by Amy FrearsonJun 02, 2022
Iconic Italian entrepreneur, Paola Lenti, is an expert at creating striking narratives with vivid colours. Assorting her platter with indoor and outdoor furniture pieces, Lenti is able to create simple yet sumptuous furnishings that look beyond the complexity of each material. For Lenti, the uncomplicated knowledge of things as they exist in nature powers a good design. From the conception of a lavish outdoor setting for the Venice Biennale to creating an elegant and eco-friendly 'Teatime' collection for the Milan Design Week 2022, Paola Lenti owns the accomplishment of blurring boundaries between interior and exterior spaces.
Since her enrollment at Scuola Politecnica di Milano, she has worked under the guidance of prestigious figures like Munari, Ballmer, and Garau. Her parents, and especially her father, led by example and inspired her love of colour and nature. “My parents were not ‘artists’ in the most conventional sense but were entrepreneurs and most importantly, were naturally attracted to beauty and they educated me about it. For them, it was an important value. I remember my father, in particular, who took me along his painting trips as a hobby in the countryside and made me appreciate the beauty and the colours of nature,” expresses Venti, reminiscing her early association with colours.
The Italian entrepreneur began her career donning multiple hats – from shapeshifting as a set designer for fashion brands to hand-weaving carpets. Her ability to harness the kindred spirit of design on her own can be attributed to the fact that she approached it as a global equation rather than a single solution, and also to her use of simplicity and balance. Lenti showcases the utmost respect for learned designers from across the globe by incorporating their design philosophies into her own. For instance, her latest collection 'Jardin' commemorates the Mexican designer-architect Clara Porset. For the collection, Venti worked with Professor Jorge A Vadillo López, founder of the Clara Porset Archive at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, to create a soulful rendition of the Mexican designer's timeless furniture pieces, while keeping the combination of tradition with modernity intact. The Jardin Collection is all set to steal the spotlight at the upcoming Milan Design Week 2022.
In an interesting conversation with STIR, the Italian entrepreneur expresses her design philosophies as a vibrant rendition of nature in all of its glories.
STIR: By confession, you have been a strong believer in simplicity and instinct. What role have these played in your creativity and craft?
Paola Lenti: When designing a product, I keep in mind that no superstructures are suffocated by what is unnecessary. Simplicity and balance are two features that are strictly connected and are immensely important and though achieving harmony between utility and beauty is never easy, it can free the project from the conventions of the moment, making it relevant forever. To add to it, one must respect materials for what they are and for what they express. Understanding their values and contents means recognising and highlighting their quality.
STIR: How would you describe your relationship with textiles and how has it evolved over the last two decades of your practice?
Paola: I have always liked working with fabrics while always being open to novelties and everything that intrigues me. Today, I focus my attention on the natural and spontaneous aspects of materials such as stone, metals, woods, and glass, on the artisanal processes applied to them, trying to update them with new and less conventional finishes.
STIR: In your works, you often cast the same colour in ethereal palettes infused with subtlety and lightness. Take us behind your process of nuance and creation.
Paola: Before I get certain shades, I always picture them in my mind. Unless the colour stems from the very nature of the materials wherein, it acts as a crucial guiding aspect for the creative process. Colourful variations on the different materials allow us to make notable products. This enables us to design wholesome indoor and outdoor settings in sync with one's expectations and the most suitable solutions. Our company's strength lies in the ability to give creative customisations. The chromatic choices we make do not strictly link to a particular product or collection. These choices are made to find the right colour in the right place, the one that in a specific moment and a specific context can give the most pleasant and correct vibration.
STIR: If you were a colour, what would it be and why?
Paola: One of my earliest memories is that of me as a child playing with two sheets of coloured paper, one blue and one orange - two contrasting yet complementary colours. Sometimes I see myself as that little girl who plays with those coloured sheets, exploring herself in the same images and contrasting shades. From that period, I recall a sense of lightness and freshness. It no longer exists, but I feel fortunate to have remained what I once was. I am grateful for a life that despite everything has not changed me.
STIR: In what do you currently find your strongest inspiration?
