Getting face to face with Roberto Palomba

Internationally renowned designer and architect, he has been sharing his firm with Ludovica Serafini for twenty-five years. Ideal Standard's Chief Designer Officer narrates himself, revealing passions, projects and dreams. And how to imagine the house of tomorrow

A river in flood, energetic, positive, brimming with spirit of enterprise. Roberto Palomba, boasts 25 years of experience, but his stamina and curiosity are those of an athlete facing his first race. His solid position has long-standing, classical origins. Ancient, I dare say.

Myths, gestures, primary needs, beauty and harmony. In his mind everything flows and is channelled into projects that solve problems, that are useful and functional for the people they have been conceived for. I am meeting him on Skype, as it is suitable during the present pandemic of Coronavirus.


What’s the meaning of being a designer today?

If our society were perfect, we would not need creative people. Creativity is an answer, it was born in order to improve life and solve problems. Limits are required in order to start the process. It seems that creativity stems from our need of proteins: it started with hunting. In fact, man became ingenious and developed his creativity in order to hunt. The first cave paintings depict hunting scenes, clearly anticipating the connection between feeding oneself and the act of creating. By ritualizing what is necessary, images cross the borders between action, creativity and divinity. We need ideas to feed our mind, give meaning to our life and to what we are doing. The mental structure of the man, which we consider to be developed and think we can control, shows instead how much we are still primitive. In fact, man’s primary needs such as hunger, sleep, cold, love, sexual needs are primitive and incontrollable. Can you manage not to fall in love? I can’t, in fact I fall in love every day, because I am too curious”

The studio

Name

Palomba Serafini Associati

Founded

1994

Office

Milan –Italy

Collaborators

25

Website

palombaserafini.com


“Can you manage not to fall in love? I can’t, in fact I fall in love every day, because I am too curious”

Awards

Compasso d’oro, Elle Decoration International Design Award, Red Dot, Good Design Award, Design Plus, German Design Award

Design companies relationships

70

Architecture projects

30


25 years of activity. If you look back, what wouldn’t you do again and what are you interested in today?

“The designer’s job is always evolving and often holds the rudder over our choices. You live a little by generating and a little by undergoing the opportunities that your trade brings you. Over time, you build your experiences and these create synapses, which in turn develop by strengthening your experience and your creative mind. The more competent we become, the more we strive to do more and better.

It is a scientific concept: a self-feeding process, which takes place on a psycho-chemical-physical level.

So you are obliged to have as many experiences as possible. If I look at my work I would not leave anything behind, there is nothing I would not do again: this job is beautiful in all its aspects, the people you meet are beautiful, as well as its issues and the challenges to overcome. Planning means ongoing learning and discovering.

Being the Art Director of a company for instance, allows you to understand from within the technical, commercial, economic, social problems of a given product. The pure designer is limited in his vision, in his learning. So I would rephrase the question: what I would add to the work accomplished so far. The answer is easy: I would increase my focus on architecture.

At the studio we are in fact cutting down design collaborations so to spend more time on architecture. I feel the need to work on spaces and focus on the product in a different way.

Being the Art Director of a company allows you to understand from within the technical, economic, commercial, social problems of a given product

A classic rivisited. Suspended version by Birdie, 2011, Foscarini

Completed in 2016. The House Boat, private residence in Gallipoli

Lama, the chaise longue designed for Zanotta in 2006

With its organic shape created with hand-blown glass, Gregg is available in different sizes. 2007, Foscarini.

A collection conceived for outdoors, Grandpliè. 2010, Driade

Archaic shapes and recalls of the best American design: Be Bop, 2017, Kartell

A professional restauration. Palazzo Daniele, now a Boutique Hotel, has been respectfully redesigned by Ludovica and Roberto Palomba. Living in one of the 9 suites is like diving into the best present and past Italian cultural atmosphere


What’s more on your mind, public or private spaces?

Both, to be honest. We have recently worked on a bid for Lecce’s penitentiary and also on the renovation of the home of a public figure, Paolo Stella. Two extremely different projects. What they have in common is the psychological analysis of their future inhabitants.

