The stainless steel kettle with a blue plastic handle and a red bird whistling on the spout, and the corkscrew that looks like a smiling woman with levers for arms were designed for and made by Alessi.
Alessi is an Italian domestic metal products factory. You would think Alessi, Italy’s foremost design factory, would have its headquarters in an imposing palazzo in Milan. Instead, the company is nestled near a small northern Italian lake called Lago d’Orta, a mountain range from its more famous big brother, Lago Maggiore.
The Italian business was established in 1921 to produce metal utensils for food and drink. The products were initially more or less conventional, but by the 1940s, the appealing design had gained significance. Alessi started exhibiting its products at significant expositions in the 1950s, and by the 1970s, well-known designers and architects were creating pieces for the firm.
The Can Can can opener and the Mandarin citrus squeezer with a goblet, two products made by the firm starting in the 1970s, would alter some culinary customs and pave the path for unconventional design.
From 1929, Alessi specialised in the bar counter and domestic tableware items, including bread baskets, teapots, egg cups, condiment sets, and cheese dishes. In 1932 under Carlo, the firm began to focus on the appearance of its products.
1950, with large orders from the United States, it started mass production. The Model No. 870 cocktail shaker designed by Luigi Massoni in the 1950s had sold one and a half million pieces by 1991.
Producing numbered and signed pieces by international architects and designers, including Ettore Sottsass, the firm gained popularity in the 1970s.
Its first cult object was a 1978 espresso-coffee pot designed by Richard Sapper.
The 1983 Tea and Coffee Piazza project initiated by Carlo Alessi’s son Alberto, intended to create ‘architecture in miniature’ and, in reality, was a brilliant publicity ploy commissioning 11 architects: Robert Venturi, Michael Graves, Richard Meir, Stanley Tigerman, Aldo Rossi, Paolo Portoghesi, Alessandro Mendini, Hans Hollein, Charles Jencks, Oscar Blanca Tusquets and Kasumasa Yamashita. The tremendous success of the venture prompted a wave of architect-designed goods from Alessi and other manufacturers.
Alessi-designed products are emotive object pieces. They are things that you want to pick up and admire and caress. They lend a sophisticated sheen to everyday life.
Kovel, R. M., & Kovel, T. H. (2007). Kovels’ American Collectibles 1900-2000. Random House Reference. https://doi.org/10.1604/9780609808917
A Deeper Look at Alessi Products: Form Meets Functionality
Alessi, an Italian brand renowned for its artistry in everyday household objects, offers a wide range of products that capture the essence of design thinking. Let’s dive into the nuanced craftsmanship that goes into each category of their offerings.
When it comes to table sets, Alessi has always prioritized design that is both aesthetically pleasing and functional. Their sets often incorporate modernist elements but with a twist—like angular shapes meeting organic curves. The materials used also highlight a dichotomy, bringing together natural wood with polished metal, thereby showcasing Alessi’s mastery of merging contrasts.
Alessi’s cutlery is a reflection of precision engineering. The balance, grip, and shape of each item are meticulously designed. They often feature ergonomic handles and visually pleasing forms, making each dining experience a mini art show. The variety in styles also enables the consumer to select sets that align with their aesthetic sensibilities, whether that be minimalist or extravagant.
Alessi’s glasses are far from ordinary; they are sculptures you can drink from. The emphasis is on form and light refraction, offering a visual experience even before you take the first sip. Materials range from high-grade glass to crystal, ensuring both beauty and durability.
These are not just containers but mini installations on your dining table. Alessi takes a playful yet sophisticated approach in designing condiment sets. You can expect to find unique geometrical shapes that turn everyday salt and pepper shakers into conversation pieces.
Utility meets design flair in Alessi’s kitchen accessories. Be it a spatula, a can opener, or a cutting board, each item is designed to be visually compelling while excelling in its function. A pop of color or an unusual shape turns the mundane task of cooking into a design experience.
These items double as functional pieces and standalone works of art. The design focus is on the interplay of empty spaces and structural elements, creating eye-catching patterns and shadows. They make a statement whether they are holding fruits or not.
If you’re a lover of caffeinated beverages, Alessi’s collection will excite you. Their coffee makers, tea infusers, and mugs feature inventive, whimsical designs without compromising on practicality.
The design of Alessi’s trays often incorporates an exploration of form and volume. They are designed with multiple purposes in mind—serving, displaying, or simply adorning your space. The materials and finishes are chosen to evoke a sense of luxury and elegance.
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George James Sowden is a British designer. He was born in Leeds and active Italy. Between 1960-64 and 1966-68, he studied architecture, Gloucester College of Arts. George Sowden Designer He settled in Milan in 1970, joining the Olivetti studio headed by Ettore Sottsass, where he developed design ideas concerning information technology.