Italian Achille Castiglioni Design Products

Imagine meeting this guy in the park!
The ever-fun loving Achille Castiglioni with his kitchen accessories designed for Alessi.

2013 is the year of Italian Culture (just look at your San Pellegrino bottle) so we decided to show some respect to the master of Italian design: Achille Castiglioni!  We love I Maestri!  The Stardust staff is absolutely wild about Achille Castiglioni and his products consistently get the Stardust Staff Pick vote for best design.  We have fallen head over heels for many of his creations ever since we discovered them at antique stores and Europe's flea markets many years ago (before the Euro was introduced).  Take an Achille Castiglioni product from the fifties and re-introduce it a hundred years from now and chances are it will still look as up-to-date and functional as on the day it was designed.  And that is what good design is all about!  Achille Castiglioni is in away a bit like the Italian Dieter Rams but with some added Italian flamboyance.  And Achille would always smile; young designers could learn a thing or two from him!  Achille is our hero!  Come check out the Achille Castiglioni collection at Stardust.

Achille Castiglioni (1918–2002) was one of the most important and prolific designers of the twentieth century. His remarkable career included architecture and exhibition, interior and product design. Achille Castiglioni's work is celebrated for its combination of technical innovation with an aesthetically-pleasing form, as demonstrated in his elegant Luminator floor lamp for Gilardi & Barzaghi, later produced by Flos (1954).

 The Flos Luminator Floor Lamp designed by Achille Castiglioni in 1954/55.

Another example is the distinctive Frisbi hanging light for Flos (1978). His designs also demonstrated wit – the ‘readymade’ furniture designs created with Pier Giacomo in 1957 incorporated tractor and bicycle seats into new stools. He created hundreds of pieces of furniture, lighting and products for a distinguished client list including Kartell, Knoll, Zanotta, Alessi and Siemens. With more than 800 photographs and drawings, this monograph does full justice to his designs, which won eight prestigious Compasso d’Oro prizes.

One of the most prolific and important industrial designers of the 20th century and one of the greatest luminaries of Italian Design, Achille Castiglioni 1918-2002) produced more than 150 products during his career and forged enduring relationships with Italian manufacturers such as Flos in lighting, Zanotta in furniture and Alessi in home products. When Paola Antonelli, design curator of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, was an architecture student at Milan Polytechnic in the 1980s, one of the most popular tutors was Achille Castiglioni. For his lectures on industrial design, he would arrive with what Antonelli described as: “a large Mary Poppins-like black bag from which he would extract and line up on the table that day’s chosen pieces from his stupendous collection of found objects: toys made from beer cans that he had bought in Teheran, odd eyeglasses…. wooden stools from Aspen, Colorado… small suction cups strong enough to lift a table. These were the most effective tools of design instruction.” Brandishing each object in turn Castiglioni would show his students how they worked. Antonelli recalled how at one lecture he jumped up on a table to demonstrate the ingenuity of a small wooden milking stool by miming the milking of an invisible cow. Thus he would show how an apparently humble object could constitute intelligent, inspiring design if it fulfilled its function with humour and verve by using the resources available to its designer or maker. Castiglioni applied those criteria to his own work and urged his students to do the same. ”Start from scratch,” he told them. “Stick to common sense. Know your goals and means.”  Take for example the Flos Taccia Lamp. As far as classics go; the Flos Taccia lamp is an icon! The Taccia lamp was designed by Achille Castiglioni for Flos. This clean-lined lamp approaches sculptural art, reflecting light from a concave extruded-aluminum reflector with a matte-white finish.

