We all have them ― or we have at least seen them in an Italian home ― but we’ve never asked ourselves about them. Until the time comes to get a house and choose them for the bathroom (or even the kitchen maybe). We’re talking about tiles, an Italian affair, an artisanal product envied all over the world. For our column on craftsmanship, we’ve been to Ceramica Bardelli, the first in history to work in this field.
Hi Gianmaria, your grandfather was one of the first to approach ceramics. What was his inspiration?
Ceramica Bardelli was born in 1963 for glazing. My grandpa was a big businessman, he owned some plots of land and decided to sell them in order to open this big factory in which pressed and baked ceramic would be glazed and colored. He wanted for the color to fill the houses of every Italian.
He started selling to his own friends and family, then, as the first retailers were born, he began going door to door to have them see the products, sell them and then get back to work.
Your grandfather used to say that ‘ceramics must be democratic.’ What did he mean?
During the 70s/80s, he had the idea of decorating ceramic, which until that time was considered to be something very exclusive and niche to own. So he decided to industrialize the artisanal decoration making it accessible to everybody, thus the concept of a democratic ceramics.
Meaning that all of our decorations are made on a white base, polished or opaque. They’re very small floral drawings or compositions applied on the tile and with low costs, you have a chance to refine the ambiance.
From this intuition was born the philosophy we still believe in, modernized to fit modern society. In the last few years, the development of new glazes and the advent of new digital technologies paved the way for amazing new opportunities.
The technique: tell us about the different steps in the production of a tile.
Let’s begin with the baked tile, already mixed up with all of the different materials: clay, earthy materials mixed with vitreous substances. All of these ingredients get mixed up, pressed and the result is ready to be baked.
We prefer a single bake procedure: once the materials are pressed together we proceed by glazing them raw, the “engobe” fixes the color, and then we apply the decoration. With a single bake, we have a tile.
We have different kinds of decoration: the protocol, consisting of a sponge roll stamping a texture on the tiles, or we decorate with some innovative glazes allowing some concrete looking and earthy finishes.
Then we have serigraphy, where the tile goes under a micro-pierced net. It sticks to it allowing the machine to leave the ink on the tile ― it’s monochromatic.
Lastly, we have the manual decoration: the tile arrives in the laboratory, the Bardelli atelier. Here it’s industrially glazed and, depending on the collection, there are 5/10 people in charge of the decoration of even one single tile, which passes from hand to hand, table to table.
I see some sponges. Where do they come from?
We use real sponges from Liguria for our professional decoration, as well as different types of brushes. We also make a decalcomania decoration. This involves printing on some high precision nets applied to the tile with water, they get cooked three times (just like the tiles made for Fornasetti) in order to smooth the borders and enhance the color.
What’s the most bizarre place you decorated?
At the Cersaie fair in 2017. We always have very peculiar stands, on the occasion of the launch of Corrispondenza, the collection created by Dimorestudio, we created a completely decorated box. The tiles on every wall created a kaleidoscopic effect in order to communicate the idea the designers wanted.
We wanted to give a sense of color and movement, of folded or crumpled letters, in this box where all the walls would move with you.
What’s the most eclectic artist with whom you collaborated?
Robert Dawson, a misunderstood designer who had this idea of distortion of perspective in ceramics and would create some very peculiar decorations, self-destroying, yet self-recomposing. ‘Aesthetic Sabotage’ is one of the works in which he would use ceramics to enhance certain decorations.
All designers are very unique, each of them has his own way of thinking, like Davide Pizzigoni and his interpretation of drawings in the world of theatre, as well as many others. You have to have a very open mind in order to understand what they want to convey and what’s possible to realize using ceramics.
How did the collaboration with Fornasetti happen?
My uncle knew him. I don’t recall how the partnership took place, Fornasetti wasn’t as big at the time, very famous for his creations indeed but not amazing in terms of communications, because either you’re creative or you do marketing.
He had this catalog of drawings and we were the first to spot an amazing talent in him, with my grandfather and my uncle making this collaboration happen, with the help of our art director.
They believed in the designer and now his son, Barnaba Fornasetti is bringing value to his father’s work through an excellent work of communication.
So, you were the first to bring a designer mentality to the world of tiles?
Yes. At the beginning the tiles would only get colored, but why give value to an unrefined construction piece? It didn’t make sense, so our first designer Gio Ponti gave it a try.
What kind of tiles do you have at home?
Double bake for the floor in very bright colors, it’s been there for 30 years. I have a fluorescent yellow and orange bathroom; my mum chose it. Every room has its own decoration because we believe in what we do and we put it in our own home, which is also reassuring for our clients.
Must have of your future home?
Tiles of course, with a little creativity. A plant, most certainly a Monstera Deliciosa, it’s very on trend now, tropical for the interior. I’d like to mix something modern with something recalling our artisanal tradition, so most definitely some majolicas made in our atelier combined with an element of concrete or marble. Many colors in the decorations, in the furniture, to make it more lively.