Design Notes Archive

Artisan Tiles

Artisan Tiles

When most people think of Gio Ponti’s design for the Hotel Parco dei Principi in Sorrento, his iconic blue and white tiles inevitably come to mind. In the early 1960s, Ponti looked to the colours of the sea and sky for inspiration, creating thirty-three bold, geometric patterns which he deployed throughout the hotel. Re-editions of those tiles are now meticulously handcrafted by Ceramica Francesco de Maio, but it’s the hotel's quieter, more ethereal tiles, which Ponti collaborated on with long-time friend Fausto Melotti, that we are celebrating here.

Lining the walls of the Principi's lobby and restaurant (left), Melotti’s tiles embody his work as an artist and sculptor. Painterly glazes channel clouds floating in the Amalfi sky, while light bouncing off their glossy finish highlights the unique textural surface of his handmade ceramic bases—concave clusters and bas-relief panels mixed amongst them. Notably, Ponti spaced each tile out rather installing them in traditional fashion, which allows each one to have pride of place.

Today, Ponti’s and Melotti’s work continues to influence designers. A collection of similar flat glazed earthenware tiles that Melotti created in 1958 for Ico and Luisa Parisi, sold for twice their estimate at a Phillips auction in 2019. That lot was spotted by American design firm, The Archers, who recently collaborated with artist and designer Bruno Grizzo on a bespoke series of tribute tiles for a private installation. You won’t find pictures online yet but we saw a sneak peak and it was inspired. Perhaps it will be published one day soon.

In the meantime, we have our sights set on visiting Frenchie Pigalle (centre), the Parisian restaurant of Michelin starred chef, Gregory Marchand, as much for the cuisine as for the décor. Designer Dorothee Meilichzon worked with ceramist Marion Graux, who handcrafts the restaurant’s tableware, to create a stunning fresco of ceramic panels for the interior. Dorothee planned out the design and drew each individual shape for Marion to work from. Like Ponti’s installation, she also wanted separation between the pieces. Getting the spacing right required taking into account the clay’s shrinkage during the firing process. The result is an eye-catching array of hanging ceramic tiles in a palette of chalky, earthy glazes with a hint of texture that catches the light (right). “My tableware is very mineral and raw," says Graux. "We wanted to keep this same nature so we used the same enamels that I developed over several years for the plates. It's a real collaboration with mine and Dorothee's identities both represented." We can’t help but see an homage to Ponti and Melotti’s collaboration as well. It goes to remind us that when designers and artisans team up, the results tend to be exquisite.

Photographs © Unknown; Karel Balas