Behind the Scenes: Get Inspired by the Italian Craftsmanship

Behind the Scenes: Get Inspired by the Italian Craftsmanship

There’s no doubt that Italians are talented craftsmen and creative designers, their artistic and artisanal excellence is known all over the world. From Ettore Sottsass‘s quirky Memphis furniture to Gio Ponti‘s lustrous pieces, Italy has been a leader in innovative, beautiful, and high-quality design for decades. There’s a reason why iSaloni (Salone del Mobile.Milano), one of the best and most notorious art and furniture design showcases in the world, is based in Milan since 1961. Italian Craftsmanship always was internationally celebrated.


Interior Design with Memphis Furniture inspired by Ettore Sottsass’ works. Photo: ©wmagazine


“Single Units” belongs to Gio Ponti Collection from Molteni&C dedicated to the great Milanese arts and crafts master. Marked by hand-painted white drawer fronts with applied handles in various wood kinds (elm, Italian walnut, mahogany, and rosewood). Chest of drawers designed in several versions in the period from 1952 to 1955. The new version was produced using original drawings kept in the Gio Ponti Archives and the art direction for the Gio Ponti Collection came from Studio Cerri & Associati. The Elmwood frame rests on satin brass feet. Photo: ©Molteni

Brianza, for example, is considered the craftsmanship-design district, halfway between Milan and Lake Como. It is a mesmerizing place, in which over the past two centuries noble and affluent families built many villas. These constructions required the skillful hands of master artisans and experts which furnished the breathtaking houses. This is the motive why such a fine and precious know-how survived there, as a crucial part of the region’s legacy. Some traditional crafts knowledge can’t even be found anywhere else in Italy.


Brianza’s Traditional Furniture. The finest “Made in Italy” crafts conquered the world with its high-quality furniture. Photo: ©Vimercati


Contemporary Craftsmanship Workshops in Brianza. Photo: ©mayanova


In Brianza, tools and materials become part of the master artisan’s life. Each time he shapes his piece, he puts his soul into it, he leaves a part of himself inside every masterpiece his hands create. Photo: ©mayanova

Since the 1950s, design entrepreneurs come to this area to collaborate with famous Italian and foreign artists, bringing to life of iconic furniture and lighting. All the best Italian-made products merge together traditional craftsmanship and technology in an extremely detailed and almost perfect way. Artisan expertise has an irreplaceable value which allows delicate finishing details and final touches in all manufactured pieces. Human hands are capable of sensitivity and emotion while maintaining almost industrial precision.

Each hand-crafted art piece is truly unique since it is not being mass-produced. Every small little detail embraces the authenticity of its material and maker, a perfection in each flaw is featured.


Wood Carving Wonders. Photo: ©fuorisalone


The popular saying “Love French. Drive German. Dress Italian” already assures us of the high quality of Italian design and crafts. Just to name a few, BerlutiBrioniBrunello CucinelliDolce & GabbanaErmenegildo ZegnaEtroFendiGucciArmaniKitonLoro PianaPaul EvansPradaSalvatore Ferragamo, and, of course, Versace, are all celebrated luxury brands with Italian origins. In luxury furniture and accessories we can also find Moooi and Swarovski, among many others.


Craftsmanship: Moooi Filigree Dimmable LED Floor Lamp by Rick Tegelaar. Made of aluminum, brass and stainless steel. Photo: ©1stdibs


Moooi Filigree Floor Lamp Interior Design. Photo: ©Veko


Thanks to the nonstop evolution of technology, there are a million ways to use chemicals, for example, to tan leather. However, the best leather in the world is made by Italian tanners who use millennia-old traditions of au natural liming and dying. The result is a material that’s sturdier than any other on the market, as we can see in genuinely Italian-crafted shoes, which all have also a beautiful hand-painted finish. Also, most fabric mills use water that’s saturated with salt and minerals, which leads to a fabric that’s covered in a thin, color-quashing layer. But Italian fabric mills are usually located in the North, an outstanding region in the south of Swiss Alp glaciers. Craftsmanship Italian mills use pure water to produce fabric, that’s why you won’t find a single thread covered in undesirable substances.


