Words by Greg Lomas
We originally met Andrea at his workshop in a Camden railway arch next to Victory Motorcycles, his beloved BMW custom bike parked outside. Now here we are over ten years on discussing his work in his current workshop in South London.
Motorbikes are still a passion he pursues in his spare time, ‘I do it to relax’ he says. As a ‘hobby’ it produces awe inspiring results. It seems to me that this is a symptom of an insatiable curiosity and imagination. Indeed, through his passion for building bikes Andrea has honed skills that he applies to the design and production of his furniture. Bikes have also been a catalyst for long term relationships, he met his partner Melissa at Victory Motorcycles and best friend Simon Black is also passionate about custom bikes.
He describes his inspiration in furniture design and form as ‘a stark contrast between natural organic forms and brutalist lines, industrial decadence with a baroque edge, contrasts between detail and plain simplicity.’
This dichotomous relationship is embodied by motorbikes, it’s a great metaphor for his approach.
This creative tension is apparent in the people he admires in the field and when I ask him about this he cites Joseph Walsh who ‘ just mastered the bending of the timber and the natural flow of the material’ and the great Italian designer Carlo Molino whose ‘lines in the woodwork, following human shapes, possess an organic elegance that I think is incredible.’
Molino and Walsh have a lot in common pushing the physical boundaries of wood as a material and producing work of peerless elegance and sensuous quality.
The other half of this dichotomy is represented by the baroque and fantastical work of Mark Brazier Jones and the brutalist furniture of sculptor Paul Evans. The influence of the highly textured and tactile quality of Evans’ work is obvious in Andrea’s pieces. Whilst the skill of metalworking apparent Brazier Jones’ work is something he admires, there is a sinister, darker baroque edge, black comedy you can sit in. He explains that ‘he is drawn to brutalism and it’s darkness and murkiness’ in his own work.
Studio Job’s irreverent, ironic and humorous approach to furniture design is also evident in Andrea’s approach although his most unusual commission, undertaken before Job Smeets founded Studio Job, illustrates his sense of humour and off the wall thinking. A collection of six side tables, each sculpted with a face like a totem, carved from solid blocks of oak.
Furniture is in his blood, born into a family of cabinet makers and fine wood carvers in the village of Montegnacco 10 miles from the beautiful city of Udine, Fruili Italy, which borders one of the most important furniture making areas of Italy – ‘triangolo della sedia’ (triangle of the chair). He spent his summers and after school working in the family workshop (which is still there) with his grandfather, Riccardo who was a baroque master carver, and his father Enzo a formidable furniture maker and former professor of cabinet making. It was from Enzo that Andrea learnt the majority of his woodworking skills.
Despite this his path wasn’t certain and he grew up in an environment where he could choose his own direction. After studying industrial design, he took a detour to begin economics at university. He realised that wasn’t the right fit, but he says it gave him a ‘360 degree view of what you can do in life and the choices you can make’.
He started making sculptural work and exhibited at a few small venues, but the economics must have informed his realisation that ‘art doesn’t pay the bills’.
When he was transitioning from sculptor to furniture maker in the early 90s, he had been experimenting with brass and wood jewellery and this lead to his first commission, a man’s necklace.
He came to the conclusion that designing and making furniture with an artistic edge might be a way of making a living whilst satisfying his artistic ambitions.
As he says ‘projects that involve unusual things attract me’ this isn’t just form and design either, the technical, constructional and material challenges also enable him to stretch his experience and knowledge. One example of this are the burnt oak mosaic cabinets he has recently completed that involved the hand placement of 11,000 tiny oak blocks, attached to the face of the cabinets. For him producing the same thing every day might be more lucrative but ‘would betray what I really am and would be a compromise.’
We’ve been collaborating with Andrea for over ten years on a varied array of projects. Notable examples include the Brutalist warehouse apartment in Vauxhall London where Andrea led a team of artisans to produce glazed door screens, faceted shard like kitchen island and the most technically challenging a motorised milled aluminium door that lifts to reveal the kitchen behind.
The house for an artist project developed into a complex collaboration between artist, architect and artisan involving installations through the house including a solid oak kitchen and cedar bathroom.
Collaboration is a key part of his work not just with Architects and designers but also with clients and artists. His favourite collaborations are where a vision and brief are formed but there is an opportunity for him to contribute creatively and improve the idea.
Recently he collaborated with interior designer Rebecca James on a range of limited edition furniture inspired by a mutual love of art deco and mid-century Italian design that is sold worldwide. When we met, Andrea’s partner Melissa had just sent a piece to a customer in New York.
Artist Simon Black, previously assistant to Sir Anthony Caro, is a sculptor who uses stainless steel as his main media and has developed various techniques of metal hydro forming. Simon has been producing stunning work in his workshop in Deptford London which was next door to Andrea’s previous studio (and that is how they met). Simon is one of Andrea’s best friends and has collaborated on several projects and bike builds. Andrea acknowledges Simon has been very influential in introducing him to patination and chemical treatment of metals, guiding him through the process. This exchange of knowledge and experience is a key part of successful collaboration.
I ask him where his future lies and how technology might affect what he does. We talk a great deal about software, specifically 3D modelling. This has become an invaluable tool through which he can communicate with clients very precisely and it also enables him to construct a piece virtually and understand where the problems are in terms of construction and mechanics.
As he says technology has it’s place but he doesn’t want to compete with it. You have to use it as a tool when it’s appropriate.
The future is to be more niche and ensure exclusivity by continuing to do one off work and providing crafted detail that still requires human hands.