Cone + sphere = Bilia, an extraordinary design of ‘the moment’, the table lamp by Gio Ponti
Bilia was destined to become immortal the minute its design left Gio Ponti’s drawing board in 1931.
The lamp went into production a few years later but seeing it today who would guess it was designed way back then?
Ponti’s concept uses two very basic, very familiar shapes: an upside-down cone which supports a ball of light.
An unpretentious composition but the pure balance of its proportions and the stylish discretion of the non-reflective materials make it lavish and captivating. The brushed nickel-plated metal cone holds a diffuser in white frosted blown glass that bathes its surroundings in soft translucent light when switched on.
Gio Ponti starts as Luigi Fontana’s art director
In 1881 Luigi Fontana starts his business in Milan, manufacturing float glass for the construction industry. As the century draws to a close, the company is producing refined bespoke and one-off glass furnishing accessories.
Gio Ponti, former founding editor of Domus magazine, is invited to take over the company’s art direction in 1931. An eclectic character who is a key player in the cultural ferment of that period, Ponti is also one of the founders of ADI (the Italian Industrial Design Association). He curates the Milan Triennale events on various occasions, lectures at the Milan Polytechnic, and designs both public and private buildings, furnishings and objects that become part of the history of architecture and design.
Several of the pieces he designs for FontanaArte are still in production, including the 0024, Bilia, Pirellina, and Pirellone lamps, and the Tavolino 1932 coffee table.
Gio Ponti’s first Fontana icon: the 0024 hanging lamp
The 0024 light is based on the most quintessential of shapes – the sphere – and comprises layers of transparent 2D elements separated by spaces.
As Gio Ponti’s hanging lamp celebrates its 80th anniversary it remains an unfailing and amazing paradox as ever, confirming its enduring fame as an icon of contemporary design.
A total of 11 transparent tempered glass discs are stacked horizontally down a tubular light source in sandblasted glass. This diffuser is capped top and bottom by chrome-plated brass, the same material used for the frame that keeps the discs equidistant.
Today’s version fits a fluorescent light source for unbeatable lighting quality combined with reduced energy consumption.
An XXL model, measuring 150 cm, triples the diameter of the classic version and its jumbo personality brings timeless elegance even to the largest of interiors.
Gio Ponti meets Pietro Chiesa. FontanaArte is born
Gio Ponti decides it’s time to give a boost to Luigi Fontana’s line of prestigious furnishing accessories and invites Pietro Chiesa to join him in the art direction. Chiesa is a distinguished master glazier who enlists the craftsmen from his own workshop to join him.
It is a short leap to the launch of FontanaArte, a new division with a mission to develop products with a more artisanal feel, ranging from stained glass to limited series of furnishing and lighting accessories.
As the years roll by, Pietro Chiesa plays a key role in the company as his creative verve offers ample proof that he is a versatile master of vast cultural and technical expertise. He designs over a thousand different pieces, some of which make design history and which remain in production today, including the 1932 curved-glass Fontana table, Cartoccio vase, and the 1933 Luminator floor lamp.
Still rolling off the production line, Ponti’s “Tavolino 1932” coffee table
A polished nickel-plated brass shaft pierces the centre of two thick concentric glass discs for Tavolino 1932, the coffee table named after the year of its design by Gio Ponti. The piece was a homage to construction industry float glass, which was still being made by Luigi Fontana at the time.
Yet again, the 1932 table was a state-of-the-art design but it was also intended to be practical, with its two versatile tops.
Gio Ponti had a tough remit but his solution was extremely simple. He eased the chunky impact of the tops and metal support by staggering the diameter of the two clear glass discs, simultaneously creating movement. The Tavolino 1932 coffee table has lost none of the timeless elegance that earned it contemporary design icon status.
Is it glass or is it paper? Pietro Chiesa works the raw material for his Cartoccio vase
Only a true artisan’s skill could forge a unique object from glass, a unique raw material.
Meet Cartoccio, the vase designed in 1932 by master glazier Pietro Chiesa, and still a leading entry in the FontanaArte collection.The body of the vase flutters upwards and outwards, rippling in uneven waves just like a sheet of paper, inspiring the name Cartoccio: a cone of twisted paper. The piece was designed to hold flowers, each fold intended to hold a single bloom and compose a balanced floral arrangement. Its shape required a special production process that softened the glass at high temperature, allowing it to be pleated into the folds that make Cartoccio such an exclusive object.