It has been over 50 years since Tarcisio Munari founded the Munari company, preeminent in the field of backpacks, cases and leather bags in the 80’s. Since 1990, Munari has been developing its business in the office supplies, particularly with leather and leatherette desk sets, attaining ambitious goals and international awards and achieving world leadership in this specific area. These notable brand and know-how, all Italian, have been acquired and developed in 2012 by the Italian company ORNA (Verona), remaining faithful to craftsmanship and creativity and, at the same time, conforming to innovation and market demand. The 100% made in Italy production include professional bags, desk sets, and accessories such as notepads, desk pads, letter cutters, paper holders, among others. Munari, a very well-known brand in the leather manufacturing, a choice of excellence, style, quality and craftsmanship, all made in Italy. Photo: ©Munari


Photo: ©Edhèn


Some companies have been around longer than entire nations. In fact, Vitale Barberis Canonico, a family-run fabric mill in Biella, the main textile supplier for the tailor maestros at Zegn, is working for fifteen generations, since the 1600s.

Handcrafting any piece is a slow and detailed process, which requires a burning passion for arts and craftsArtisans are almost wizards, dedicating their lives to the magic of building extraordinary art with their own hands. A hand-crafted project can take weeks, months, years to be finished.


The Wonders of The Italian Arts and Crafts: Behind The Scenes

Photo: ©Le Guide Parisian Gentleman


The Wonders of The Italian Arts and Crafts: Behind The Scenes

Vitale Barberis Canonico First Showroom in Milan. Photo: ©vitalebarberiscanonico


In 2009, the Italian parliament passed a law prohibiting the use of the phrase “Made in Italy” on any product label unless the product is actually made in Italy, from start to finish. This was a strategy to protect the country’s precious reputation as a creator of the finest craftsmanship products.

From the columns of ancient Rome to Michelangelo’s David, style is carved into the stone of Italian life. There’s even a term for it: “La belle figura”, which literally means “the beautiful figure”, yet represents a lifestyle admired and followed, a trend, at all times and in all ways.

The Wonders of The Italian Arts and Crafts: Behind The Scenes

Photo: ©Armani


See also: Milan Design Week: Celebrating The Best of Design Since 1961

Private Collection Boca do Lobo


Italian-crafted goods can handle really well the passage of time. Vintage clothes and furniture are always, always en vogue, especially if they are handcraftedhigh-qualitydesigner-made items.

From Leonardo da Vinci to Poltrona Frau armchairs, from Armani and Prada to Tiramisu cake. Italians have several beautiful specific products of the highest level made by small producers, artists and artisans everywhere in the country. Pursuing a family traditioninnovatingcreating, finding new styles and raising quality is in the Italian blood, characteristics which will lead the country to a bright future.


The Wonders of The Italian Arts and Crafts: Behind The Scenes

“Chester One Sofa” (1912) by Renzo Frau to Poltrona Frau. The vegetable horsehair of the padding in the backrest and armrests is hand-modeled. The springs are eight-way springs, tied by hand and supported on jute webbing. Photo: ©dreamdesign


The Wonders of The Italian Arts and Crafts: Behind The Scenes

“Archibald Armchair” by Jean-Marie Massaud. Photo: ©Poltrona Frau


  • Fascinating Murano Traditional Glassworks

One of the most relevant examples of Italian excellent crafts is the Venetian Glass, created for over 1500 years and with production focused in the island of Murano since the 13th century. Nowadays, Murano is known for its artistic glassworks, but it also has a long history of innovations in glassblowing and is Europe’s major glassmaking center. During the 15th century, Murano glassmakers created cristallo, and almost transparent glass considered the finest glass in the world. They also developed a white glass called lattimo which resembled porcelain. Later, Murano also became Europe’s finest mirror’s production center.

The Wonders of The Italian Arts and Crafts: Behind The Scenes

“Flowers of Murano” is a unique and exclusive stool created using the highest quality glass from the Italian Murano island. It is the reinvention of ancient techniques, such as glass blowing and glasswork, in a contemporary design, inspired by natural elements. Designed by Joaquim and Marco Costa (Project CULTURE) and created by Salviati. Photo: ©Covet Foundation


The Wonders of The Italian Arts and Crafts: Behind The Scenes

“Flowers of Murano” Photo: ©Covet Foundation


Venice was controlled by the Eastern Roman Empire, but eventually became an independent city-state which flourished as a craftsmanship trading center and seaport. The city’s alliances with the Middle East created opportunities for the glassmakers to learn with more advanced countries as Syria and Egypt. Venetian glassmaking factories existed since the 8th century, but they started to be controlled by Murano at the beginning of 1291.

