When Niccolò contacted The Garden Edit, telling us about his idea to produce his series of vases, we were very excited to be involved. From the prototype images we could see he had a great concept. We are happy to say Niccolò realised his vision and here we take a look at how the Fucina collection came to life. 

When and why did you decide on these three vases?
This collection of vases is the evolution of a project I started in 2012 during a summer workshop I took at the Domaine de Boisbuchet in France. Asked to experiment with glass and wood-fired ceramics, I focused from the beginning on creating a set of home accessories, getting my inspiration both from the intrinsic properties of the different materials and from the beautiful natural surroundings of the French countryside. What I tried to achieve in the final pieces was, retrospectively, a balance between the man-made and the natural.

Why did you choose these particular materials?
I immediately grew extremely fond of the wood firing technique in cooking the ceramic pieces, both because of the incredible textures it creates on the pieces and because of the beautiful experience that is the firing process in itself. Depending on the kind of kiln used, it is necessary to cook the pieces for a period of time that goes from the tens of hours to the days, continuously feeding wood into the fire for the entire process. This requires a direct presence to assure that the temperatures don’t drop below the 1500 degrees Celsius needed. This also means that it often needs more than one person around the kiln, which easily translates into parties of people spending the night together on guard, warmed up by the constant heat of the fire. The ashes depositing on the surface and vitrifying give the unique and random patterns of colours on each ceramic piece that thus comes out of the kiln truly one of a kind.

How did you find the people to make your designs come to life?
It was not easy to find a skilled artisan operating in Italy and working with this particular technique, which is quite energy demanding and costly. I was lucky enough to stumble upon the work of Robert Cross, a UK born but naturalised Italian ceramist, now established with his studio on a hilltop in the beautiful countryside surrounding the town of Parma. He was very willing and helpful from the beginning of the collaboration, and his contribution has truly been invaluable for the successful ending of the project.

What are the main challenges of taking an idea for something and getting it into the market place?
For this particular project I think that the greatest challenge has been turning something extremely artisanal and truly 100% handmade into something more standardised, capable of being reproduced in different pieces that are both similar in their construction and dimensions but unique in their appearance. I am very happy with the results truly because of this: working together with incredibly skilled Italian artisans I was able to create this collection of vases where you can see the maker’s fingerprints on the surface and yet use them daily in your home.

When you were designing these vases were you imagining them with flowers or simply as objects?
I think I always envisioned them with flowers inside, either fresh of dried. I tried to design each model with a particular composition in mind and I think that looking at the way each model is constructed this comes out quite clearly. One vase is designed to gently sustain a small bouquet or composition, another one is more adapt to support a single stem flower or a beautiful contorted branch while another one yet might contain some small flowers or plants that we picked up during a walk in the countryside or in a beautiful garden.

What was the inspiration behind these vases?
What I tried to achieve with this collection was a combination of the natural and the man-made that could be summarised and yet made evident in one single, simple product. I played with these two aspects in different parts of the vases; playing with the contrast of textures and colours between the clear borosilicate glass rods and the rough imperfect ceramic surfaces; using very geometric and rigid shapes yet covering them with the most romantic, natural and random colours given by the wood firing and finally playing with interlocking and connecting parts.

Tell us a bit about the process of producing these vases.
To produce these vases I started from a simple and basic technical drawing that I quickly drew to get the dimensions down, and after I directly started throwing the first pieces on the wheel with Robert Cross so that I could get a direct understanding of the volumes and eventually make the changes that were needed to ensure the best results after firing. This might seem easy but because of all the different variables that can occur during firing it is very hard to estimate a correct shrinking percentage and therefore the correct size to start with. After letting the pieces dry Robert would go on with the wood firing process, which takes around 24 hours to be completed in his kiln. Finally, once I had all the ceramic pieces in place I would cut and bend the glass rods to adapt to the slight differences in the pieces and compose the finished pieces.

Whose work do you draw from and admire?
I was trained in Industrial Design therefore my main inspirations come from the work of different designers in their respective fields. I particularly admire the incredible balance in compositions and shapes of some Italian Masters from the 20th century like Gio Ponti, Gino Sarfatti, Luigi Caccia Dominioni, Guglielmo Ulrich, all the way to the great Ettore Sottsass. I also have a special predilection for the work of Jean Royere, a French genius of sophistication and savoir vivre. In ceramics I absolutely love all that Gio Ponti did for Richard Ginori and the works of Georges Jouve and Lucie Rie.

Are there more products or projects in the pipeline?
Working with the beautiful material that is ceramics I inevitably had many more ideas for different products. I might soon start a ceramic class because I would love to learn how to throw on a wheel myself in order to experiment directly in my spare time.

And finally, tell us about your relationship to nature. Do you have a garden?
I have always spent a lot of time in the countryside where some relatives live and we have a small patch of land that we recently started turning into a garden. Living in the city it is unfortunately harder to have a garden, but at home I have a small area that we dedicated to cactuses and it is a true joy to be able to make them bloom!

Vases by Niccolò Valcavi