His contention was that to design a new product or to improve an existing one, the designer had a responsibility first to analyse whether it was necessary to do so and then to investigate what sort of "means", or resources such as technologies and materials, were available to develop and produce it. Having ascertained this, the designer should then idenfity what Castiglioni called the “Principal Design Component” for the work. Sometimes his ‘component’ would be a leap in technology – such as the newly developed slim fluorescent tube that Castiglioni used to make his 1951 Tubino Lamp. Or it might be a change in behaviour. The 1957 Sella stool that he designed with his brother Pier Giacomo from a bicycle seat pivoted on a tubular stem and a cast iron base, for instance, was inspired by Castiglioni’s desire for a more comfortable form of seating from which to make calls from a pay phone when he liked “to move around” and “to sit, but not completely”. The “Principal Design Component”, like the early analytical phase, was intended to ensure that the designer invested his or her energy in refining their approach to design, rather than a style.  Achille Castiglioni's style was not limited to lighting design only.  He also created functional kitchen accessories such as the Alessi Splugen Bottle Opener. Sophisticated in design and appearance, this opener has a nice weighted feel in your hand. Originally designed in 1960 for the Splugen Brau Bar in Milan and refigured in 18/10 stainless steel by Achille Castiglioni in 2001. This tool is 6 inches long and easy to spot in any drawer. Safe to clean in the dishwasher, it's an essential item for your barware collection

“What you need is a constant and consistent way of designing,” he opined. Achille Castiglioni was born in Milan in 1918 and studied architecture there at the Polytechnic from which he graduated in 1944. As there was so little work for young Italian architects immediately after World War II, Castiglioni joined his elder brothers – Livio (1911-1979) and Pier Giacomo (1913-1968) – in the industrial design studio they had established on Piazza Castello in Milan with the architect Luigi Caccia Dominioni. Even before graduating, he had worked with them on commercial projects such as the 1938 Caccia set of cutlery, still used in Italian homes today, and the strikingly light, svelte 1939 five valve radio receiver they developed for Phonola. Like other recent architecture graduates, such as Ettore Sottsass and Marco Zanuso, the Castiglionis accepted commissions for exhibition and set design and also to develop products for the Italian manufacturers, which were launching or rebuilding their businesses after World War II.

Flos Arco Lamp designed by Achille Castiglioni in 1962.

Flos Arco Lamp designed by Achille Castiglioni in 1962.

Many of these manufacturers were young, energetic and eager to experiment with the new technologies and materials which had been developed by the defense industry during the War and were now available for other purposes. They also had access to the capital they needed to re-equip their factories from the investment made available by the Marshall Plan. This combination of access to new technology with the proud artisanal tradition in Italian industry fostered a new generation of manufacturers which relished the opportunity to collaborate with equally enthusiastic young designers to develop innovative and inspiring products for receptive post-war consumers. Throughout Castiglioni’s career he formed close and enduring relationships with a small group of carefully selected manufacturers with which he felt empathetic. Younger industrial designers, notably Jasper Morrison, have adopted the same policy with similar success. By working together for so long, they established a level of mutual trust thereby ensuring that both sides felt confident enough to experiment and take risks which often proved fruitful.  : as is the 1957 Mezzadro stool (manufactured by Zanotta from 1971) made from a tractor seat. The seat of this unusual cantilever is a simple tractor seat, which was placed on a wing screw on a bent steel construction by the designer. As another pier, the construction acts as foot out of wood.

 Among the most productive of these relationships was Castiglioni’s work with Flos, the Italian lighting manufacturer. He and Pier Giacomo (Livio had left the studio in 1952 to work independently) developed dozens of extraordinarily inventive lights for Flos.  The 1960 Gatto table lamp provides evenly distributed, general illumination. The Gatto Lamp stands out for its use of its essential cocoon resin construction coupled with simple harmonious lines. 

The 1962 Arco floorlamp was modelled on a streetlight to project the light source eight feet from its heavy marble base and the Toio floorlamp of the same year was inspired by a car reflector.  Arco, Arco, Arco.  That's all what you are asking for right? A modern day miracle of engineering and design, this arc-shaped floor lamp flabbergasted the world when it was first introduced in 1962. People stopped in their tracks on the streets of Milan to peek through the windows of La Rinascente to see this lamp doing its thing.

Flos Arco Lamp designed by Achille Castiglioni in 1962.

