side. One of my first clients was an Italian company called . They knew me from Giovannoni’s studio, so they ed me, and I began this relationship that went on for a few years – we did probably more than 10 pet products. It snowballs, the more clients you work with; eventually some people hear your name and call you.

Networking
I ed Alessi because I wanted to work with them. Giovannoni did many products for them, but I never had the chance to work with them directly. It was hard to make the first one; I probably sent seven proposals, but it was never the right thing or the right time until I designed the bottle opener Bulla. After that, it was quite smooth, and we now have four more in the pipeline. We understand each other; they know my style. The Koki spoon for Alessi is my favourite of my own designs. A spoon is a simple object; there’s not much to innovate or to create. But if you see it and hold it in your hand, it’s a perfect balance of shape, size and features.

The Rampu lamp, one of several products for lighting brand Fabbian, is a more geometric design for Sommella.

The Rampu lamp, one of several products for lighting brand Fabbian, is a more geometric design for Sommella.

Shifting aesthetics
In some areas of my portfolio there is a quite precise style – in the Alessi products specifically. It probably has to do with the material: I wanted to work with stainless steel, which is stiff, solid and strong, and to treat it as if it were a softer object, as if it’s really melted into an object of soft shapes. But if you look, for instance, at some of the lamps I’ve done, you’ll see a different approach: very rigid and geometric. I like to think of my projects not as chapters of the same story, with one following the other in an ordered way, but as single stories collected into a book. At the end, you can see that the same writer is behind it, but every time it’s different – you have different characters, which are the companies, the materials, the technology.

Moooi’s innovative printing technology inspired the Fur rugs Sommella introduced with the brand this year.

Moooi’s innovative printing technology inspired the Fur rugs Sommella introduced with the brand this year.

The role of experimentation
Material experimentation often comes from the companies. For the Fur rugs I did for Moooi, for instance, I saw this technology that they had developed and said, “Wait, I can do something interesting with this.” For me, it was a big achievement to work with Marcel from a different position, on a completely different level. It wasn’t easy. The rugs are the result of a long process and many proposals. But it was clear since the beginning that Marcel understood the strength of the concept.

It’s the same with the sunglasses collection for Modo; they had a patent on the combination of two materials – beta titanium and TR90 (a flexible thermoplastic) – and the way the lenses are inserted into the very thin frames. When I’m given boundaries or limitations, I start testing to see what I can make of them. Sometimes it’s difficult to convince a company to adapt a technology or a material they are not familiar with. The result of a design work is only the tip of an iceberg, which is actually made of hundreds of concepts that never see the light.

A combination of beta titanium and TR90 thermoplastic makes ultra-thin rims possible in Modo’s VS1 eyewear.

A combination of beta titanium and TR90 thermoplastic makes ultra-thin rims possible in Modo’s VS1 eyewear.

Future production
Next April, during Salone del Mobile, I’ll present new lamps at Euroluce and launch some outdoor furniture for Collection. We are doing another eyewear collection with Modo for next spring/summer, and collaborating with Torre and Alcantara on a couple of collections of sofa and lounge chairs. Also, I’m working on something completely different: coffee machines, for the American market.

The Minù litter box, one of several designs for United Pets, is among Sommella’s first commercial successes.

The Minù litter box, one of several designs for United Pets, is among Sommella’s first commercial successes.

Curriculum Vitae

Born
Cortona, Tuscany, 1980

Location
Milan

Education
Honours degree in industrial design, Politecnico di Milano, 2004

Occupation
Industrial designer

Selected awards
2014 Good Design Awards (Prisma cooking hood for Falmec)
2016 German Design Award (Kushi lamp for Kundalini)
2016 ADI Design Index (Sfrido for Alessi)

Selected exhibits
2014 ⁄ 2015 New Italian Design, Triennale di Milano Design Museum travelling exhibit
2008 to 2015 Salone del Mobile

Selected clients
Alessi, Alma Design, Calligaris, Fabbian, Falmec, Honda, Konica Minolta, Kundalini, Lumen Center Italia, Modo, Moooi, Panasonic, Plust Collection, Toyota, United Pets, Vistosi

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