Milan 2014

The creation of the Sucabaruca coffee set


8 April 2014

It is often tempting to talk of designs as deriving from a single person. For reasons of convenience, simplicity, and perhaps a certain romanticism, it is common to speak about designs in terms of solitary authorship – a chair by Jasper Morrison, for instance; a table by Patricia Urquiola.

While it is easy to see why such an approach resonates (designers such as Jasper Morrison and Patricia Urquiola are clearly dominant figures in their products' development) it does risk downplaying the complexity of the design process. In the development of most projects a designer will collaborate intimately with a manufacturer, fabricators and colleagues, and this collaboration is essential to the final success of the design. While solitary authorship is a convenient shorthand, multiple authorship is doubtless a more accurate representation.

This theme is apparent in Walk the Line, an exhibition hosted at Spazio Rossana Orlandi during Milan design week. The exhibition takes as its theme the work of Italian designer Luca Nichetto and Russian designer Lera Moiseeva, focusing on their Sucabaruca coffee set and Cheburashka table set. Sucabaruca is credited to Nichetto, Cheburashka to Moiseeva, but the two worked in concert to develop both two designs.

Sucabaruca, a hand pour coffee set, presents further evidence of collaboration. The design was commissioned by Mjölk, a Toronto-based design store and gallery run by John Baker and Juli Daoust, and the design had additional contributors in ceramicist Alissa Coe, woodworker Adrian Kuzyk and artist Scott Eunson. All of these people were influential in Sucabaruca's creation.

The set is a simple and playful system designed for brewing filter coffee. The pot is highly graphic and toonish, with a conical filter into which the set's ceramic cups can be stacked in a tower. The final piece, a maple tray, is a reference to the Canadian element of Sucabaruca's multinational origins.

Sucabaruca has previously been shown in Toronto and Stockholm. In this second location many of the design's contributors met with Disegno to discuss Sucabaruca's creation. Below, we publish a transcript of that conversation, a dialogue that highlights the many strands necessary to produce any finished design.

How did Sucabaruca come about?

John Baker Last year we did a collaboration with Claesson Koivisto Rune and had an exhibition in the store. Luca is very good friends with those guys and was invited to speak at the IIDEX architecture fair in Canada as a keynote speaker, so while he was in Toronto he decided to pop in on us and visit our store. We got along well and he seemed interested to know what we did, so very quickly we began formulating doing a similar exhibition to last year. In 15 minutes we were formulating ideas. We’re both really interested in coffee. I think Luca, because he’s Italian…

Luca Nichetto Yeah!

JB …has the idea that coffee is really important for daily life. It was a really simple idea of doing something we both really enjoyed and that was the starting point.

One of Nichetto's original sketches of the Sucabaruca coffee set

So what is the idea, Luca?

LN Claesson Koivisto Rune had done a ceremony for tea, so I wanted to do something for coffee. But of course to do something for coffee from an Italian point of view would be really difficult. So I started to think about the coffee you drink in North America and also all around the world. What’s the most popular process for making coffee right now?

Filter coffee.

LN Exactly. So the idea was to do a coffee set. I started to have a memory from when I was a kid of Carosello, an Italian television programme. There was a small character named Carmencita, who was the character for a coffee brand. She was designed like a cone of paper and then afterwards I was thinking about the idea of a totem. Then we started to think about colour and we worked in three directions – one, totally simple and white, the Martin Margiela style; one more colourful and connected to the work of Jean-Paul Goude; the other something really simple that I liked in Tokyo, a pastel colour that you can find in different buildings there. We tried to mix all these different ingredients to create the Sucabaruca set.

What about the tray?

LN The tray was an idea to do something really simple like a small table, something you could hold at any point. So you don’t have a handle, but you can hold it easily. There were so many things throughout this project. With the porcelain the idea was to create a kind of texture to show that it was handcraft. Alissa Coe did amazing work to develop this project and she produced it. She experimented a lot with the material. That was a big challenge.

The creation of the Sucabaruca prototypes

In what way did you produce it?

