The prolific Italian architect and product designer is renowned for his understated, modern style
The personality of a designer is often reflected in the character of their work and that is certainly the case with Rodolfo Dordoni. Meeting him for the first time at the UK launch of Set, his new kitchen collaboration with Molteni & C Dada, it becomes clear his philosophy is as modest and understated as the design itself.
‘I’m rational and discreet,’ he confides. ‘I don’t like designs that scream at you. I try to design something that is similar to my character and my environment — it should be a reflection of that.’
For an architect and designer with such a revered portfolio, Dordoni’s humility is perhaps surprising. Born in Milan in 1954, he graduated in architecture from the city’s Politechnico University in 1979 and is recognized as one of the ‘Milan Elite’ that includes Antonio Citterio, Achille Castaglione and Marco Zanuso.
Rather than focusing solely on architecture and product design, Dordoni has branched into a diverse range of disciplines over the years and is now responsible for nearly 250 products from 18 different manufacturers. Among his early achievements was the art direction for Artemide’s glass collection, a medium he says is still a particular favourite. Other work in this period included furniture for Fontana Arte and Cappellini and lamps for Foscarini — the Lumiere table light being a notable example. Other highlights are his Cuba fixed sofa series and Lipsia chair for Cappellini.
Dordoni Architteti, the design practice Dordoni founded in association with architects Alessandro Acerbi and Luca Zanibondi, now has a global project list embracing residential and commercial buildings, exhibitions, restaurants and hotels. Manufacturers he has worked with include Minotti, Artemide, Dornbracht, Flos, Venini and Ernestomeda. Aside from Set, designs exhibited for the first time at this year’s Salone del Mobile included the Spool range of outdoor sofas and armchairs for Roda, the Batò bed for Flou, the Sled sofa for Cassina and the Onsen marble bathroom collection for Salvatori.
Such is Dordoni’s prolific output, it was no surprise to find him not just at the launch of Set but also the UK unveiling of the new Minotti furniture collection the day after. ‘I wanted Set to fit into any space,’ he explains. ‘Molteni asked me to do something different to other producers. I wanted something very simple and functional. A lot of kitchens are produced in big sizes with big cabinets and deep drawers. But when you put a big kitchen in a real space, it loses its glamour and its identity. So I worked on a product that was able to maintain those characteristics even in a small space.’
Dordoni looks to build lasting relationships with his professional partners. His 15-year association with Minotti, for example, has helped give the brand a strong and consistent identity. ‘My philosophy for Minotti is for something classical — modern but neutral,’ he explains. ‘I don’t look for too much fashion, just classical design. I put a lot of attention into the details, whether it’s the chosen fabric or colours.
‘The idea behind the new Minotti collection was to find a theme,’ he continues. ‘We targeted a type of client — an art collector, a movie fan, a musician — and tried to imagine what sort of house they would have. The idea is to present them not as one sofa, one chair, one table but one collection, connected by the same theme.’
Dordoni won’t be drawn on why he designs almost exclusively for Italian brands, except to say that ‘most of the important factories are Italian’ and that he prefers ‘the Italian taste’. ‘German design is different,’ he concludes. ‘The German attitude is maybe colder than the Italian. Scandinavian designs are also warmer than the German style.’
His understanding of the market means Dordoni’s designs are rarely compromised. ‘We are designing for other people, not ourselves,’ he says. ‘Compromise is too strong a word but you need to match your ideas with the needs of the market. I’m a designer, not an artist. I’m working with companies and you need to find the right balance between design and marketing. Why are companies focusing on outdoor furniture? Because it’s a new direction for marketing, it’s a new space in which to sell design. It’s about reacting to that.’
He concludes with an insight into his overall strategy. ‘I try to work with one company producing one kind of product,’ he explains. ‘One company for sofas, one for lights, one for kitchens, one for beds. A few years ago it was easier because companies were doing just sofas or just beds. Now companies are producing everything. So to be able to maintain the same balance is more difficult but we can do it.’
This article was first published in idfx Magazine.