One material, one seamless line: the essence of the Fontana coffee table
The company invested in a special furnace, the only one of its kind in Italy, that would mould float glass into every angle of curvature. These were cutting-edge machines for the time and their technical potential inspired Gio Ponti’s design of Fontana, an occasional table that was to become the icon it is today.
Fontana is minimal: a single seamless stroke that curves at downwards at both sides to support the top. Only one material is used: bevelled float glass, a tribute to the company’s production history.
Welcome Luminator, the archetypal indirect emission floor lamp
Another FontanaArte bestseller whose contemporary look makes it hard to believe how long it has been around. Pietro Chiesa came up with Luminator in 1933 and deftly assembled the bare bones into a poised design that shines for its absolute originality.
A long, narrow stem opens in an upward swoop to catch an upturned cone that lodges the light source. A round base supports this simple structure, reminiscent of a torch both in shape and the alignment of the light source.
Luminator was the archetypal indirect emission floor lamp, its metal structure shields the light source completely and directs the beam upwards. The soft but intense glow then reflects and diffuses throughout its surroundings.
The brass stem is available in two solid colour options nickel-plated or black – that echo its faultless and distinctive minimalism.
Ponti and Chiesa designs for FontanaArte steal the show at the Triennale
FontanaArte’s first Triennale showcased a series of Ponti and Chiesa designs, and it was the latter who really challenged traditional visual benchmarks, producing a series of modular table lamps whose opal glass tubes were interwoven with a metal structure.
Milan was on the fast track to becoming a design capital and the city’s ties with FontanaArte thrived as the company stepped into the shoes of ambassador for inspired innovation.
Pietro Chiesa designs the first version of 006, a makeover of the classic lamp
Pietro Chiesa developed his initial design in 1933 and the pyramidal hanging lamp successfully fused the complexity of its construction with the understated structure of its components.
Chiesa’s offbeat approach to a new look for the traditional chandelier with classic candles placed 006 firmly on the contemporary design map. His first version failed to make it into the catalogue but was later retrieved from the FontanaArte archives. After some reworking, the current 006 design evolved into a mount with several chrome-plated brass arms, each holding a small frosted blown glass bowl that houses the light source. The lighting effect is intense but never too bright.
Max Ingrand, a new art director leads FontanaArte into the industrial age
In the mid-Fifties, a French master glazier and decorator, renowned for his stunning stained-glass church windows is invited to the art direction team at FontanaArte.
There is an enormous upheaval in the interiors market of the day, riding the wave of the economic boom and capturing increasing numbers of customers from various sectors of society. Manufacture of limited series and one-offs shifts to mass production, from artisanal systems to prevalently industrial processes. Max Ingrand is the front line at FontanaArte, guiding this evolution and taking the company towards more intensely industrial production but always keeping the craftsmen in his sights.
Max Ingrand designs the company’s iconic table lamp, also named Fontana, and still a winner today
In his design role, Max Ingrand puts his name to a number of true classics, like the Fontana table lamp, still a top seller for its namesake.
The exquisite rounded lamp base, in white blown glass, tapers gently upwards to fit a truncated cone shade. This is the classic lamp and shade design, the quintessential table lamp that wrote a page of lighting history.
If Fontana is a unique device, it is thanks to the multiple lighting options it offers. The base and the shade can house multiple light sources, while the largest version also provides indirect lighting, with a further source positioned above the shade to direct an upward beam. Split controls meet different lighting needs from the soft glow of a nightlight to strong reading light, and even mood lighting from the indirect emission.
Fontana’s white silhouette is sketched with surface frosting for a hint of enduring style.
Gio Ponti’s tribute to Milan’s famous skyscraper: the classic Pirellina and Pirellone collection
Gio Ponti makes a comeback as art director in 1967 and designs a new collection of lamps for FontanaArte, inspired by skyscraper profiles and lighting. What better name than Pirellina and Pirellone, a tribute to Milan’s most famous skyscraper?
The namesake lamps garner the same success as the Pirelli tower, which remains the most emblematic section of the Milan skyline, while Pirellone and Pirellina continue to be lighting classics, firm favourites in the FontanaArte catalogue for 40 years.
