In conversation with Emilio Nanni

An interview with Emilio Nanni; Designer, Architect and Artist.

As part of Mortar & More’s collaborations with clients, we pride ourselves on sourcing and procuring furniture. Not only does this streamline projects for clients, more importantly it helps to set each project apart from another.

One of the furniture makers we have the pleasure of working with is Billiani, a globally renowned seating manufacturer founded in 1911. Set up by Luigi Billiani with his wife Veronik  it has grown from a small factory producing wicker and curved wooden chairs to what it is today, one of Italy’s finest producers of beautiful, design focused seating.

Billiani has, since 1997, worked with many wonderful designers and it was their collaboration with Emilio Nanni which opened up a new era for them of colour, modernity and carefree design.

Emilio Nanni is a Designer, Architect and Artist based in Bologna and Milan. He has been working as a designer and an architect since 1984 and has been Professor of Furnishing Design at the University of Florence (Faculty of Architecture) since 1990. He has worked with many manufacturers in the capacity of product designer, Billiani, DeCastelli, Et al.italia, MDF italia, Pianca, Saba, Tonelli, etc.

He has won numerous International awards including ADI Design Index, Red Dot 2016 + 2017 awards and German Design awards 2018  + 2021.

We are very excited to have the opportunity to chat with you Emilio, so without further ado, let’s get stuck into the Q&A…

Red Dot Award Prize-winning design quality: Fratina chair Product Design 2016 designed by Emilio Nanni

Hello Emilio welcome to M&M stories! Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how and when you realised furniture design would be something you would pursue?

I graduated in Architecture in Florence, my training was based on architectural design and the degree thesis had as its theme the redevelopment and redesign of an industrial archeology area near the Bologna Exhibition Center. Design has always been a parallel passion of mine but I believed that the profession of designer was destined only for a special category. It was then through various encounters and fortunate coincidences that I came into contact with the Milanese environment, between art, design and fashion between the 80s and 90s, getting to know some companies from that moment on my career as a designer began.

What would you say are your values and ethics when it comes to designing?

The project is a sort of intersection of numerous factors, which converge in it

several elements that I have summarized in 5 points:

1) training, the cultural and educational bases that have established the basic references and given the imprinting to the organization of the cognition of one’s own idea of ​​beauty. In my case, Renaissance architecture, the Modern Movement and its masters.

2) contemporaneity, the perception and cognition of contemporaneity in its entirety “hic et nunc, (Latin expression meaning“ here and now ”) and knowing how to restore this perception in the things that are designed.

3) innovation, is that extension of the project aimed at redesigning objects, both in terms of functional improvement and in terms of an aesthetic revision.

4) sharing, is the awareness of the partnership in the project with the industry to which serial production and subsequently the strategy of interaction with the market is entrusted.

5) randomness to be aware of “chance” and to certainty the indeterminacy of human events associated with the idea of ​​Beauty.

Then I have always referred to three fundamental principles for me:

FORM / FUNCTION The fundamental axiom of industrial design

LESS IS MORE (Mies van derRohe) –

ORNAMENT AND CRIME (Ornament und Verbrechen, Adolf Loos.)

These three key principles have always represented the track on which to mark each project. All the things I designed, from buildings to objects (see the chairs and collections designed for Billiani), are intrinsically born from the continuous confrontation with these principles and from the attempt to overcome or cancel them.

Pages from Munari’s Design as Art

Wishbone Chair designed by Hans Jørgen Wegner

Who has been your most influential teacher or mentor?

I’ve never had a real Mentor. I followed and admired the path of Bruno Munari, one of the greatest protagonists of twentieth century art, design and graphics, making fundamental contributions in various fields of visual expression. And then Hans Jørgen Wegner for the chair tout court project: the chair is my favorite design theme.

What do you regard as your greatest success in your career to date?

Surely the Doll Chair for Billiani, designed in 2008 and presented by Billiani at the Salone del Mobile in Milan 2010. It was an immediate success and still Billiani’s best seller.

Emilio Nanni’s sketches of the Doll Chair for Billiani

Doll Chair for Billiani designed by Emilio Nanni

Who would you most like to collaborate with be it a worldwide brandor a person and why?

My reference brands worldwide have always been Vitra, Knoll and Fritz Hansen and collaborating with these companies would be the crowning achievement of my career as a designer. In Italy, I have designed for many important companies (Billiani, DeCastelli, Et al.italia, MDF italia, Pianca, Saba, Tonelli, etc.) and I have collaborated with Zanotta, an essential historical brand in the history of design: I have designed several collections such as Drop armachair (Adi Design index 2001), the ECO and ZEN bed collections, 2002, Ink tables and Twist stools.

How do you see the future of furniture design and the profession, and if there was one thing you could change about it now, what would it be?

The situation we are experiencing has forced a sudden forced slowdown on us and we did not imagine it could change all the paradigms of contemporaneity. Inevitably, this crisis has produced a great rethinking of the idea of the future and the idea of collective health is a primary good and we will be able to rethink and manage exchanges and relationships in a globalized world.

I am an optimist and I think of the human resources that he has always revealed in moments of greatest difficulty: the need to overcome moments of crisis is also entrusted to the idea of beauty. In this sense, design belongs precisely to this representation of the future.

Kepi armchair 2016 for Saba Italia designed by Emilio Nanni

Sketches of MYRA bench for Et al designed by Emilio Nanni

MYRA bench for Et al designed by Emilio Nanni

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Do things with passion and truth and others will understand it immediately (my father’s teaching).

Puccio collection for Billiani by Emilio Nanni

What can we expect from you in the future?Are there any projects that you can shed some light on?

I have many things in the works with the companies I work with and then new very important but still top secret collaborations. In this period I am also tidying up the studio and I have found that I have designed a lot of lamps, but they are only projects. I have never collaborated with companies in the lighting sector and my wish is to start making lamps.

What do you do when you’re not working?

Art and painting have always been an integral art of my life and my day is interspersed with these two intrinsically united and divided moments. I have always kept the two activities in parallel: on the one hand, Architecture and Design on the other. Painting Architecture and design deal with man’s relationship with space and objects of use. Art turns to another dimension, the spiritual and immaterial one. I like to cook for the people I love.

Define your creative process in five words.

Essentiality, elegance, completeness, balance, innovation.

Righello Mirro for Tonelli 2010 designed by Emilio Nanni

Emilio Nanni 31 Marzo 2021

If you’d like to learn more about Emilio Nanni please follow the link below to his website…