Lorenzo Damiani, the designer of surprisingness

A guide to the work of a designer who takes the lesson of the Italian masters of design and re-elaborates it in an innovative way, bringing it up to date with the needs of our times. Not by chance, Romanelli called him an “inventor”.

A company – IB – asked a designer – Lorenzo Damiani – to design a new collection of bathroom taps (OnlyOne 2006). The designer worked on it, carefully studying the nuts and bolts of different taps for almost two years, but he couldn’t wrap his head around it. And then, he got the right idea by looking at how a joystick works: why not try applying this to a new faucet model that allows you to adjust the flow and temperature of the water by simply grabbing the main body and moving it back and forth or left and right?

OnlyOne single-hole mixer
OnlyOne single-hole mixer that can be operated like a joystick to obtain the desired quantity and temperature of water. IB Rubinetti production, 2006.
Courtesy IB Rubinetti

This is how Lorenzo Damiani works. He combines and innovates. He brings together two functions that are usually separated, the management and dispensing of water, thus facilitating manual skills. And in doing so, he amazes and surprises everyone. On another occasion, Damiani designed a new folding deckchair for Campeggi (Soleil, 2019). This time he started with an anonymous object (one of those to which Munari had awarded the ‘Golden Compass to Unknown’) and made a small change – he turned the armrest into a small table. Here, too, he combines several functions in a single object, thus saving and freeing up space.

Soleil folding deck chair
Soleil folding deck chair, with armrest that becomes a comfortable table. Campeggi production, 2019.
Courtesy Campeggi

He also focused on another anonymous object – the drafting machine stool, whose seat level adjustment is made possible by a gas mechanism cleverly housed inside one of the four legs on which the stool rests and whose visibly increased dimensions make it the main compositional element. (Main/et al./2021). Surprising. Like almost all of the objects designed by Damiani. They all have this in common: they amaze, they catch off-guard, and they disorientate. And often, immediately afterward, reorientate.

Main swivel stool
Main swivel stool, adjustable in height, characterized by one of the four legs that becomes the case for the gas shock absorber. et al. production, 2021.
Courtesy et al.

They do not surprise you in the way that a magician, or a conjurer, can do: they are not “top hats”. Rather, they are objects capable of doing things you would not expect them to do. A pouf, which you would expect to be able to sit on, turns out to also be a vacuum cleaner. Plumbing pipes, which you would expect to provide a hermetic seal for flowing liquids, become the modular structure of an outdoor chair. A table proves capable of functioning as a fan. And the weave of a rug becomes a map of the world. 

Another surprising characteristic of Damiani’s work is his use of materials. Discards from the working of glass become the precious and unique core of unprecedented one-off pieces coming from the workshops of the master craftsmen of Murano. In this way, potentially dangerous waste is transformed into valuable elements, thus becoming a historical memory and a decor item, while also providing an alternative way of disposing of hazardous waste.

Bowl 152 which contains and isolates the waste from Murano processing classified as special waste, according to Legislative Decree 152/2006. Luigi Fornasier production, 2008.
Bowl 152 which contains and isolates the waste from Murano processing classified as special waste, according to Legislative Decree 152/2006. Luigi Fornasier production, 2008.
Courtesy Luigi Fornasier

Damiani would like this reflection on the possibility of using objects and resources generally considered waste in a new way to become part of people’s way of thinking. Let’s be clear: we are not talking about yet another version of the readymade. Damiani is not the latest epigone of the poetics of recycling or reutilization. Rather he is an alchemist, a chemist, a geneticist of objects: he is capable of reproducing a personal rainbow on the large glass window of his studio by analyzing the inclination of the glass and the way it should be wetted. But he is also someone who uses his know-how and his alembics to try out unheard-of grafts, to probe the functional limits of a typology, and to explore the possibility of fusing several types and several functions in a single artifact. 

