At a certain point, in our houses we started replacing the furniture that had belonged to our families over the decades and generations. Something was beginning to change.
The old furniture had always had a smell, a colour, a sometimes excessive bulk of its own, a rather pretentious style which brought back memories of vanishing rituals and habits, of dark rooms kept closed for too much of the time, of long lunches and unavoidable family gatherings. In its place came “Swedish furniture” . From the North. From another way of living and being together.
Unpolished natural wood, Formica table tops, colours, metal and glass took pride of place in our lounges and dining rooms. The invasion may have been a cautious one at first: the coffee table, the TV stand, the new fake leather kitchen chairs, but the new furniture was as popular for its simple cheerful style as for its obvious comfort and convenience, and harmonized with the new music that was invading Italian homes on 45 r.p.m. records.
The new furniture had an easy victory and became the vanguard of a new style expressing a new cheerfulness and an unhoped-for optimism. It became large and functional. And yet, straight away, it had to share our living spaces with old, reassuring pieces that could not be thrust aside, put in a corner and forgotten just like that. They came from a distant time and had always been with us: their design, materials, style and colours told us different stories and spoke a learned ancestral language of painstaking handiwork and experience of old craft shops. The two styles suddenly met and had to learn to live together, sometimes very successfully, at other times with an obvious and painful discord, but this became the distinctively Italian way of making the new style easy to live with, valued and recognisable, and in a certain way more familiarly our own.
The polished and shining coloured metal kitchen had to share space with the old tiles from Vietri, which had been chosen with care or had just always been in the house; the image of the gilded and kindly patron saint, bought for the wedding and never to be replaced, stayed hanging above the head of the new “modern” bed; the enamelled terracotta crockery was no longer a complete set but was still there, and was a present which was important at the time. Symbols, memories, shapes, colours were brought back to life and told us once again of old tastes, smells, sounds and voices. This time round, they had an unexpectedly happy effect, established a renewed presence and, above all, gave an different aspect to that foreign furniture imported from the North, which made it immediately appealing to us.
So today this meeting of styles, planned with a renewed attention to detail, brings back into prominence a simple and primitive basic design: a seat in the shape of an elegant stool, carefully adapted, can become (and why not?) a useful shelf, a functioning bookcase or a small showcase. A light-hearted domestic assemblage made possible by bringing together, in skilful and discreet harmony, the most secret and hidden images of our imagined past, clear and uncluttered geometrical lines, and the basic shape of an object which has always existed and has now been brought back into our homes with renewed vigour.
The surface decoration can then reach the level of the naive popular imagery which, in the ancient South, has always adorned the dark corners of old crowded alleys , or the forgotten hidden recesses of immense labyrinthine dwellings. Redrawn and recarved, with details brought out more strongly , it speaks still more strongly a primitive ancestral language of its own, evoking tenacious memories, almost like beneficent and highly coloured magic spells hinting at a secret ironical complicity.
There are also the clear and precisely drawn designs in the old ceramic glaze of the tiles traditionally used to give light and colour in the shady interiors of houses, which suddenly flash out, with shards of reflected light, from lustrous stone paving struck by sunbeams shining between the narrow slats of green shutters, to shine splendidly on church domes brushed by liquid light from the sea. These decorative details are now out there in the foreground with all the memories they evoke, but also have much to suggest that is new, in this unusual and unexpected game of marrying their playfully retrieved style to the basic functionality of the object. Both style and function are discovered in an intelligent and articulate retrieval of memory, in which the hidden colour lightly inlaid on the inside of the stool lends a discreet radiance to the richly designed new surface which elegantly inks in the simple outline of the plain wood.
Designer: Marcello Panza