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Posted in Design Stories

Desalto: Redefin­ing the Craft

Mini Clay table
Mini Clay table, by Marc Krusin Mini Clay Table

Every so often, design can take us right to the edge and invite us to look over. Desalto exudes this power, a partic­u­lar strength, and assur­ance that comes from the concerted estab­lish­ment of a lineage of ideas. In their work, our expec­ta­tions are swept aside with ease: a formed arm of a chair instinc­tively drapes to become the back­rest, a sheet of steel folds like icing, and soft surfaces hold themselves upright.

Since its incep­tion in 1991, Desalto has quietly gone about tran­scend­ing the tradi­tional defi­n­i­tions of a commer­cial brand. Their precisely crafted work is strongly rooted in the district of Brianza, Italy, an area renowned for its entre­pre­neur­ial and design-centered spirit. In this envi­ron­ment, Desalto quickly estab­lished a new tradi­tion of strong, poetic and mate­ri­ally-rich forms. When in 1963 the four Oresenigo broth­ers embarked on the busi­ness as a combined pursuit, they can’t have envis­aged exactly what would be produced in their North­ern Italian studio, let alone the produc­tion methods they would be using some 25 years later. But what they had already conjured was a commit­ment to the design process and to the study of detail and propor­tion and an image asso­ci­ated with quality. They care­fully set about bring­ing together a taste for simplic­ity and a sense of daring to produce unex­pected and exquis­itely refined pieces.

Today, the notions of tradi­tion and inno­va­tion swing in and out of focus. For the Element table, Tokujin Yosh­ioka reimag­ined tradi­tional table forms as a collec­tion of crys­talline stain­less steel and aluminum forms remi­nis­cent of natural miner­als and quartzes. These complex three-dimen­sional forms balance, quite precar­i­ously, atop one another, the legs slip­ping out from beneath the tops, as if the whole table has been frozen mid-motion, caught as the table­cloth was whisked off.

Each part is set at its own specific angle, gener­at­ing differ­ent rela­tion­ships corre­spond­ing to the func­tion – be it side table or dining tables. With this move­ment, the rest and solid­ity we subcon­sciously expect from perpen­dic­u­lar angles are thrown off. But as if to almost bring us back to balance, the static, pure matte black finish silences the forms, render­ing the tables almost shadows of themselves.

Flick­ing through the catalog of works, it would be all too easy to dissolve into this rich geneal­ogy of forms, objects, and ways of inhab­it­ing the world. But that would ignore the complex process of making, the craft of trans­form­ing ideas into phys­i­cal objects. The invest­ment Desalto has made in produc­tion facil­i­ties and high-end tech­nolo­gies have created ripe condi­tions for design. Within this coura­geous place of design, there is a deep aware­ness of the wider impact of produc­tion. From a factory entirely powered by a rooftop photo­voltaic system to a website compen­sated by forestry, their approach is holis­tic and ever-sensitive.

The Element table, by Tokujin Yosh­ioka for Desalto

Desalto factory

There’s plenty of evidence of the value of having a dedi­cated space to nurture ideas into phys­i­cal form. A level of rigor is visible in every process, from preci­sion in metal­work­ing tech­niques and testing new digital mech­a­nisms, to devel­op­ing exper­i­men­tal customized solu­tions and finishes. The limits and possi­bil­i­ties of each unique mate­ri­als are attended to, making them­selves present in the design. In the result­ing pieces, these tech­no­log­i­cal pursuits are deeply embed­ded in the reso­lu­tion of the design. It’s a balance that is part intu­ition, part innovation.

The superla­tive factory has become a sought-after testing ground for design­ers, from the well-known to the up-and-coming, the Italian and the inter­na­tional. Desalto invites indi­vid­u­als to work on distinc­tive projects which seek to explore indi­vid­ual objec­tives in support of their wider goals. The over­laps of differ­ent design­ers and new produc­tion methods lend an expan­sive­ness to the Desalto oeuvre. In close collab­o­ra­tion, the objects are refined, reviewed and reflected on. This isn’t about produc­ing what we already know, but a deep commit­ment to design, wher­ever it might take us.

This is that point at which Desalto tran­scends the tradi­tional, the moment ideas are given weight. This is daring produc­tion and the result­ing pieces boast all the posture and soul of the process. It’s this sense of antic­i­pa­tion and possi­bil­ity that recurs in Desalto’s work that we’re so enam­ored with. Even the sculp­ture Clay table, with its perfect symme­try, expresses a finely cali­brated moment of surprise. The focal point is the almost infi­nitely impos­si­ble area between the two cones, a tech­ni­cally inge­nious connec­tion that almost dissolves the moment of connec­tion. You can’t quite tell whether they are balanc­ing, pulling apart or some­thing else entirely. And this, all finished in a lava-stone paste hand-spread with a palette knife.

Desalto revels in the exer­cise of redefin­ing the limits. And given what their work has illu­mi­nated so far, we’re happy to be swept up in their power. That sense that we’re at the very brink of some­thing else, of some wondrous possibility.

Desalto Beam Table
Desalto’s Beam Table