OTHR

USEFUL / AESTHETIC / UNIQUE

MEET FELICIA FERRONE

Felicia Ferrone has become known for her continuous ability to deliver the unexpected—a skill she perfected while living in Milan and working with some of the best designers in the business.

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QUICK FACTS

Director of Graduate Studies for Industrial Design at UIC
Has work in the Art Institute of Chicago’s permanent collection
Worked under design luminary Antonio Citterio in Milan

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Lilium Carafe & Cup Set

CREDITS

Written by Sarah Rowland
Photographs by David Johnson
In Collaboration with Freunde von Freunden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You know how every woman has that pair of high heels they only wear once a year? They’re totally impractical, but you still love them. I don’t want to make things like that. I want to make stuff that's incorporated into people’s lives."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"When I have to sit down and actually come up with something new, I find that to be a labor of love. It’s very draining, but then once it’s done it's like getting a present."

 

As a strong leader in her field, Ferrone’s talent for designing objects was completely self-taught. With a background and degree in architecture, Ferrone only started designing after living in Milan and being immersed in Italy’s strong culture and history in design work. For Ferrone, her career is more of a lifestyle. Her aesthetic is something that flows through her naturally—it’s simply in her blood.

Working with some of the most notable luminaries in Italy, such as Antonio Citterio and Piero Lissoni, she quickly developed and formatted her own philosophies and design fundamentals. It was in Milan that she also strengthened her belief that all aspects of design are highly interdependent. She collaborates with master artisans to handcraft each piece she dreams up, which allows for a highly innovative production approach. Ferrone has also won a multitude of awards with her work, including a GOOD DESIGN award, and is included in various exhibitions both nationally and internationally.

 

You first studied architecture, before starting a career in design. How does that training translate into your design work?

When I graduated from architecture school, I didn’t know design was as an actual field. I then moved to Milan and happened to start working with Antonio Citterio. It was while working in his studio as an architect that I was exposed to and first discovered the field of design.

As for how my background translates into my design work, there are two ways in which it is an integral part of my practice. The first is the way in which architects are taught to think as large-scale, as in Urban Planning, and then down to the small scale for construction details. This broad range of thinking is just part of the architectural practice; to me, they are one in the same and influencing each other simultaneously. This is also how I think about design. To me it should be that the design, even at the smallest detail, is a manifestation of the larger idea and the idea is manifested in the form of the design.

The second way I approach design is as an architect would approach a building: by first looking at the existing typologies through a precedent study in order to understand what has already been done and to learn from it. I still approach work in the way that I was taught to approach architecture projects. I will begin a project by doing a precedent study of the typology in question. From that, I try to recognize patterns and understand where the new possibilities are in order to contribute something new to the topic/history/typology; ultimately resulting in a new way of understanding an object and giving new form or interaction to the design.

How did you first make the crossover from architecture to design?

I would say it was a very slow crossover. It began with the Revolution Collection I designed in 2001 while still in Milan. It wasn’t until a number of years later that I decided I wanted to pursue design and teaching, and started my studio and brand. That was in 2010. Deciding to put the Revolution Collection into production and distribution under my own label was the initial impetus to commit to design. At that same time, I was offered a solo show by Volume Gallery for which I created five limited edition pieces. From there, things have developed and grown steadily to the point where I mainly focus on design through both my own work and my academic work.

In Milan, you formatted your belief in blurring boundaries. Can you explain this design philosophy?

All the great Italian designers were also trained as architects, so their studios have always tended to be multidisciplinary: architecture, graphics, and design. It is there that I developed this sense of blurred boundaries whereby one discipline is the natural extension of the other; at times sequentially and at times simultaneously.

For me, architecture is a great educational base. It teaches you to think on an urban scale and then down to a construction detail. So to me, viewing design through all these multidisciplinary lenses was very natural.

 

What is behind your creative process? Do you have any specific rituals that you go through when designing new objects?

New objects usually come from a personal need I have. For example, the Talise water filter carafe came about because I didn’t like the aesthetics of the the standard plastic one, which was also hard to keep clean when it became scratched over time. My Magazine Table came from my love of print (I’m quite a traditionalist) and the table provides the perfect receptacle to contain the dearth of magazines that pile up over time.

Another way I tend to start projects is by examining and questioning the typology of an object. That then allows me to challenge the assumptions we have and shift the way it functions or how we interact with the object.

Even today, your work has obvious European influences. How did living in Milan help you to cultivate your own talents and design philosophies?

