In a small studio tucked away in a cobbled backstreet of Florence, 28 year old creative entrepreneur Cosimo De Vita is breathing new life into the traditional art of carpentry.
His concept? The humble chair.
Describing himself as an “artiginier”- a mix between traditional “artigiano” (craftsman) and contemporary furniture designer, De Vita is one of a new breed of young Florentine creatives who seem to be quietly revolutionising and modernising the centuries-old art of the “artisan”.
In an age dominated by technology (social media, iphones, apps and computer-aided design) there is something immensely refreshing about someone revitalising traditional skills and physically working with his bare hands and basic tools.
I first met De Vita when I lived in Florence a few years ago- he was the son of one of my colleagues. He grew up in his father’s Florentine workshop, where he learnt the basics of artistry and woodwork, before going on to study at the cultural programme at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence. After spending time in Barcelona, De Vita returned to his beloved city, where in 2012 he embarked on an exciting new project.
He began creating a series of chairs inspired by the great Florentine Masters Brunelleschi and Alberti - designed with the eye-catching facades of Florence’s major churches and landmarks. These one-off pieces of bespoke furniture are hand-crafted with the greatest skill and dedication. Every groove in the wood and every intricate carving has been meticulously mastered by De Vita’s gifted sculptor’s hands.
Through his designs, De Vita in his own words “strives to create a daily reality that transcribes time and location by bringing memory into a physical object, an ordinary object: a chair." He "renews the concept of sitting with an ideology that incorporates culture and society.”
The chairs therefore sit on the boundary line between functional design and art.
De Vita's traditional working methods got me thinking about the widespread question: is the design world of today becoming too “computerised”? Computer-aided design, innovative software and machines mass-producing products certainly have their purpose in today’s design industries, but in using these technologies to the point of dependency, are we missing out on a vital connection in the creative process? The instinctive and spontaneous response of the artist's hands to the materials being used?
The loss of traditional "craft" skills is becoming a recognised problem in the UK.
In an article discussing this issue, journalist Mark Hunt notes that "more and more products on the shelves have been purely designed via an IT screen, and you can tell- they possess no inherent material qualities. They might look well-finished but they are often unsympathetic to the materials used."
Also observing a shift in focus in the UK's art schools away from the physical process of "making things" towards digital design, Hunt makes the valid point that "ICT allows for instant "cut and paste" results, easy changes and easy delivery. Consequently that can be what young people expect from everything they do. Making real things takes patience, physical skills, co-ordination and the maturity to cope with failure and difficult challenges."
Reassuringly, after a recent visit back to Florence it seemed to me that the streets of the Tuscan city were buzzing with a new generation of 21st century creative. These artigiani, painters, sculptors, bespoke fashion and jewellery designers all share one thing in common: their love of Florence's traditional artistic heritage. Most of these artists are well-travelled and have a globalised outlook. Yet many of them have returned to their city and choose to work in modest workshops and studios, much like Florentine craftsmen in the 15th Century.
I feel that De Vita and his extraordinary designs demonstrate how beautifully the traditional can be juxtaposed with the contemporary. How drawing inspiration from history and giving it 21st century “twist” can yield remarkable results.
... The chairs, by the way, are also very comfortable!