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The Poltrona Frau designer soaks inspiration from la dolce vita
Words by Laura Beaney in Design & Architecture · Nov 25th, 2021
Roberto Palomba exudes enthusiasm for life, imagination and a talent for multi-tasking. Together with his partner in life and design, Ludovica Palomba, he has reimagined possibilities across disciplines from architecture to interiors, private residencies, hotel renovation, yacht design and even tableware with clients that span Versace, Ginori 1735, and Hotel de Paris. Roberto and Ludovica both architects and designers, established their multi-award winning Milan-based consultancy Palomba Serafini Associati in Milan in 1994. Since then a focus upon longevity and quality have united their multitude of often visually disparate projects - Roberto is balancing around 27 of them right now! Previous creations have spanned the transformation of Paolo Stella’s late 19th-century Milanese apartment into a contemporary abode that honours and remains in dialogue with its past, Unexpected Rainbow (2019) a research-driven experimentation in colour, pattern and light which formed an installation for Karpeta and Texturae as well as the architectural framework for Dubai’s cultural quarter, Alserkal Avenue.
Over the years the Palombas have enjoyed a long and rich relationship with Italian furniture-maker Poltrona Frau. Through their collaborations, the heritage brand, with a legacy rooted in exquisite leather, enters into a new era with the introduction of light-airy materials, eclectic combinations and a focus upon a future grounded in sustainability. In addition to several seating collections that effortlessly straddle the lines between form and function, the design duo pioneered the furniture-maker’s first outdoor seating collection, Solaria, a shift that acknowledges contemporary society’s heightened craving for socialisation and open-air experiences. About to board a flight to the UAE for the Dubai chapter of the future-design-focused Ideal Standard Together World Tour, we catch up with Roberto to discover how alfresco Italian life - from the coast to the countryside - and sustainable priorities have shaped his boundary-pushing approach to design with Poltrona Frau.
Roberto: I’m fortunate enough to say that life, particularly my own, has been one of my greatest inspirations. From a night sleeping under the stars in August by the fire to time spent with friends, these are the moments that spark inspiration when it comes to my designs. The culture I’m surrounded by is deeply inspiring and the Italian way of life lifts my mood. As Italians, we want to feel good and make others around us feel even better. Of course, we have a rich past to draw from, from our artisans to our old masters, but I’d say that I absorb my greatest inspiration from the way that I live my life.
Roberto: Poltrona Frau has a longstanding connection to leather yet over the last few years their vision has changed. Ludovica and I have worked with the brand on several collaborations over the course of the years - we wanted to usher them out of their comfort zone. In September we launched Solaria, Poltrona Frau’s first outdoor collection. Our previous collections for Poltrona Frau were untied by their clean lines and supreme comfort and include: Get Back, Let it Be and Come Together. You might notice the influence of The Beatles in the titles!
Roberto: For Solaria we wanted to blur the boundaries between outdoor and indoor living. Humanity is craving connection with both nature and one another at the moment. Solaria is an interpretation of the Italian way of living, alfresco and effortless. We lead an existence in nature inhabiting and socialising in outdoor spaces so the inspiration for this collection comes from our everyday life in Italy spent by the sea, in the mountains and in the countryside. We drew from the cultures that face out towards the Mediterranean - the marinas of Liguria’s Cinque Terre, the wood and leather of Tuscany, the rolling hills and beaches of Forte Dei Marmi. The collection comprises modular sofas, corner and bench end modules, an armchair and teak wooden tables with powder-coated stainless steel legs in a light chalk palette. We wanted them to be light and versatile. We introduced very simple materials that recall Italian coastal traditions like rope, for example, it reminds me of the baskets used by fishermen while the backrests are handwoven to honour traditions in craftsmanship. The entire collection only comprises three materials - stainless steel, rope and fabric cushions which are drainable to ensure they have longevity in the elements. We did a lot of research into the fabric combinations and our designs; they speak of quality - supreme craftsmanship, simple and true to the Poltrona Frau design ethos.
Roberto: Our previous work has mined other aspects of Italian living, the Let It Be Sofa, for example, is of course a reference to the famous Beatles song and homage to their philosophy of freedom. For these designs form and functionality break away from traditional codes and honour Italian heritage and lifestyle. Let It Be is a reinterpretation of the Italian concept of the Roman triclinium, where people lay down, eat, talk and lounge. As such the modular system can be adapted into the most comfortable configurations. Of course, want all of our designs to be simple and elegant but they are always comfortable!
Roberto: Design is rapidly moving towards sustainability because it has to. Without sustainability there is no future, we need to consider how we can incorporate sustainable design practices, materials and processes wherever possible. We shouldn’t just consider the life of a product but also its death.
Roberto: We work a lot with recycled materials and dedicate a lot of time to researching ways that we can give a second life to fabrics that would otherwise be thrown out. Quality is many things to many different people. For some it’s aesthetics for others it’s tradition and for all, it should include sustainability. If you want quality in your everyday life you have to look to design. Design can elevate our everyday existence, we need design and we need to teach the new generation to be quality-focused.