Glass factories often caught fire, so removing them from the city and locating them in an island avoided major fire disasters for the populations. It is known that Venetian glassmakers protect secret recipes and methods for making glass, which is still treasured in Murano.

The Wonders of The Italian Arts and Crafts: Behind The Scenes

Peacock made of Murano Glass. Photo: ©1stdibs


The island popularity peaked in the 15th and 16th centuries. Venice’s dominance in trade along the Mediterranean Sea created a wealthy merchant class that was a strong connoisseur of the arts. The demand for glassworks increased. The spread of glassmaking talent among Europe eventually lessened the importance of Venice and its Murano glassmakers, especially since Napoleon Bonaparte’s defeat in 1797. However, Murano glassmaking began to recover in the 1920s and today the island is home to numerous glass factories and a few individual artists’ studios. Murano’s Museo del Vetro (Glass Museum) in the Palazzo Giustinian showcases the history of glassmaking as well as glass masterpieces from Egyptian times to the present day.


The Wonders of The Italian Arts and Crafts: Behind The Scenes

Murano Glass Vessel. Photo: ©afterglowretro


The Wonders of The Italian Arts and Crafts: Behind The Scenes

Detail of the Murano Glass Vessel. Photo: ©afterglowretro


  • Remarkable Italian Master Artisans

Among many incredible Italian master artisans, we can refer Piero Fornasetti, a paintersculptorinterior decorator and engraver who lived most of his life in Milan. He attended the Brera Art Academy from 1930-32 and created more than 11.000 art pieces, many featuring the face of a woman, Lina Cavalieri, as a motif. Fornasetti found her face in a 19th-century magazine. Other usual characteristics of his work include the heavy use of black and white, the sun and time. His style evokes Greek and Roman architecture, by which he was heavily influenced. Nowadays, it is frequent to see Fornasetti’s style in fashion and accessories such as scarves, ties, lampsfurniturechina plates, and tables.


The Wonders of The Italian Arts and Crafts: Behind The Scenes

Pierro Fornasetti Exhibition at Les Arts Décoratifs. Photo: ©Amara


Talented contemporary Italian master artisans include, for example, Simone Cenedese (glass sculptor), Massimo Lunardon(lampworker), Cesare Toffolo (lampworker), Simone Crestani (glassworker), Lucio Bubacco (lampworker) and Giovanni Corvaja(goldsmith).

Simone Cenedese, one of the best Italian master artisans dedicated to glass sculpture, started working in a glass furnace created by his grandfather when he was still a boy. Through his work, Simone got involved in the family tradition of glasswork and gathered the key elements required for developing this art and creating designs. Artistic ability, creativity and the mastering of refined and exclusive techniques as well as the use of a wide chromatic range of pure and brilliant glass have developed into new ideas, creations, and projects.


The Wonders of The Italian Arts and Crafts: Behind The Scenes

Living Room in classic style. Classic interior design using arts and crafts “Queen Elizabeth”. Photo: ©Simone Cenedese


Massimo Lunardon began his artistic career as a glassworker and lampworking artist in 1988. He gained experience in glasswork and glassmaking workshops and from numerous collaborations with studiosartistsdesigners, and architects. Interacting with different materials and people fueled his desire to experiment and push the traits of glass to their limit and beyond. Massimo’s ability to find the infinite possibilities of glass resulted in companies and private collectors from diverse sectors calling him to create original works.

The Wonders of The Italian Arts and Crafts: Behind The Scenes

Octopus Plate. Photo: ©Massimo Lunardon


Cesare Toffolo is one of the best Italian master artisans focused on glass sculpture and lampworking. Born in Murano in 1961, he grew up amongst a family immersed in glassmaking traditions. His grandfather, Giacomo, was a master glassworker who worked for Venini. Giacomo taught Cesare’s father, Florino, numerous techniques of glassworking, and Florino also joined the Venini glassworks at the age of 17. Florino then started to experiment and work with lampworking, gaining the respect of traditional glassworkers on Murano. It was then Florino’s turn to pass his knowledge to his son, Cesare.


