We talk ideas with Alberto Alessi, the third generation managing director of Alessi, who’s often referred to as ‘godfather of Italian product design’
Just a few years short of its centenary, Alessi remains a byword for cutting-edge style and innovation. From the threelegged Juicy Salif lemon squeezer by Philippe Starck to Aldo Rossi’s La Cupola coffee maker, no design-conscious household would be complete without one of its iconic products. Founded in 1921 by Giovanni Alessi, who produced metal utensils for the kitchen, his son Carlo carried on the tradition creating the Bombe tea and coffee set. Then his grandson Alberto Alessi took up the mantle in the 70s and revolutionised the brand by collaborating with a host of internationally acclaimed designers including Tom Dixon, Marcel Wanders and Zaha Hadid, who features in the company’s Spring/Summer collection of ‘tabletop architecture’ with her Forma cheese grater, her last project for Alessi before she passed away in March 2016. Born in Arona in Northern Italy in 1946, Alberto lives close to the ‘Dream Factory’ in the 17th century Cascina Eugenia, where he has established a winery.
What makes for an iconic Alessi kitchen item?
It’s a mix of elements: the shape (many of our design icons have a distinctly architectural form), the material or the object’s ability to reimagine something that is immediately recognisable – for example the Anna G. corkscrew looks like a dancing ballerina or the Juicy Salif citrus squeezer, which is often described as an alien or a spider. There is always a poetry we put into otherwise industrial products.
What is your kitchen like?
My kitchen is a variation of La Cucina Alessi project by Valcucine, designed by Alessandro Mendini. It is spacious, practical and totally equipped with Alessi products. Tailor-made according to our needs, the idea behind the project was to create a space similar to a stage where we could act out our ‘cooking comedy’ for friends.
Your advice on creating the dream kitchen?
Buy the kitchen you love and fill it with ‘poetry’ as you can. Lighting is important, both natural and artificial.
Do you cook a lot and which utensils do you use?
I love spending time in the kitchen, as it helps me to relax and allows me to unleash my creativity. However, I normally only have time to cook and enjoy the kitchen on weekends.
Which is the most important room in the house for you?
The kitchen is, for sure, one of the most important rooms in a house, it’s a space of creativity and of conviviality. Another is my library. I love to relax there alone with my beloved books. I have a vast collection of approximately 4,500 books and documents on the local history of Lake Orta, Lake Maggiore and Ossola Valleys. I am very proud of it. Perhaps a little more surprisingly, one of my other favourite rooms is the attic. A space where I collect all my prototypes, products and design furniture. It’s my private museum!
Is Cascina Eugenia still your dream house?
My house was always a dream that has finally come true. We bought Cascina Eugenia, a farm dating back to the 18th century with wide land sloping down to Lake Orta at the beginning of the new millenium. Alessandro and Francesco Mendini have restored it into a residence and brought the annexed properties back to their original function, which is the production of wine. The label draws inspiration from the designs of da Vinci and is sold exclusively online and in selected restaurants. My family and I are all very proud of it.
Article by: Susan Springate