by Anmol AhujaSep 10, 2021
Interior projects, furniture, modular structures, installations, and utility objects – these are just a few territories that are part of the Italian architect and designer Cristina Celestino’s diverse portfolio. From fashioning the interiors of luxury powerhouses such as Fendi and Sergio Rossi to donning the cape of an art director for both Italian furniture company Billiani and tile innovator Fornace Brioni to helming her design brand, she has truly mastered the art of juggling. Known for candy-hued stylings and rigid geometries, her aesthetic is often described as a playful spin on classical concepts that traverse space and time. In 2012, the Milan-based designer was selected to participate in the Salone Satellite, which put her on the map of global design ranking. Since then, her works have been showcased in many international galleries and showrooms.
As a young student, Celestino was introduced to the world of architecture and design by her art teacher. She graduated with a degree in architecture from Università Iuav di Venezia in 2005 and advanced to an exploratory expedition by keenly studying the craft. “From design auction catalogues and books to picking up design pieces from flea markets, web and auctions, I found myself growing into an avid collector of items previously owned by the doyens of Italian design,” says Celestino.
She then spent her years under the tutelage of renowned architecture and design firms in Rome, Florence before finally moving to Milan. Here, Celestino felt a gravitational pull towards the nexus of global design. “Even mundane days are brought to life by the buzzing lifestyle, exhibitions and prestigious events such as the Salone Del Mobile, that eventually formed as incentives to start my design brand and studio. These influences formed the basis of my work,” she reminisces. With a keen interest in lasting design that exudes warmth, comfort and beauty, she founded Attico Design in 2011 dedicated to commercial production. In 2013, she opened her studio which has since birthed unconventional product and interior designs, and compelling projects.
In a freewheeling chat, the designer, architect, collector and Star Wars fan lets us into her unique creative universe…
Nitija Immanuel (NI): How does your cultural identity find space in your design?
Cristina Celestino (CC): Having moved across cities (Venice), Florence and then Milan) during my educational years led me to have a particular bond that shaped my taste and personality. While in Venice, one of the things that drew my attention is the juxtaposition of colours and materials that refers to the idea of stratification and create a unique harmony that results to work successfully as a single project. This learning has now remained pertinent in the visual DNA of my recent projects.
NI: Interconnected elements are a regular feature in your works, they reflect a sophisticated typology that is both witty and refined. How would you define your style?
CC: In my works, I mix elements – born from heritage, you could say “traditional” with contemporary aesthetics, forms and colours coming from nature; all these elements work together and the final result is a strict summary – often unexpected and ironic. I often experiment with shapes, geometry, colours and through variations of scale and small inventions, the objects are often able to convey new messages and different meanings. I try to create emotional visions and understand traditional materials and their qualities to finally add a contemporary aesthetic and create new typologies.
NI: As an avid collector of masterpieces of Italian design and a curious investigator of objects, what is your most prized possession?
CC: My collection started with Italian design pieces from the 60s, 70s and 80s – especially lamps, which are customary to my repository. However, the last big-ticket purchase I made is a set of Saporiti sofa called Wave in camel colour Alcantara crafted by the late 20th century design legend, Giovanni Offredi. Its credentials don’t end there: it is devised with extra-large proportions and its functional contemporary design is raised off the ground for visual lightness, it is an intelligent, simple construction.
NI: We have witnessed your career springboard from showcasing at the Design Miami to being awarded the special jury prize at Salone del Mobile. What would be some of your iconic moments to cherish if you were to hit the nostalgia button today?
CC: An iconic project that remains etched in my mind forever would be presenting my furniture collection for Fendi at Design Miami / Basel 2016. Based on the idea of a travelling VIP lounge, we created the Happy Room, which is a collection of furnishings and an elegant, sophisticated concept of space that can be replicated by the Maison inside its boutiques all over the world. The same year, I also received the special jury prize at Salone del Mobile. Hereon, I witnessed a steady rise in my career graph and revisited the design fair in 2018 with the 1928 tram, staging a suggestive screening room on rails.
More recently, my collaboration with Saba this year, called the Gala seating system, was digitally presented to the public a few months ago and finally opened to the public in September at the Supersalone. The project responds to the aspiration of dematerialising the very concept of traditional living and creating a sofa with a strong iconographic design component. Ironically, Gala is also one of the planets in Star Wars and an indirect tribute to the world of stars, to the optimism and the avant-garde that characterised that era.
NI: Pick three collaborative experiences that challenged your creative barriers to emerge as significant pieces.
CC: Towards the end of 2015, we teamed up with historical Italian brand Sergio Rossi, to work on the new concept of the boutique with an exclusive furniture collection for the new concept boutique of the brand. (Remember the candy pink Sergio Rossi shops trending on Instagram?) We spearheaded the interior design project for the boutique in Paris, and then for the restored store in Montenapoleone, in Milan, for whom we designed a hanging ceiling lamp in collaboration with Flos.
Another project that pushed my creative boundaries is my collection Giardino all Italiana for Fornace Brioni. It was the starting point of my art direction work for the brand in 2016 as well as one of my first-ever works on wall coverings and my project with cotto.
More recently, the collaboration with Cedit- Florim for the Policroma collection was challenging but greatly rewarding. Cedit’s history and savoir-faire were certainly two of the prerogatives that prompted me to test myself and accept the collaboration. I am used to working with coatings but I have always worked with artisan manufactures. The leap in scale to industrial and large-format marble production was certainly a stimulating test for my design method. Policroma was born from the intersection between my narrative imagery, the result of research in transversal sectors such as design, architecture and fashion, and the history, technological potential and heritage of the brand.
NI: A day in the (post-pandemic) life of Cristina Celestino…
CC: It is safe to say that my habits have changed quite a bit post the pandemic. Travel and in-person meetings have reduced almost dramatically. My routine is an early wake-up call, then I head to the studio. If permissible, I prefer disconnecting with work during the lunch break and then returning to the office. I am never late, I prefer to continue working from home, and spend as much time as possible with my daughter.
NI: How do you imagine the future of design in a post-pandemic world?
CC: Before the pandemic, there was much talk about extreme nomadism that came to an abrupt halt. The concept of traditional homes reshaped and therefore also people’s perception of “home”. It has conceptually evolved as the centre of living. I believe that there will be a new focus on creating destination spaces with statement interiors. Even those not in the design business have understood the importance of the spaces in which we spend a lot of time. The interiors are increasingly undertaking the task of making us feel safe, staying cocooned in our comfort zone.
NI: What is next for you?
CC: I haven’t chanced upon the opportunity yet to design a project for a kitchen or bathroom for a leading firm in the sector, which I'd like to soon. However, my project for the future is to have no plans: to enjoy the opportunities at their best that the present can offer us and work as if every project (interior or product) is the most important. Now more than ever have I realised that it makes no sense to set time-bound goals and rigid plans for the future.