The Wonders of The Italian Arts and Crafts: Behind The Scenes

Swan Goblets by Cesare Toffolo. Photo: ©Corning Museum of Glass


The Italian master artisan Simone Crestani specialized in glassworking is known as one of the best craftsmen in Europe. He started working with glass at the prodigious age of 15. After a ten-year apprenticeship in “Lunardon’s factory”, he opened his own studio: “Atelier Crestani”.

The Wonders of The Italian Arts and Crafts: Behind The Scenes

“Eterea” is the name of this wonderful console table made with walnut wood and blown borosilicate glass, using a lampworking technique. It evocates the shape and lightness of sea foam. Photo: ©Simone Crestani


Lucio Bubacco is an Italian master artisan specialized in arts and crafts, glass sculpture and lampworking art. He was born on the famous island of Murano in 1957. As a boy growing up on this island renowned for its glasswork, Lucio would play with glass, making small animals, beads and other typical lampworked objects. At the prodigious age of 15, he became a qualified glassworker and started to sell his lampwork creations.


The Wonders of The Italian Arts and Crafts: Behind The Scenes

The Hellenic world of symbols is the origin of all Western artistic inspiration: already in the Renaissance and in the Baroque period, the great artists were inspired by that historical period and that is where Lucio’s art finds direct inspiration. We can see these influences in glass sculptures like the “Mythological Chandelier”. Photo: ©Lucio Bubacco


Giovanni Corvaja is a craftsman and researcher with a deep passion for metal and an immense love for goldsmiths. He is one of the talented finalists in this year’s edition of Loewe Craftsmanship Prize. This incredible master artisan was born on 30 September 1971 and is an Italian jewelry artist renowned for his masterpieces of the finest quality. He began to work as a metalsmithing at the age of 13 at Pietro Selvatico High School of Art in Padua under the tuition of Francesco Pavan and Paolo Maurizio. In 1988, he was awarded the Diploma di Maestro d’Arte, and in 1990 the Maturità d’Arte Applicata.

The Wonders of The Italian Arts and Crafts: Behind The Scenes

“Mandala bowl” by Giovanni Corvaja from Italy. Made of 18ct Gold. An ethereal and captivating piece that employs an extraordinary process developed by the artist, transforming gold into a substance as nice as hair. This gold composition is then spun together to create a bowl-shaped object. The work presents a marriage of science and craft that is small in scale and humble in form but monumental in achievement and expression of value. The work evokes a sense of mystery, putting ancient ideas of alchemy in dialogue with cutting-edge technology. Photo: ©Loewe Foundation


The Wonders of The Italian Arts and Crafts: Behind The Scenes

“Mandala bowl” by Giovanni Corvaja from Italy. Detail. Photo: ©Loewe Foundation


  • Inspiring Italian Designers

During his career, four decades filled with projects in architecture, urban planning, interior, exhibition and industrial design, Gaetano Pesce, the architect and designer, conceived public and private masterpieces in the United States, Europe, Latin America and Asia. In all his work, he expresses his guiding principle: modernism is less a style than a method for interpreting the present and hinting at the future in which individuality is preserved and celebrated.

The Wonders of The Italian Arts and Crafts: Behind The Scenes

Up Series 2000 Armchair by Gaetano Pesce. Photo: ©spacefurniture


Born in La Spezia, Italy, in 1939, Pesce studied Architecture at the University of Venice between 1958 and 1963. He taught architecture at the Institut d’Architecture et d’Etudes Urbaines in Strasbourg, France, for 28 years, at the Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, at the Domus Academy in Milan, at the Polytechnic of Hong Kong, at the Architectural School of Sao Paulo and at the Cooper Union in New York City, where he made his home since 1980, after living in Venice, London, Helsinki and Paris.

Pesce’s work is featured in over 30 permanent collections in the most important museums in the world, such as MoMa of New York and San Francisco, Metropolitan Museum in New York, Vitra Museum in Germany, Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Pompidou Center and Musee des Arts Décoratifs of Louvre in Paris, he also exhibits his art in galleries worldwide.