Two pieces of curved glass are fastened into place by upper and lower metal elements. The secret of this uncomplicated structure lies in the use of a special impact-resistant glass. The two bowls embrace the light sources and, when the light is switched on, it reveals the different levels of the coupled structure. Alternating beams of light and shade mimic the vertical position of skyscraper windows.
So what is the difference between Pirellone and Pirellina? The former is a floor lamp carrying an upper halogen source that ensures a superb combination of diffused and indirect light; the later is a bedside lamp that also comes in a larger dressing table version.
The Uovo design, retrieved from corporate archives, has been a favourite for the last 40 years
Nature’s most familiar shape, one that has always symbolized the perfect harmony of symmetry and asymmetry. The Uovo lamp is an homage to the egg, based on a sketch found in the company’s archives in 1972. In the sketch, the shell contains a light source: a tongue-in-cheek idea that was an immediate hit and became one of the collection’s best sellers. Like a real egg, the Uovo lamp shell is a weightless paradigm in refined frosted white blown glass that emits a steady, welcoming light. The table lamp features a diffuser, held in place by a fine, painted metal frame with the distinctive pinpricks around the edge. Three different sizes for a collection whose middle name is versatility, from the smallest version − a minute service lamp − to the largest, an outright sculpture of light that will reign supreme in any room. The FontanaArte Uovo celebrates 40 years on the market and withstands the test of time: a tasteful addition to any room.
The Scintilla system to launch a new sector: a hybrid of decorative and technical lighting
Father and son team, Livio and Piero Castiglioni, devise the avant-garde Scintilla system, combining the essential versatility of a decorative lamp with the lighting capacity of a technical system.
Scintilla was perfect for the retail trade and large-scale exhibition areas and with the innovative product FontanaArte penetrated this specific market sector. Scintilla gained ground quickly and was the first in what was to become the “Architecture” line of solutions for interiors with specific technical demands.
The initial versions for wall and ceiling mount came in a plain steel structure with chrome or brushed finish, fitting a halogen bulb that was protected from high temperatures by a simple borosilicate glass cylinder. By the early Eighties the system’s runaway sales success persuaded the company, with the help of Piero Castiglioni to design a free-standing version with the main structure fastened to the base and stem in chrome-plated metal or blue glass.
New art director Gae Aulenti develops product and communication synergies
Carlo Guglielmi comes to FontanaArte at the same time that Gae Aulenti becomes its art director.
Architect Aulenti, who had already worked with the company in the past, is another leading light in the corporate renewal process.
Her first move is to makeover the collection, personally designing lamps and furnishing accessories that are still in the catalogue. At the same time she recruits a team of young contributors, validating the corporate mission to scout talent and acknowledging the importance of various strategic communication levers. She is flanked by Piero Castiglioni in product development, by Pierluigi Cerri for graphics, and Daniela Puppa and Franco Raggi for event and exhibition management.
A new catalogue entry, Tavolo con Ruote: a surprising piece heralding Gae Aulenti’s design approach
When Gae Aulenti spots an industrial trolley used to ferry glass around the FontanaArte plant, she finds inspiration for the Tavolo con Ruote.
The table is a perfect specimen of intuitive design that skips the drawing board and goes straight from the idea of an everyday item to the spontaneous implementation of the prototype.
This wheeled table replaces the factory trolley’s wooden shelf with a chunky sheet of bevelled glass − a tribute to the company’s production history − and is fitted with free-rolling industrial wheels.
The nature of the object and its intended use are transformed by simply replacing one part, echoing the spirit of many works by contemporary artist Marcel Duchamp.
Gae Aulenti and Piero Castiglioni bring handcrafting to industry with the Parola table lamp
Gae Aulenti produces another runaway success when she combines three kinds of glass, each made from a different production, craft or industrial process.
Blown opal glass is used for the directional shade; the stem is in transparent industrial borosilicate glass, particularly resistant to impact; the base is in bevelled industrial glass.
Parola is still considered a textbook example of how craftmanship can fit into an industrial scenario, as well as being a flagship for FontanaArte’s glass manufacturing status.
Table and floor versions were added in 1980, and a year later a wall-mounted model was installed as lighting for Palazzo Grassi in Venice.
Renzo Piano knocks on the door of design with his Teso collection for FontanaArte. Who says glass is not as hard as steel?
