Cristina Celestino is an architect by training and a designer by vocation, and is one of Italy’s emerging design talents. After graduating from the IUAV University of Venice and producing some early works, she moved to Milan in 2009, where she set up the brand Attico Design: lamps and furnishings characterised by experimentation with materials and shapes. She took part in Salone Satellite in 2012, an experience that gave her an entrée to the gallery and international showroom world. Aside from her projects for Attico, Cristina Celestino designs for private and business clients.
She won the 2016 Salone del Mobile.Milano Award Special Jury Prize. This year she was awarded the EDIDA (Elle Deco International Design Awards) prize for her Plumage collection, designed for Botteganove.
After taking your first steps as an architect, in 2010 you decided to go down the design route; can you tell us how you came to that decision and what prompted you to set up Attico?
It all happened quite spontaneously and naturally. While studying architecture I became passionate about interiors and bespoke furnishings designed by the great architects and began to study design and collecting. My vision was and still is that of an architect: I always create my pieces in relation to my own concept of interior space.
After graduating I began to design furnishings for the interiors I was working on and to follow the production process personally. The shift came when I moved to Milan and started working with Sawaya & Moroni. Coming into contact with the world that revolves around design products – from the companies to the designers, from the styling/photography studios to the sectoral journalists – stoked my passion for product and interior design further. Attico is the result of this experience.
If you had to sum up Attico in three adjectives, which would they be? Also, how would you define your design approach?
Coloured. Exciting. Handmade. I would define my design approach as narrative. I’m not really into the art of oratory and I’m not that good with words. On the other hand, I like my work to speak for me and for my style.
You don’t just design and produce objects for your own brand; you also work for other companies. How does your work method change according to whether you’re working on a commission or working with others?
I always approach commissions from the leading brands with great curiosity and respect. My method is always the same: after the initial period of research and analysis – required to explore the history of the brand and its stylistic and design codes – I embark on a freer and more instinctive phase, when I delve into my abacus of colours, materials and shapes until I find the key that enables me to tap the brand DNA. When it comes to historic companies, such as Fendi for example, the research phase is a uniquely thrilling experience.
One of your distinctive traits is undoubtedly a taste for experimenting with materials. But is there one particular material you prize and prefer above the rest?
It’s not a matter of preference, but I would go for materials I know better than others because I have already used them in many other projects. However I do love coming across new materials in my work that can open up new and previously unexplored avenues.
As regards technical experimentation, on the other hand, what do you think of innovations such as 3D printing?
I don’t think 3D printers suffice to create an innovative product. Like all innovations, they can help designers achieve unexpected and technically advanced results. I haven’t yet had a chance to explore the use of this equipment, perhaps because my natural inclination is to use traditional materials and techniques to achieve contemporary and unexpected results.
What are your sources of inspiration? Who are your masters, your models?
Inspiration lurks everywhere: you just need to know how to look for it. Travel certainly throws up particular triggers, I love architectural travel tours, but inspiration often comes from nature and unspoilt scenery. Inspiration also strikes in Milan, rounding a street corner, in a detail of a Thirties building. It’s always useful for me to meet craftsmen, not just from a technical point of view, but also because they often provide the necessary spur for me to embark on a project. I also enjoy exploring crosscutting design sectors such as fashion and jewellery. I have many masters: from Carlo Scarpa to Le Corbusier to Piero Portaluppi.
Your work often reflects a feminine touch. Does that definition chime with you? Also, I’d like to ask you if in general you think a female approach to design exists.
Undoubtedly my world of reference gravitates around a female imagination, tying in with my memories, my childhood, my style. But I don’t think gender identity exists in design. Many men have what one might call a delicate and feminine approach and equally many designers take a more technical approach.
You also collect modern antiques. Where does this passion stem from and what marks out your collection?
As I said, my passion was sparked by the history of architecture lectures I attended at university. Specially the ones on the interiors created by Scarpa, Loos and Le Corbusier. Then I felt the need to physically possess some of the pieces that have built the history of design. My collection started immediately after I graduated with a Sixties floor lamp designed by Bandini Buti for Kartel. There are no rules about how I choose the pieces that furnish my home and my office; but they do need to be aesthetically pleasing and interesting from the point of view of the materials or the functional innovation they encapsulate. I own only Italian design pieces, lamps in particular.
As a fan of the past, eschewing nostalgia and casting your mind back to the great classic pieces, what would you say is an iconic object? A “perfect” design object?
I think Chiara di Bellini’s lamp for Flos is one of the most iconic pieces in the history of design. A perfect design object: Zanuso’s Terraillon scales, which I’ve been using in my kitchen for ten years.
Next October, as part of the Saloni WorldWide Moscow, you’re delivering a masterclass entitled A Conversation in Colour. Can you tell us something about your contribution?
As well as giving a personal reading of my major works, I would definitely like to harness the theme of colour to offer an insight into my imagination and my world of reference.