The Wonders of The Italian Arts and Crafts: Behind The Scenes

“Feltri Armchairs” by Gaetano Pesce. Photo: ©Cassina


His award-winning designs include the prestigious Chrysler Award for Innovation and Design in 1993, the Architektur and Wohnen Designer of the Year in 2006 and the Lawrence J. Israel Prize from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York in 2009. Pesce’s experience is global, his innovations are always groundbreaking. Boundaries between artdesign and industry seem irrelevant to him, as art is most certainly not something created and put on a pedestal: art is a product, it is our creative response to the needs of the time we live in.


The Wonders of The Italian Arts and Crafts: Behind The Scenes

“Up Chair” (1969) by Gaetano Pesce. Photo: ©MoMA


Patricia Urquiola (1961) was born in Oviedo (Spain) and currently lives in Milan. She studied architecture at the Polytechnic of Madrid where she graduated in 1989. From 1990 until 1992 she was an assistant professor in the courses given by Achille Castiglioni and Eugenio Bettinelli, both at the Polytechnic of Milan and E.N.S.C.I. in Paris. Between 1990 and 1996 she worked for the development office of new products of “De Padova” and signed with Vico Magistretti the products: “Flower”, “Loom sofa”, “Chaise” and “Chaise Longue”.


The Wonders of The Italian Arts and Crafts: Behind The Scenes

Portrait of Patricia Urquiola. Photo: ©Marília Veiga


Between 1992 and 1996 Urquiola opened a studio with two friends, Renzio and Ramerino, working with architectureinteriors, restaurants, among others. In the next 4 years she was the manager of the Lissoni Associati Group and in 2001 she opened her own studio in Milan, focused on product design and architecture. Patricia won many design awards, such as Antares-FlosArtelanoBoffiCappelliniCassinaKartell. In addition to attending events, conferences and lectures she designed for B & B, BosaDe VecchiFasemKartellLiv’it, MDF ItalyMolteni & C.Moroso and Tronconi.

Her products were selected for the 2001 Design Exhibition in Italy and for the Annual International Design Catalog of 1999 and 2001. In 2001 she was a jury of the 19th CDIM Design Competition and lectured at the Domus Academy. She currently conducts her professional career at her own studio in Milan in the fields of design, exhibitions, art direction and architecture.


The Wonders of The Italian Arts and Crafts: Behind The Scenes

Patricia Urquiola’s Interior Design. Photo: ©Tres Tintas


  • Renowned Italian Art Galleries

Since the end of the Nineties, Nilufar knows how to find its own unique place, so it became a reference point to everyone devoted to historical design, crafts and to people who love to follow the trends and understand the evolution of contemporary design.

Above all, Nilufar inhabits that fine line between artistic knowledge, poetry and visionary ideas, all of the characteristic of contemporary artNina Yashar is the gallery’s founder and works with her sister Nilu plus a team of five people. Nilufar was present in several editions of Pavillon des Arts et du Design in Paris and is always in the spotlight at Design Miami/Basel. This art gallery also has its own little manifesto, composed of three words: Discovering, Crossing, Creating.


The Wonders of The Italian Arts and Crafts: Behind The Scenes

Galho armchair by Juliana Vasconcellos and Matheus Barreto for Nilufar Gallery. Made of upholstery, alligator leather, bronze and cow leather. Photo: ©yatzer


The Wonders of The Italian Arts and Crafts: Behind The Scenes

Catch Rock table lamp by Lindsey Adelman for Nilufar Gallery. Photo: ©Lauren Coleman


Gallery Rossana Orlandi opened in 2002 in a former tie Factory in the Magenta neighbor. The gallery has been supporting along the years new designers and is becoming one of the most revered promoters of avant-garde design and lifestyle. Its activity started with a focus on the rising dutch design with designers such as Piet Hein EekMaarten Baas and Nacho Carbonell. However, the research has moved widely around the world creating a catalog which reflects the most innovative arts and crafts from Europe to Asia and America.


The Wonders of The Italian Arts and Crafts: Behind The Scenes

Gallery Rossana Orlandi collaboration with Hotel ME Milan Il Duca. Photo: ©Zieta