Being surrounded by and having worked for the ‘best of the best’ had a tremendous influence on all aspects of my work. I’m completely self-taught as a designer, so everything I do today came from careful observation of everything that was going on in the world of design around me while living in Milan. It was there that I developed the philosophy that all design is related and that an object is no longer just an object alone but part of a larger system of meaning, like a pebble thrown into water creating a ripple effect.

Looking back on your career and the place where you are now, is there anything you wish you would have known when you were just getting started?

To be honest, no. I think ignorance is bliss. There’s something good about that time of not knowing everything that you one day end up knowing! I don’t mean that to sound arrogant in any way. Maybe if I had overall tactical knowledge of accounting and balance sheets—all the practical things that you have to do within that aspect. Though I can’t say any of that has really inhibited the growth of my company. Deeper understanding of business practice would be nice for any career. So often, architects and designers end up working for themselves, and having a general understanding of basics in business as a strong base would be ideal. That’s also something I think about as an educator.

But when I started, I was quite versed in the field. I already knew all the major players and my design history. I think a lot of people entering design today are uninformed of the context to which their piece belongs and how it would be entering into the field. They sort of throw it into the world but don’t really understand how it adds to the conversation, or if it does at all, and I think that’s a mistake. I started my business six years ago, and by that point I had a tremendous amount of diverse experience in the design profession, which allowed me to do what I’m doing now.

"When I have to sit down and actually come up with something new, I find that to be a labor of love. It’s very draining, but then once it’s done it's like getting a present."

When does your work make you the happiest? When you finish, when you start something new, when you see it in someone’s home?

That’s a great question. I like all the stages, to be honest. I find creating to be really exhausting. When I have to sit down and actually come up with something new, I find that to be a labor of love. It’ s very draining, but then once it’s done it's like getting a present. Probably one of my overall highlights is working with the fabricators. You’re trying to use their materials and things they’ve fabricated in a new way, which is always really exciting for me. Those brainstorming conversations are always something that give me a natural high. You’re talking and going back and forth—‘What if we do this? We can’t do that, but what if we do this instead?’ It’s this sort of dialogue that usually sparks possibility. Then the piece can start to move forward.

I’m also very happy when people come up to me and tell me they have something I’ve designed. I always ask them if they actually use it! I believe in creating objects that people really bring into their lives. You know how every woman has that pair of high heels that they only wear once a year? They’re totally impractical, but you still love them. I don’ t want to make things like that. I want to make stuff that's incorporated into people’s lives. Things that you’re going to use every day, and things that will bring you joy; whether it’s a glass you drink out of every day, or something you put on the table every morning and use when you sit down. Things that bring people a little spark of joy: that’s my aspiration.

What’s the environment like in your studio? How do you like to work?

I have two studios really, a messy one and a clean one. The clean one is where I test out pieces in a showroom-like setting. The other studio is what I call the messy studio, which is a space where I am able to make prototypes, and tape things to the walls if necessary to test out ideas. However, much of the clean studio has influenced the overall aesthetics of my work. I often draw on materials and dimensions of things in the space in order to ensure that the pieces, especially the furniture, make sense in terms of scale, function, and fit. As for process, my favorite material for designing furniture is cardboard. It’s so easy to work with and allows for fast, full-scale prototypes.

Obviously you were majorly influenced by your time spent in Italy. Do you have other places that you’ve lived or traveled that have also impacted your design work?

No. I’ve lived in lots of places—I have lived in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, but they haven’t had a direct impact on my work. Obviously, every experience forms us as people, but as far as developing a new design aesthetic, I don’t think so. The more I travel, the less and less external stimulation I find. Maybe that’s just happening as I mature into my own design practice. It continues to come more from an internal place, instead of an external place.

Tell us about your collaboration with OTHR. What first drew you to the project?

They approached me, and I felt like what they were doing was super interesting. They presented me with a for-water carafe with cups. I rarely do any client work as a professional choice I make, but I was very intrigued with this project and company. I really liked this idea of easy entertaining, and easy living with objects that bring you great joy. It was just right up my alley. I liked the idea of grabbing something in one hand and going outside, or going to another room. I have an outside deck and being able to get things inside and outside during the summer can be difficult. It’s so nice to grab the carafe and go sit somewhere in the house and enjoy it with someone.

OTHR believes in creating fewer, better objects. Your designs often have a sense of timelessness. Do you work to create things that will last for years to come?

Absolutely. I strongly believe in timeless work. Fewer things, better things, and objects that you don’t grow bored of--especially with actual things and objects that are meant to be kept for a long time. So yes, I think I often aspire to create things that people want to grow old with.