World-famous architect Renzo Piano made his design debut with a coordinated line of furnishing systems for FontanaArte, using only glass − a tribute to the company’s production history.
This high-end collection included a table, with a choice of rectangular or round top; an open-ended bookcase; console shelving.
Thick float glass was used both for the table tops and legs, and for the console and bookcase shelves and uprights. Each element is held together by the tension created by a special system of chrome-plated metal ties, which compress the components as if they were a single block.
Teso’s deceptively simple shape and modular options front all the complexity of the tensile structure, a recurrent architectural feature in Renzo Piano’s work.
Franco Raggi designs Velo: less is definitely more
A slim, almost ethereal sheet of suspended glass supported by aluminium clamps hooked onto steel wire ties.
The line is minimal: a rectangular screen with sandblasted glass at the centre to prevent glare. This material − the chemically-tempered glass used for spaceship nosecones − is special, very tough but weightless, and so flexible it can be bent by hand.
The concept behind Velo was to subtract weight, matter and form to achieve an aesthetic result of painstaking stylistic consistency.
Prima Signora: the unmatched style of Daniela Puppa
A magnificent globe in white blown glass crowns the chrome-plated tripod.
The surprising arrangement of these understated lines produces the graceful end result: Prima Signora, a floor lamp by Daniela Puppa, and a long-awaited hint of feminine elegance enhances the FontanaArte collection.
FontanaArte buys out Candle and considers new forms of expression
By the time FontanaArte hit 60 it had already made a significant impact on the history of contemporary design and the brand was an established international name in luxury lighting.
It was time for a shakeup and to start talking to a new generation of consumers, a conviction that motivated FontanaArte’s 1993 acquisition of Candle. An additional corporate division that could come up with a collection specifically for a younger age group. Upcoming design names were hired to develop projects that took on board innovative forms of expression, materials and production processes, to offer the market quality at a more competitive price.
Not just another pretty face. Nobi, as handy as it is decorative
If the Castiglioni team’s Scintilla system was ground breaking in the Seventies, two decades later Studio Metis forges ahead with Nobi, picking up where its predecessor left off.
A chrome-plated or brushed metal band encircles a circular diffuser made up of two pressed, tempered and sandblasted glass dishes. These elementary components conceal a complex system in which the two bowl-shaped glass discs are clipped together by a grip system and fastened to the metal frame by two pins, also holding the bulb. In this way the diffuser rotates freely, directing its intense halogen beam as required. Nobi also offers an indirect emission feature through a reflector fitted to one side of the diffuser for further effects like turning the light towards a wall or ceiling.
State-of-the-art Nobi comes in floor, wall and hanging versions, guaranteeing total practicality without losing any of its design appeal.
Sara is Pierluigi Cerri’s design for a small table lamp design embracing new materials and production processes
Pierluigi Cerri, who was in charge of FontanaArte’s graphics since the early Eighties, decides to tackle the classic table lamp with shade, paring it down to a slimmer, more understated line using lighter materials. Meet Sara, the small table lamp with polycarbonate diffuser and bearer of the first plastic ever to be used in the FontanaArte collection.
The company had always been a leader in the glass sector, for both industrial and artisanal products, but come the Nineties, FontanaArte was ready to address new materials and production processes that would enhance and diversify its existing, multifaceted collection.
David Chipperfield, Foster + Partners, Alvaro Siza, Vico Magistretti - Established greats and new talents partner up for this collection
FontanaArte’s legendary success has always been linked to top names like Gio Ponti, Pietro Chiesa and Gae Aulenti, but also to its reliance on prestigious partnerships, initiating in winning alliances with internationally renowned architects like David Chipperfield, Vico Magistretti, Steven Holl, Norman Foster, Alvaro Siza, and Renzo Piano, who contributed to what was a phantasmagorical collection in many ways: lighting with personality inspired by established styling.
Nevertheless, FontanaArte has always sought out emerging names and pursued its talent scout inclination. Italy’s traditional applied arts sector always handed down its expertise via its workshop apprentices and FontanaArte supports this approach with its recruitment of talented young designers.
FontanaArte buys out legendary Naskaloris.
FontanaArte takes over Naskaloris, a table lighting specialist for all workplace requirements. This brand was known chiefly for its Naska lamp, which had been given a basic patent back in 1933.