Paola: I am a curious person and have always wanted to explore things in-depth to understand their true nature. For me, nature plays an important role and I have already thought of everything. We need to know how to listen to it to see what solutions it offers. Apart from nature I rely on books, art, architecture and design works from the past, representing an inexhaustible wealth of information. Inspirations often come also from inner silence and tranquillity. All this made me aware of coherence, balance and beauty.
STIR: Nature and comforting curves form an important part of your style, as does the latest technology. How does one engage with the other?
Paola: Craftsmanship works in hand with technology to impart fundamental and essential characteristics. This interconnection tends to make the technical aspect of the product less aggressive, giving the users a sense of relaxation and tranquillity. This collaboration harmoniously combines tradition and manual ability with advanced technical solutions. Italian hand-working techniques are an inexhaustible source of inspiration. We have always tried to enhance their values while recognising and highlighting their qualities and characteristics.
STIR: Since the very beginning, you have worked independently from the time you created your very first installations. What are your views on the current collaborative landscape?
Paola: Since the beginning, I have had my ideas and I have never been interested in following others' paths. I commit myself to aiming for the best without compromising, creating my professional and industrial path, which I still follow today with the same conviction and perseverance as in the beginning. Over the years, I have learned to work and cooperate with realities, different from my own. I have always considered the exchange of knowledge, experiences and cultures a positive moment of growth. By sharing different experiences and giving weight to each one’s skills, it is possible to achieve higher goals.
STIR: What has been the most memorable turning point in your career? Can you name some of the collections that personally impacted your journey?
Paola: The decisive turning point came in 2000 when my sister, Anna, decided to help me in elevating my small activity to the platform of an industrial company. She took over the management and gave me a chance to focus on designing. In creative terms, I think the most notable moment was the introduction of Rope - the outdoor high tech yarn which enabled our company to become what it is today. It has allowed us to take a refreshed path, which is still one of the featureful characteristics that make us different from others. This year we celebrate the first 20 years of Rope, with a lens on the future that will bring us many novelties.
STIR: How did you achieve a successful marriage of fabric and furniture, and what are the lessons learned in that course?
Paola: Since its inception, our philosophy is to design and produce comfortable, long-lasting furnishings. We have created a fresh collection of fabrics for the outdoors that offers the users a possibility to get in tune with nature. All the fabrics that we use as the upholstery for our products are exclusive to Paola Lenti, designed by us starting from the yarn and have played, since the beginning, a key role in the company’s evolution. At Paola Lenti, two production activities coexist: one relates to fabrics and materials, the other to furniture products. We reserve the same value for both production aspects. From the experience we have gained in these nearly 30 years of activity, we have understood that to design any environment, it is necessary to have a common thought that makes the whole cohesive and credible.
STIR: What, according to you, are the greatest opportunities and challenges for design today?
Paola: I believe that every company today must seize the opportunity, if not feel the duty, to pay close attention to containing consumption, choosing non-polluting materials and processes and favouring local suppliers. They should aim for sustainability believing that beauty cannot and must not be separated from ethics. One needs to be considerate about the circular economy, a model we must all aim for if we want to live and produce ethically since our planet's resources are limited.
STIR: What is the biggest issue that the creative industry needs to fix?
Paola: I believe that the activity of a company must be seen today within the environmental and social context in which it operates. The entrepreneur must act responsibly because his choices have significant effects on the territory. If we consider the environment, an industrial activity that wants to address the issue concretely and consciously must take into account the entire life cycle of the product. In the company that I manage together with my sister Anna, we started thinking about eco-sustainable materials and products more than 10 years ago, when it was not yet such a heartfelt topic.
STIR: What are some of the projects this year that you are most excited about?
Paola: On the occasion of the Milano Design Week, we will introduce a new series called Jardín, inspired by the collections created in the 1950s by the Cuban designer Clara Porset. I discovered her works while leafing through a book where the furniture designed for the hotel Pierre Marqués in Acapulco was featured. I immediately fell in love with the extraordinary linearity of the forms of the seating pieces that make the collection so actual even today. We decided to pay homage to this designer with a strong personality by returning her works enhanced by modern technological aspects. The whole operation was possible thanks to the precious collaboration of Professor Jorge A. Vadillo López who founded and is still the curato of the Clara Porset Archive at CIDI Centro de Investigaciones de Diseño Industrial of UNAM Universidad Autónoma de México.