Fornasetti’s home collections have become instantly recognizable thanks to the surrealist motifs immortalized by founder Piero Fornasetti. The Milanese painter, sculptor, interior decorator, and engraver produced one of the largest collections of furniture and objects of the 20th century. Now, his son Barnaba Fornasetti (pictured above in the Fornasetti family home outside Milan) perpetuates his father’s vision, maintaining in-house production at their Milanese atelier, as well as both reviving and reinterpreting archival designs. Here, he invites us into the breathtaking world immortalized by his father and opens up about the muses and motifs that have made the brand iconic.
The Window: How would you describe Fornasetti’s visual language?
Barnaba Fornasetti: It’s the vision of an artist from the Renaissance, born by chance in the early 1900s. While the vision is connected to ancient classics, it’s also able to look at the future—and without the obsession of being contemporary. It’s not easy to pinpoint into a single creative path.
What were your father’s favorite motifs and themes?
For my father, a single idea provided enough inspiration to create infinite variations. In fact, much of his work involved constant evolutions of specific themes. Some of the most recurrent are the sun, playing cards, harlequins, hands, and self-portraits. But by far the most famous is the image that inspired my father to coin the title Tema e Variazioni (Theme and Variations)—it’s the enigmatic face of a woman, opera singer Lina Cavalieri. She was as much a muse as a motif, and he would return to Lina Cavalieri´s face again and again throughout his career.
Why do you think he was drawn to her?
She’s the archetypal classic female in her features, quintessentially beautiful and classic. To him, she was like a Greek statue, and it was this formal, graphic appeal—rather than Lina Cavalieri´s celebrity—that demanded such loyalty and inspired the spontaneous and ceaseless creativity.
Tell us about your own favorite motifs.
I’ve inherited my father’s love for decoration, and I would not be able to tell you just one favorite motif. For sure I like to mix and match diverse themes. You can even see this in my passion for DJing—mix-matching songs.
Everything is still produced in-house—have the techniques and methods changed since your father’s time?
Today, everything is still rigorously executed by hand in the atelier. Color is applied to surfaces by a painter who copies the original hand-painted paper models. Only the printing technique has changed—for reasons of necessity—from lithography to serigraphy. This evolution actually began during Piero´s lifetime.
Tell us about your father’s archives. Are you still discovering new designs and sketches?
I am lucky to have access to one of the most incredible archives that can be imagined, as my father left more than 13,000 motifs! It’s the most important treasure that I have inherited. It still happens that sometimes I find something new, for example a chalk mold of a vase designed by my father in the ‘50s that I found in the cellar and that never made its way into production. Starting from this, I created a collection of vases that are amongst the bestsellers.
How does the Fornasetti family home reflect your father?
This home became a testing ground for Piero´s work with color and motif. You will find unique designs, original furniture, found objects, and inspirations filling all of the rooms. This home became a living archive of my father’s style. What I love the most about it is the impression you have crossing the threshold—small precious revelations in each corner, apparently without order, but with their own aesthetic and organic sense.