FontanaArte then confronts this new sector in order to offer its customer base additional expertise in a wider range of areas.
FontanaArte receives ADI’s Compasso d’Oro for its creative vision
The culmination of FontanaArte’s success is recognised when the Italian Industrial Design Association awards it the ADI Compasso d’Oro for its career, crowning the creative vision led by Carlo Guglielmi in partnering with leading international names in architecture, its design focus and its long tradition of craftsmanship linked to the state of art technology.
FontanaArte enters the contract sector by lighting up prestige projects
Bocconi University, the Piccolo Teatro, the Brera Pinacoteca gallery, Milan’s Bovisa, Loyola University, Fendi and Pfizer head offices in Rome, Beirut’s stunning Saint Elie Cathedral, Madrid’s Caja Mágica sports stadium, the Seoul Triennale, the Dubai Radisson Hotel. FontanaArte has served these and many more prestigious projects.
The company’s catalogue provides a vast range of solutions for architectural and decorative lighting, making FontanaArte a leading player in the contract sector.
FontanaArte joins forces with the Nice Group
December 2010 – Nice SpA acquires 60% of FontanaArte Spa.
February 2012 – Nice SpA acquires the remaining 40%.
Nice SpA designs, produces and sells automation systems (for gates, garage doors, road barriers, awnings, rolling shutters, solar screen) for residential, commercial and industrial buildings and wireless alarm system and comprises a group of almost 40 companies.
It is a match between two excellences of the Made in Italy: a young one born in 1993, the other with a long history and tradition. Both are the expression of Italian culture and style, be it with regards to quality of product, be it for distinguished design, innovation and service. For Nice SpA, this new acquisition is the natural consequence of its strategic expansion into complementary areas within integrated solutions for home automation.
For FontanaArte, it represents an opportunity to build its future on a solid industrial base and to expand internationally.
Sole forges ahead with new generation light sources
Another design that bridges the gap between technical and decorative lighting. Scintilla opened the way in the Seventies.
Nobi followed up in the early Nineties.
It was time for FontanaArte to produce a third winner and the result was Sole, combining the visual appeal of minimal design with state-of-the-art LED board technology.
Sole comes in a tiny, easy to install format that offers exceptional lighting efficiency, natural chromatic effects, adjustable light emission, as well as considerable energy saving.
The LED board is supplied directly by the mains voltage and needs no cumbersome transformer housing, thus mimicking a glowing tile.
Giorgio Biscaro as artistic director
Born in Vercelli in 1978, Giorgio Biscaro has been brought in as artistic director at FontanaArte.
He graduated in Industrial Design at Venice University with a dissertation on LED lamps, collaborated with various design brands and in 2007 opened his own studio.
In 2009/2010 he showed at the Salone Satellite, receiving enthusiastic feedback from the press and public. In 2011, he was selected by the magazine Case da Abitare as one of the 20 most talented Italian designers. Euroluce the following year saw him immediately put to the test with the history of FontanaArte that was celebrating its 80th anniversary that very year.
Yumi, absolute synthesis destined to become a new universal classic
Yumi, the floor lamp designed by the Japanese architect Shigeru Ban and presented at Euroluce 2011, was selected for the 2012 ADI Design Index and nominated “Best of Year” for the lighting category by the American magazine Interior Design.
Yumi is delicacy and strength at one and the same time: essential design meets a sturdy lightweight structure in composite, covered in carbon fiber, its surface brushed to a sheen. The 170 LEDs that are part of the lamp’s structure mean it takes up very little space and enhance the flow of its design. The power cables are also completely hidden in the structure because they are made with a special material that resists the high temperatures of the production processes. Yumi diffuses a warm concentrated gleam downwards, ideal for creating a cozy atmosphere. Its decisive yet discrete personality makes it perfect for different kinds of rooms.
FontanaArte reworks its tradition with focus on contemporaneity
The big new entry in the 2013 collection presented at Euroluce lies in collaboration with a new generation of international designers, the use of non-conventional materials for FontanaArte and special attention to a person-centric approach to light at the design stage.
More than a new direction, this is a vocation for FontanaArte, just waiting to be rediscovered and consolidated: combining aesthetic values and solutions perfect for everyday living, so that its lights become fundamental beloved elements in the home, adding a sincere light to the beauty of contemporary life.