Roberto Palomba, one of Italy’s most prolific designers, shares his view on heritage, sustainability, and handing over the world to the digital-native generation during Poltrona Frau’s Grand Asia Tour.
27 June, 2019
“At some point in your career, you think of a mission, asking yourself: what am I doing this for? Some people do it for money, for fame, other people do it because it makes them happy, sometimes both – there are no right or wrong answer,” shared Roberto Palomba. “My mission is people’s wellbeing.”
One of Italy’s most prolific architect-designers, Palomba is the creative soul and ambassador of Poltrona Frau’s Grand Asia Tour. The 12-day tour saw Palomba presenting Poltrona Frau latest living collection, and sharing his thought on design in Shanghai, Shenzen, Ho Chi Minh City and finally, Singapore.
Hosted by Poltrona Frau’s Singapore retailer Proof Living, Palomba shared his observation on the shift in contemporary design in a design talk session at the Vanguard campus, attended by Singapore’s design and architecture community. “Heritage is not about style, it’s about quality,” he said.
We’ve asked him to share more:
People in Asia have similar values with people in Italy – we love family, food and friends. The locales might be different because the climate is different, but the structure of our lives is very similar – multi-generational families and close-knit societies and clans – as opposed to, say, the Nordic or Anglo-Saxon cultures, which, to me, feels more individualistic.
Here if I talk about Chinese food to a friend, he would link the food to memory about family, “Oh, just like how my mother and my grandmother make them.” It’s like talking to my Italian friends about pasta. Family is the centre of our relationship and private residential spaces, homes, are important. It is the place where we gather and the theatre where we act our lives.
As a designer, at some point in your career, you’d think of a mission, asking yourself: “What am I doing this for?” Some people do it for money, for fame, other people do it because it makes them happy, sometimes both – there are no right or wrong answer. My mission is people’s wellbeing. My target is the end consumer – I am a B to C designer. I want them to feel comfortable. I share my design but I don’t aggressively impose it on people.
We [Asians and Italians] have a shared appreciation of beauty and sense of comfort. I think this is Poltrona Frau’s design and my design are so well appreciated in this part of the world.
Poltrona Frau CEO Dario Rinero is a huge fan of The Beatles. So am I. They are very important to me, the changed the way we think of pop music, and they created the fan culture – people were going crazy about them. So this sofa we’re sitting on, we imagined lounging on it after a long day at work, just lying here, decompressing, cleaning your head and just let it be, let it be. And we decided on the name.
And it’s a huge success. So I think it’s good luck and we decided to call the subsequent collection after The Beatles songs.
So many. But if I have to choose it would be Hey, Jude because it’s personal – it’s a very private conversation, I love that. I love designing people’s home because I get to create something personal for them. It has my vision, yes, but it also has a little bit of them – what they like, what they want, what they hope the place to be.
[My generation] grew up thinking that the resources are unlimited. We’re burning the planet, literally and figuratively. Now we have very bad statistics when it comes to nature, the numbers are bad. So the new generations, they are more conscious about the future and they are more informed.
We need to create a new culture in which, any products that are not sustainable and sustainably made, are [considered] ugly. When you say, “That is beautiful, this is awful”, it may be subjective, but some of the parameters are objective: proportions, materials, colour combinations, and so on. We need to make sustainability one of the objective parameters – that if it’s missing, the product is automatically horrible; it needs to be something universal.
I am working on it. This collection’s aluminium part is a hundred per cent recyclable. Every part can be disassembled and whatever you take from this sofa, you can reuse. The leather, which we call Pelle Frau, is a byproduct of the meat industry, and it is treated with 21 eco-friendly processes so it’s durable, beautiful and bio-degradable.
You may think because it looks luxurious that this is not eco-friendly, but this is probably more eco-friendly than many other products that fit the aesthetics that have become associated with eco-friendliness. Just because something is shabby chic does not mean that it is good for the environment.
For example, a rustic timber chair does not automatically sustainable, it could contribute to deforestation. And not all plastic chairs are bad, some can be sustainably recycled. I have no problem with plastic when it’s produced in a circular way, but I do have problems with plastic bottles.
We are in the process of creating that culture. I’m not scared about laws and regulations. If you are truly creative you can work within the constraints, I think they are opportunities to build a better civilisation.
There was a time in Italy when we say “If you haven’t designed for Poltrona Frau then you have not made it as a designer.” It’s the mother starship. It has more than 100 years of manufacturing know-how, worldwide distribution and it gives you the chance to talk to people around the world. It has its pulse in the current world but it also respects its history.
We’re creating new styles but keeping the values of the brand, like this new living collection. We are living in a schizophrenic society: we are here and everywhere; we have mobiles and social media. I speak every day with friends that are two-block away from my house as well as those who are a continent apart.
We live in two worlds: the real world and the digital world. Before, the living room was made for meetings and entertaining; now it’s becoming more loungey. This sofa, for example, it’s deeper and it’s designed not only for sitting but also for lying down, so the proportion changes.
We’ve designed everything, from houses to yachts and products and furniture. We have a team of about 30 people from around the world. The studio is basically a big open space, except my studio, which is enclosed and rarely occupied because I am mostly working with the team. And life goes by really fast.
My generation is the last generation that grew without the digital realm. Now, it’s another world. For me, my mobile still feels like an alien, for my daughter, it is natural. It’s my world no more, I am a guest in the new generation’s world.
The Poltrona Frau Asia Grand Tour concluded with an intimate cocktail reception at Proof Living’s ION showroom.
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