Nichetto for De la Espada


3 February 2015

Mid-tour of the De la Espada stand at Maison & Objet in Paris I tell designer Luca Nichetto that I like his logo. He's created it for Nichetto, a sub-brand that he's launched for De la Espada, a high-end Portuguese furniture company. It's a very assured logo: a black circle, inside of which sits a white T floating above a white horizontal line. And that’s it.

"My old studio logo, which is my name, has always had that T design in it,” says Nichetto, “and so I wanted to work with that. Sometimes when I look at that T it’s almost as if there’s a face there." It's true. The crossbar of the T becomes a brow, the stem a nose. The horizontal underscore acts as a mouth. "The idea was to focus on that for the new design. The logo became my face.”

The logo is a good way into Nichetto, which has proven to be a major undertaking for its creator. The full range totals 11 items and its scope is similarly large. “I decided to cover the full house,” says Nichetto. "So I knew I had to have a chair, a table, a sofa, lounge pieces, a bed. We had to cover everything.”

As much as the sheer logistical challenge of designing 11 works, Nichetto – who is Venetian but works out of Stockholm – had to piece together an identity for the brand. De la Espada invites its designers to create a sub-brand within the company. One assumes there must be a tacit pressure on the designers to create an identity distinct from their work for other companies. Hence the logo. What is Nichetto as distinct from Luca Nichetto Design Studio?

“My idea was really simple,” he says, “think about what De la Espada is and who I am. I started thinking about what kind of brand I wanted to be with De la Espada. Which kind of market – which is very high-end – what is the knowledge of De la Espada – working with wood. Basically my idea was to work really deeply with details and the handcrafted quality of what they do."

To illustrate his point Nichetto gestures to two pieces: the Vivien wooden chair and Marlon table. The chair is ornate, with looped armrests and a curving backrest and seat. Marlon, meanwhile, has a marble top formed from three thin segments of stone that have been set within a precisely milled wooden frame to reduce weight ("If you want a table in solid marble, that’s very heavy, but maybe you live on the 25th floor. How are you going to get it there without a helicopter?” says Nichetto). The pieces are highly ornate and there’s a marked opulence that is unfamiliar from Nichetto’s previous work for brands such as Moroso, Casamania and Offecct.

"I’ve never done something so luxurious as the work I’ve done with De la Espada,” he admits. “This is my first time designing a sofa that costs £12,000. It’s like a Ferrari. I've always worked with another kind of price level, so what I wanted to do with this collection was what I can’t do with another company. I can’t do Vivien with another company, because it’s like a sculpture. Nobody else would accept cutting a piece of wood in that way.”

Alongside this work with form, colour played an essential role in the creation of the range. Nichetto sent early versions of his designs to Massimo Gardone, a photographer with whom Nichetto is friends. “I asked him to interpret them in the colours he thought most suitable,” says Nichetto, and Gardone responded with The Herbarium, a personal research project that documents flowers and leaves, the plant life arranged and photographed according to colour tone.

"The herbarium isn’t something trendy; it’s colours from nature so it lasts forever,” says Nichetto, “I didn’t want to follow trend, so I started to scan some colours from the herbarium and began to combine those in the collection. Massimo surprised me and helped me to be more inspired by what I do. It was a big part of the work and helped me a lot.” The resultant range is diverse in its colouration. There are berry reds and nutty yellows, mixed in with cooler greens and unifying earth tones.

I tell Nichetto that a full herbarium seems an unusually comprehensive response to a request for colour assistance. “You put a stone in the lake and receive three stones back,” says Nichetto in return. “But this was still a long, long process. You need to do colour subtly. You cut fabrics, put them together, see and look in the prototype to see if the fabric will work or not. Sometimes you put fabrics together and see maybe the texture doesn’t work, but the colour does. So it takes a long time. My studio was like a fashion atelier. Fabric and leather everywhere.”

This attention to detail seems to have become a watchword for the project. I invite Nichetto to show me whichever parts of the collection he wants to and his choice of highlights is telling. He excitedly shows me the handle on his Mitch cabinet (“This detail is really Venetian. It’s styled after our doorbells,” he says as he mimes ringing the handle) and a small wooden toggle on a leather thong that affixes the headrest to the back of his Blanche Bergere chair. “Every piece has a different kind of stitching that we picked from a tailors in Stockholm,” says Nichetto. There are zigzags for the Stanley leather sofa, blanket stitches for the Blanche chair, and cross stitches for the Elysia lounge chair. This stitching revelation feels like a kind of grand finale to the tour of the stand.

The stitching is beautiful, but in the context of an entire subrange, it seems a surprisingly small thing to focus on. I put this to Nichetto and his response comes carefully weighted. “It’s easier to talk about the entire collection as a whole, but I really like the idea that each product has its own personality,” he says.

I’m reminded of the Nichetto logo, a simple piece of typography from which the designer has extracted a face. It’s an emphasis on personality that seems to resonate with Nichetto. “Personality is important,” he agrees. “And one of the best way to achieve that is with small details.”