Panca metallica Benna, Lorenzo Damiani, produzione Da a, 2015. Courtesy Da a
Metal bench Benna obtained by exploiting the existence of a mold useful for making buckets for agricultural use. Da a production, 2015.
Courtesy Da a

In his work, he always starts from simple ideas and from his thorough knowledge of materials, which he pushes to their limits, experimenting with all their possibilities. He certainly never starts with the form. The form takes shape and is defined gradually; it is as if the materials or the initial idea were calling out to him.

Naturally, perhaps even unconsciously, Damiani has inherited the lesson of the great masters who preceded him. We can recognise in his work, for example, Denis Santachiara’s magic and surprisingness (as in the Airpouf he designed in 2005 for Campeggi, where the little ball that stops the air valve when the vacuum cleaner is on floats magically in the air, as if to convey it and prevent it from dispersing).

Metal bench Benna
Metal bench Benna, Da a production, 2015.
Courtesy Da a

But in him, there is also – as we have seen – the ability to transfer ideas from foreign contexts and apply them in a new way to the household environment, just as Marco Zanuso did. And he has the same attention as Enzo Mari when it comes to always try to act fairly and ethically, avoiding unnecessary waste, and stimulating the end-user to participate in the definition of the object. One of Damiani’s earliest works is a perfect example of this – the Packlight, designed in 1995, when Lorenzo was still at university, with the idea of transforming the packaging made by Osram to contain and protect light bulbs for large-scale distribution into a real light fixture, inviting the user – with some simple instructions – to be the protagonist of a virtuous practice of reuse and resemantization of an object otherwise destined to become waste. And if Enzo Mari started from a semi-finished industrial product to create that masterpiece of a tray that is Putrella, Damiani started from chrome pipes to create an extensive bathroom and tap collection for Flaminia (Fold/2012). In the case of the taps, the bent parts are not only a formal result but also a structure and a mechanism: they are small dams, natural filters to reduce water pressure. 

Packlight lamp obtained by modifying, in an appropriate way, a packaging on the market. Self-production, 1995.
Packlight lamp obtained by modifying, in an appropriate way, a packaging on the market. Self-production, 1995.
Courtesy Lorenzo Damiani

It is no coincidence, then, that Marco Romanelli considered him an “inventor”: someone who does not limit himself to diligent design on commission, but rather someone who dares, and who produces things that no client would even dare to think of. One who aims at overcoming the existing in order to go further. Something Lorenzo Damiani does, for example, by creating a small table that doubles as a fan (Airtable, 2009). Or pre-cut felt pads that can be applied on the bottom of chair legs (Fel3, 2005). But also by systematically practising what Romanelli has called typological hybridisation, i.e. that design practice which leads him to synthesise in a single object several different types with different functions: hence – as we have seen – the table/fan, the mirror/table, the fan/pouf, the armchair/suitcase. 

Feltrino adesivo Fel3, Lorenzo Damiani, produzione Coop, 2005. Courtesy Lorenzo Damiani
Adjustable size Fel3 adhesive felt pad characterized by the presence of three concentric punched rings. Coop production, 2005.
Courtesy Coop

In this respect, his work represents one of the most resounding refutations of those who – in the name of a mythical lost past – accuse contemporary Italian design of being minimalist, frivolous, fatuous and inconsistent. If we look at Damiani’s work – as well as that of other designers of his generation – without prejudice and without blinkers, we cannot fail to see how the lesson of the great masters of the past was adapted to a context, a culture and a society that are no longer the ones in which those great Masters operated. And if this were not the case, then Damiani would not be able to surprise us in the way he does.

For what makes him so surprising is a mix of intuition and culture, of tradition and unconventionality, of knowledge of what exists and awareness of the need to go beyond it. Of never being willing to accept commonplaces, imposed limits, banal visions.

Lorenzo Damiani will join us on the Domus website, and in collaboration with the editorial staff, he will suggest ideas and paths, select both historical and new projects and share his point of view in the design section.

Opening image: Lorenzo Damiani. Photo Gaetano del Mauro

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