Piero Lissoni, the cofounder of Lissoni Associati in Milan, has been called many things: “superstar,” “design heavyweight,” “master of proportion.” He’s designed products for companies as influential as Alessi, Cassina, illy, Kartell, Knoll, Sanlorenzo Yachts, and Wella, to name a few. He also serves as art director for several others, including Boffi, De Padova, Lema, Lualdi, and Porro. Some of his monumental architectural works include the Conservatorium Hotel in Amsterdam, the expansion of the Teatro Nazionale in Milan, and Jerusalem’s historic David Citadel Hotel, and, most recently, the Emilio Pucci Heritage Hub in Florence. But he can go small-scale, too: His firm produces cutting-edge graphic materials, catalogues, and invitations for clients like Alpi, Kerakoll, the Venice International Film Festival, Giovanni Gastel, and Living Divani. AD PRO was invited to tour Lissoni Associati to see the studio in action, as it worked on projects ranging from a top-secret historic building conversion in the Middle East to the completion of the new 50-unit 45 Park Place residential tower in Tribeca. Follow along as we catch up with the design impresario himself to talk about a few recently completed projects and his approach to design.
AD PRO: Seeing your studio in person is incredibly inspiring. It seems to run like a well-oiled machine. How many projects do you have in the works and how do you keep a handle on them all?
Piero Lissoni: In architecture, I think we’re working on about 20 or 25 projects, and something like 30 within design and interiors, and in graphic design there are quite a bit. In our Milan studio, we have about 72 people and in New York there are another 10 people—it’s a good number. It’s both big enough and small enough to be able to control everything. I like to be involved in each project, so I’m in New York every month and we just started work on a project in Vancouver, so I’m there quite often. We also have an ongoing project in San Francisco we started about two years ago—a residential tower—so I have to be there quite often too.
AD PRO: Is there a discipline within your studio that you enjoy most?
PL: I enjoy everything, whether I’m building a 300-meter building or a chicken coop. I like to think about the ways in which it’s possible to design something, and never choose projects because they’re bigger or more important. All of our projects are important to me, no matter the size or cost. Most of all, I enjoy tomorrow—when I discover the new things I need to create!
PL: First, as with every project, I think about the different ways it’s possible to design something. In this case, it was [to design] something very silent. For illycaffè, the most important priority is to have a machine that makes very good coffee—and good coffee is illy, it’s not Piero Lissoni. So, we tried to design the best, most quiet machine to make illy’s coffee. That’s it, nothing more. We’re living in a very complex life that’s full of incredibly noisy pieces, and I needed to design this very pure machine that just makes good coffee and does nothing else.
AD PRO: That’s an incredibly thoughtful approach. Was it the same when designing the new KN Collection for Knoll that debuted this year at Salone del Mobile?
PL: Yes, it was the same with Knoll. Again, my attitude was to take a very simple approach. Of course, I’m not saying the products are simple, but rather the process should be simple. I like to design new things, but in a contemporary way. We really work with a humanistic approach—in this way you have the capacity to offer a little bit more emotion and feeling. With the KN Collection, for me, it’s like a bridge: the past intersecting with the future.
AD PRO: You also designed a bookshelf for Knoll (the Red Baron) based on the detail of an airplane wing. Have you ever designed anything for an aircraft?
PL: I’ve never designed an airplane, unfortunately. I’m very interested in the idea, and you never know. If someone offered me the opportunity tomorrow, I’d be ready!
AD PRO: Recently you completed the new headquarters and factory for Fantini in Pella, Italy. How long did the entire process take and what was your main inspiration?
PL: The project took about three years, more or less, to complete. And for me, in the end, it was quite easy. I tried to respect the [existing] site, which had in the past been the original prewar factory and offices of Fantini. When I started to think about the entirety of the redesign, I knew the beauty of the surroundings and nature meant a lot. After all, it’s where Fantini produces its products, does its research, and entertains its clients.
AD PRO: Right, there are very different uses at play. How did you design for all of them?
PL: Fantini hosts a lot of people every year, and Daniela Fantini liked the idea of opening a special hotel connected with the factory and with her home next door. In the end, it was the same lakefront with the same beautiful view of St. Giulio Island—that’s what I tried to focus on—this idea of beauty. And to that end, we connected all three of these spaces, the new factory and headquarters—or, rather, the “old factory” with a new look, casaFantini and Daniela’s house and garden.
AD PRO: While it’s important to incorporate as many of the original details as possible in a project like this, you’ve added plenty of new design elements—and they all seem to work in harmony.
PL: With the factory [and headquarters] I only saved the original shape. The rest I added, including the huge windows [looking out onto Lake Orta]. I wanted to make a connection between the interior spaces and the exterior environment. In my mind it was interesting to think about what happens when an employee working inside looks out onto this kind of beauty. For the employees, and guests, it almost becomes a paradise—and for sure, not a bad place to work!
AD PRO: On the other hand, you have designed the interiors of two yachts for Sanlorenzo, most recently the Sanlorenzo SX76, which was unveiled this summer at the Cannes Yachting Festival. In what way did you begin to conceptualize these projects?
PL: I tried to use the same language as I would in designing a house or a building. I’m an architect, and if I’m an architect I want to use that language [in my work]. When I designed the first boat [in 2017], the SX88, I tried to be an architect without any strange ideas of being a decorator. And the same with this second yacht, the SX76: I wanted to offer something a little bit more architectural.
AD PRO: And you’re now Sanlorenzo’s newly appointed art director?
PL: Yes, and it’s quite an important responsibility. To be the art director for a company like Sanlorenzo means I need to take the job to another level. I want to follow and understand the entire process, from production and communications to design. I think it’s quite important to Sanlorenzo, too.
AD PRO: Finally, you’ve talked a lot about simplicity in both your approach to design, as well as design itself. Something we found surprising was your office—a sort of controlled chaos, filled with an eclectic array of objects, artwork, books and mementos.
PL: My office, it’s like a vulgar canvas! It’s full of funny things and toys, and also serious things—it represents the level of complexity in my mind!