And who doesn't love Snoopy? Let me introduce you to a classic; Snoopy was designed in 1967 by the Castiglioni brothers. Achille and Pier designed it to last; its base is made with the finest marble you can find in the town of Carrara Italy. The famous Snoopy cartoon character was the inspiration for its shade.

 Flos Snoopy Lamp designed by Achille- and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni in 1967.

Both the Arco and Toio belong to the group of ‘ready-made’ products which the brothers developed by adapting objects already developed for a different purpose as an homage to the work of the artist Marcel Duchamp.  In 1971; Achille Castiglioni released the uber-functional Parentesi Lamp. Less is more! Parentesi (Italian for bracket) is the essential minimalist floor-to-ceiling lamp. Its purist and elegant silhouette combines form with function in a way that few other floor lamps can achieve. Parentesi is a most fitting choice when direct lighting is required. An essential Italian design classic, the Parentesi is a Stardust Staff Pick!

Flos Parentesi Lamp designed by Achille Castiglioni in 1971.

The 1957 Sella bicycle seat stool, put into production by Zanotta in 1983, is also in this group. The ‘ready-mades’ have continued to evolve after their original design.

The Flos Lampadina Table Lamp designed by Achille Castiglioni in 1972

Another classic is the Flos Lampadina.  The Lampadina modern table lamp was designed by Achille Castiglioni in 1972, manufactured by Flos in Italy. This table lamp is a contemporary design icon. It lights up any room beautifully. It has an interesting bulb shape that would make it a unique and fun addition to the room. The Lampadina table lamp comes in two finishes (black or orange).

 Detail of the Flos Lampadina Table Lamp designed by Achille Castiglioni in 1972

The type of tractor seats attatched to the Mezzadro, for example, change whenever a new model comes on to the market. Castiglioni also enjoyed the chance to develop gentler forms of reinvention by subtly redefining and improving familiar objects. One example was the 1979 Cumano circular folding table he designed for Zanotta based on cafĂ© terrace tables. Another was the 1969 Leonardo desk standing on a pair of wooden trestles also manufactured by Zanotta and a third the pretty oval glass 1992 Brera hanging lamp developed for Flos. He was also a passionate advocate of new technologies as illustrated by the audio-visual products he developed in the 1960s for Brionvega, the Italian consumer electronics company. Typical was the ingenious 1966 ‘126’ record player which consisted of three ‘boxes’, an oblong record deck in the centre flanked by two square speakers, which were hinged to either sit neatly on either side or equally neatly on top in a perfect mirror of the oblong deck. Rigorous though Castiglioni was in his approach to design, the finished work was often unashamedly humorous such as the 1967 Snoopy light that he and Pier Giacomo designed (the year before the latter’s death) for Flos and named after the cartoon dog with a similar silhouette or the 1970 Spirale ashtray for Alessi with a practical, yet also playful spiral of stainless steel on which a smouldering cigarette (Castiglioni was a lifelong smoker) could rest.  In 1988, Achille Castiglioni designed the brilliant Taraxacum 88 Pendant Lamp/Chandelier which continues to be one of the most beautiful creations in modern lighting to this day.

As well as pursuing his own career as a product designer, Achille Castiglioni also enjoyed collaborative projects with fellow designers. He taught for many years – first at Turin Polytechnic then Milan – and played a central role in the design community by supporting many of the networks that would enable his and future generations of Italian designers to benefit from their collective strength. As early as 1947, only three years after joining his brothers in their Piazza Castello studio, Castiglioni joined the organising committee of the Milan Triennale. He also helped to establish the prestigious Compasso d’Oro design awards (which his products won in 1955, 1960, 1962, 1964, 1967, 1979, 1984 and 1989) as well as the Italian ADI or Association of Industrial Design. For all his honours and achievements, Castiglioni remained as curious, challenging and inventive as ever until his death in 2002. Superbly resolved as his work was in terms of its formal qualities, he never lost his wit or his delight in paradox. “There has to be irony both in design and in the objects,” he said. “I see around me a professional disease of taking everything too seriously. One of my secrets is to joke all the time.”

Flos Splugen Brau