Roberto Barbieri, designing a best-seller


Actively involved in the field of design, architecture and graphics, Roberto Barbieri has long concentrated on design and artistic management in the furniture sector. He has created fittings for exhibitions and events on international design. He has collaborated with Zanotta designing products that have become the firm’s best sellers: from the coffee table Grillo to the chairs Lia, Lea and Zilli and the table Orione.

Q. Once Aurelio Zanotta said: “It is not the designer but the item that counts: if the item is right it creates the market”. Which was the ‘right’ item that triggered the understanding between your work as a designer and the firm in Nova? 
A. My first meeting with Aurelio Zanotta concerning the project for a wooden chair was a memorable moment for me: we spoke for hours about the concept of chair and how much the relationship between function and design counted. At the time my name was not famous but the item I introduced counted a little more, hence the production of its prototypes began. That chair was not manufactured, but I think that very lost opportunity established with the firm the atmosphere, which encouraged later collaborations. Among the projects implemented from my designs, I consider the chair Lia the right object, which created a market. Die-cast aluminium alloy ensures lightness and a gentle profile, as well as fine polyurethane padding and lastly the upholstery. Lia was appreciated by the public and thousands of pieces are sold even today. I recall my admiration at the time for a chair that Zanotta had already been producing for about ten years: Tonietta by Enzo Mari. The shape, inspired by the historical Thonet chairs, was modernised with aluminium and black leather… This too is still in production and does not fail to meet with consents.

Q. Passion, enjoyment, research and the observation of lifestyles. What counts for a designer who wants to test his skills with new products designed for contemporary homes? 
A. Passion is the moving force of the entire story. I certainly enjoy myself (most of the time) as the consequence of what is substantial, in other words moments spent on designing and on comparing notes with the group that will handle the implementation. Working in close contact with the industry’s technicians is what most fascinates and stimulates me. This is what enables us to obtain high quality and better product adherence to the real market. It does not mean adapting to the current taste… An example I like to mention concerning the synergy between the designer and a good furniture firm’s technical office is an episode I experienced with Zanotta. They were moving towards the implementation of the coffee table Grillo two years ago and my drawing clearly highlighted the relevance of the central bracket with three spokes for the base. It was simple and certainly not revolutionary, but what made it special was the construction method: the high pressure water jet cutting of the metal sheet meant that a 15 mm metal sheet was cut with water with just one gesture that was virtually sculptural. And that bracket became weightless and graceful. These are highly satisfying moments.

Q. Do the projects you have on the go for Zanotta also number a material you hope will be invented at an industrial level? 
A. How do you know that I dream of a low cost material like plastic, which is as resistant as aluminium, is neither too cold nor too hot like metals and which can be produced with less costly moulds than those required for injection plastic?

(interview to Roberto Barbieri for the online magazine Zanotta Happenings, 2006)

(note: the products Grillo, Zilli mentioned in this article have been discontinued)