The space where you live is an intimate place. Paolo Stella’s obviously reflects the public figure: the house is also a place that tells about him and can become a digital stage. The Six Square Meters project, born from the meeting with Flavio De Carlo of the Lecce Architectural Association and the director of the prison Rita Russo, addresses other issues. Working while depriving you of all aesthetics has brought up important questions. How do you help people recover by depriving them of beauty? Is there an existenzminimum beauty? Today, designers and architects cannot focus exclusively on beauty, there are other values to convey. Being able to generate comfort even in a few square meters is a great challenge because it forces you to think about people, about the human being as an indivi-dual, not as a category. What have radically changed in recent years are people’s behaviors and lifestyles.

The house is the mirror of this transformation. There is no longer a typical family. There is the individual who lives in a huge house and the family of four people who share 50 square meters, there is the elderly person who needs help and who divides the house between work and private life. If once it was easy to think of a standard house - the plan almost always followed the same scheme - today everything must be customized. In the past we used to talk about pre-designed spaces, while today we have to customize each nook and cranny.

It is certainly more demanding in terms of time, thought and costs. Today however, we have to design the complexity of the contemporary human being.

Italian design stands out for harmony, balance, elegance and character. Let it be sofa incorporates all this. 2017. Poltrona Frau

Creativity and destruction, which are part of the human kind, must find a new balance, just as urban areas will have to interchange more with nature

Simplifying designs, creating a new colour palette, updating the signs of the past. With respect and a clear focus on contemporary trends, Ludovica+Roberto Palomba have created Atelier Collection, a new addition to the design culture at Ideal Standard.


Today people’s well-being passes first through security. The bathroom plays a crucial role in this reciprocal game. Will the design of this space change?

The bathroom is a right and presently, for many companies it has become a vested right. Sanitary fixtures are load-bearing elements of a house such as windows and floors, they are part of the design hardware. These months of lockdown have allowed us to get to know our home in more depth. The bathroom has revealed its multi-faceted functions. A place where to loosen up – where to isolate -, a place of regeneration - water has many beneficial effects on man -, a place for cleansing, of meeting with oneself but also with others. In the future, this room will be increasingly important in both private and public buildings.

Smart working will force prolonged stays at home and simultaneously transform our home into a public and private place. Public toilets will have to respond to a greater demand for hygiene and safety.

I am happy to work for Ideal Standard because it has always been concerned with bringing modernity to this space-right. And it has done so from the very beginning by involving the most influential figures of design: Gio Ponti, Achille Castiglioni, Paolo Tilche, Gae Aulenti, just to name a few. Continuing on this road is a difficult but very stimulating challenge. The question lies in how to customize a new normal, new standards for the bathroom.

Light, playful and suitable for any space. It's Sissi Chair, designed in 2017 for Driade

Apsara, outdoor sofa, 2017, Giorgetti


Rem Koolhaas inaugurated the exhibition “Countryside, the Future” at the Guggenheim Museum in NYC - and said that the countryside is the true technological incubator of our times. Will cities remain the point of reference and attraction or will new lifestyles develop far from urban areas?

We could define 2020 as the year heralding a new beginning. We are witnessing the true digital revolution. Our life has changed, our work is changing, our daily relationships are different. Forced to stay put, we are obliged to think more. Digital ubiquity allows less physical interaction and fewer displacements.

Nature has shown its teeth - we exploit unscrupulously the Planet and the Nature which, being more intelligent than us and with greater adaptability - and has proven capable of bringing us to our knees.

Creativity and destruction, which are part of the human kind, must find a new balance, just as urban areas will have to interchange more with nature. Cities are now mental rather than physical fortifications. The dialogue is the meeting point for bio-diversity. The ecological corridors push me to think of a city of the future.

Recovering the urban planning structure of the cardo and decumanus I am led to consider green paths and protected areas where nature can maintain its independence. In the most ancient cities, old tracks and railway yards could be converted. They are already doing it: an example is the New York High Line. Future generations have the task to conceive the new society. We are trying to pass on the baton in the best way