Alissa Coe I made the prototypes in porcelain. I fabricated them. We started with Luca’s excellent drawings and Scott Eunson, an artist in Toronto who has a CNC machine was able to make us perfect models, exactly to Luca’s specifications. With those models I made moulds and slip cast the pieces. Like Luca said, we tried a couple of different porcelains. Developing a strategy to make the lines and colours that Luca had in his vision was really exciting.

Are the colours applied to the outside?

AC They’re on the inside. It’s stained with pigment. The porcelain in the mould making system is liquid, so you mix the pigment with the liquid before you pour the pieces.

Normally porcelain is glazed afterwards so there’s a sheen to it, but these are completely matte.

AC Well these are prototypes, but when they’re in production they will be glazed.

JB We have talked about just glazing the interior because it’s so tactile to hold. By having just stained porcelain it’s actually possible to sand the stained porcelain to get rid of marks. That’s something you can only do with a stained porcelain. If the colour was just on top, it would be white underneath. If you chip this, the colour is still there. There’s something interesting about working with an artisan on a project like this. When you have a stained colour like this, the more colour you add to the porcelain, the less stable the ceramic becomes. You need an artisan to know how far you can push it. You want to achieve the darkest, richest colour you can, but at the same time you can’t compromise the porcelain.

AC The porcelain is made from a mix of many different minerals and ingredients. By colouring you’re basically adding a whole other group of ingredients to that and it throws it off.

JB Also the lines are done by hand, so you have the mark of the artist. Even with the wood – a lot of people would never notice this – but if you feel the walnut legs they’re almost riveted. That’s because they're not a stock size, so you have to make them from scratch. The woodworker, Adrian Kuzyk, made a little jig to create those and you can see the tool marks. There are little secrets when you see something like this, which are pretty amazing. Then of course the wood is maple, which is the most Canadian wood.

The project was created for the Canadian gallery Mjölk, which has previously collaborated with architects and designers Claesson Koivisto Rune

Luca, normally you work with industry where you have to consider every single part, such as making sure it’s easy to produce in batch. Was this a very different process for you?

LN No, because I think this project could be produced without problem in serial. Maybe not with this quality, but with the right compromise it could be produced in a large series. So I think my approach was more or less the same, possibly in part because I have some experience with Bosa, an Italian ceramic company. It produces in series, but it's not a big company that produces a lot.

What’s the next step?

JB Putting it into a production that would not compromise the quality, but which could produce enough to get the price down. That’s next. We want to sell them. That’s important because we don’t want it to just be an art project that is exclusive and which nobody can have. If people want it, we want them to be able to afford it and use it.

Why show in Stockholm and in Milan?

LN I pushed a lot to show it in Stockholm. I think it’s really cool to show this in Toronto, but afterwards you have the opportunity to spread Mjölk’s brand, which is amazing. My experience with Mjölk was super amazing, so I tried to keep the fuego going and have the opportunity to show this. I’m happy about the project. The thing I really like is that I’m an Italian guy who has a studio in Italy, one in Stockholm; the producer is in Toronto; there was a Russian involved. There were many people from all around the world focused to do this. I think it’s a pretty cool story to tell.

The set is designed for hand pouring, a method of brewing coffee that plays rewards practice

I spoke to someone about Italian coffee habits the other day and, apparently, they don’t like filter coffee. They want to have espresso.

LN Yeah, but the market in Italy is so bad that I don’t care any more. In Italy they just have a completely different approach to coffee. It’s just something to drink and go. Here in Sweden it's something you take time over and have a nice talk. In Italy you go to the bar, take your coffee and go.

JB Hand pour coffee is special because when you do it the first time you’ll make a good cup of coffee, but the more you learn the nuances of how to use it, you incrementally get better coffee every day. It’s a design you develop a connection with, because the more you use it, the better the coffee tastes. It takes some time to brew coffee, so you want to sit and enjoy it. Basically it’s non-mechanical. Espresso you go to a bar and it’s perfected to a science. This is something you have to work towards.

Is that appealing?

JB We’ve become so detached from how things are made and how to do things, and this is a really nice way of getting in touch with a ritual process. Making by hand compared to using a machine that uses the same process is like day and night. I think if you switched to hand pour, you would never go back to an electronic method.