July 5, 2010

Boffi takes a turn toward rustic with fired-clay tiles

by Zahid Sardar from the column Material World in the San Francisco Chronicle.


With the resurgence of crafted, handmade goods, even the precisely engineered stainless-steel aesthetic of Italian kitchens is getting a makeover.
"We are responding to what people want now," says Boffi CEO Roberto Gavazzi.
The company's newest lines, which build on Vienna-based Norbert Wangen's timeless, efficient K2 kitchen design that Boffi adopted in 2003, have recycled, distressed wood counters, steam-darkened sustainable acacia cabinets and surprisingly humble, traditional veneers that have been used for centuries: handmade ceramic tiles with low-relief arabesque patterns.
Unlike colorful Ottoman originals, these nostalgic matte-glazed Duemilaotto tiles of fired clay, designed by Boffi Creative Director Piero Lissoni, are all white, like monochromatic plateresque moldings on Hispano-Moresque buildings.
The creamy white 1/2-inch-thick square tiles in three mix-and-match designs sometimes vary slightly in size depending on how much they shrink or warp in the firing. The occasional discrepancy adds to the overall handcrafted effect, but grout between the 15-by-15-centimeter (almost 6 inches) and 20-by-20-centimeter (almost 8 inches) tiles makes it easy enough to clad precisely engineered Boffi kitchen island stove hoods or form custom backsplashes and wall treatments.
"They almost look Victorian," says Cardenio Petrucci, owner of Dzine, the showroom that showcases Boffi kitchens and baths in San Francisco. That's no coincidence: The new tiles are made by Domenico Mori in Macerata, south of Venice, in kilns that have been in use since the 19th century. They may well have supplied the dowager queen.

At a glance

Expert opinion: "A kitchen is no longer a craft shop," says Boffi designer Norbert Wangen, 48. "It also has a social and aesthetic function." While he likes spare, efficient designs that are timeless, a kitchen can also be organized and decorated in the manner of other living spaces.
"We are no longer in the '70s when everything 'designed' had to look avant-garde," he says.
The new Piero Lissoni tiles "soften the Boffi look," says Dzine owner Cardenio Petrucci. They are handmade near Boffi's Milan headquarters and can be made and delivered within two months.
Pros: The all-white tiles can be mixed and matched for a custom look. Tiles are as easy to clean as stainless steel but don't show fingerprints. The tiles are intended to fit Boffi hood sizes perfectly, so there is little waste.
Cons: The tile-clad hoods can weigh as much as 600 pounds. Metric grids are harder to apply to American construction planned in inches.
Price: $20-$32 per tile

Shadow and Light

by Judith Thurman for Architectural Digest August 2010 issue

Pitsou Kedem is a prize-winning Israeli architect who likes to cut corners.  Literally, that is.  In his residence for a family in Herzeliya, an upscale coastal enclave 10 miles from Tel Aviv, he played with the geometry of two stacked boxes-an upper bedroom story of Italian stone, and a lower living story of glass and teak-and deftly perforated their mass.  A buttressed wall between the main structure and the garden creates a stately "bridgeway" from the street to the front door.  Wraparound windows take a bit from the corner of the master suite.  Steel girders punctuate transparent walls, and a floating metal staircase-a piece of abstract sculpture-conjoins the two floors.  The result is an intricate modernist puzzle with open, light flooded interiors, but a facade so discreet that it reveals little of the drama behind it.  "Land is a great luxury in Israel," Kedem notes, "and even in an exclusive neighborhood like this one you don't have a lot of breathing room.  Because there are houses on both sides, I wanted to create a sense of privacy and enclosure in a relatively modest space-4,300 square feet-but without sacrificing its seamless flow.  You can see the garden from every room, and sliding doors blur the boundaries between inside and out."

The clients had been living in an apartment overlooking the marina before they found an appropriate building plot, and work on the house took about a year and a half.  It went without a hitch, Kedem says, largely thanks to his penchant for meticulous drawings ("paper suffers the abuse you give it without complaint") and for computer modeling.  "Israeli sun," he adds wryly, "was about the only element that didn't import."  The stone, fixtures and furnishings came from Italy, the teak from Myanmar and the windows from Germany.  He and his studio (based in Tel Aviv) designed the interiors, which flaunt a luxurious severity.  "If you want to work with me," he says, "it has to be my way.  I don't happily delegate control.  There has to be one language on a project-one creative fingerprint-or it loses its integrity."


Even Kedem, however, was impressed by the rigor of his client, a Dutch-born entrepreneur in the electronics business.  "He and his wife are an unusual couple," the architect says.  "She trusted him completely and stayed out of the decision making.  He is a passionate minimalist-I have never known anyone so cool in both senses.  Most people can't inhabit a space this pristine or live with such a commitment to aesthetics.  I aim to give my clients a perfect container, and they usually accessorize it with their own possessions.  But these clients didn't want anything-even art or books-to distract from the architecture.  Their only painting is one that I gave them."  (The couple have two lively young children, but they also have a huge basement playroom where their elan vital is contained.)

There are many modes of sensuality in design, not all of them involving embroidered throw pillows.  The bold verticality of Kedem's blueprint is balanced by the play of light and shadows filtered through the horizontal slats of the facade and the ground floor.  From a mezzanine that seems to float over the dining area, one looks down into the colbalt well of a narrow lap pool, embedded in a basalt patio that abuts the house.  Its water reflects the greenery of a Zen-like garden.  The warmth of the teak parquetry softens a graphic palette of white concrete and lacquer; black or charcoal rugs and upholstery; and the pumice-colored pietra sierra.  The decor, Kedem admits, is "strongly masculine;" he even incorporated the garage into the house and illuminated the husband's treasured sports car like a work of art.  But when the family and their guests gather for meals, a lacy, modern chandelier suspended from the 19-foot ceiling above the dining room table reminds one that a lovely woman-old-fashioned in her reticence-also resides here: It shimmers like a cloud of tulle.

The stark contrasts of Kedem's architecture recall the Taoist principle of yin and yang-a duality of dark and light, feminine and masculine, receptivity and action.  They, in turn, have their counterpart in the kabbalah, and its notion of Ayn Sof: the primal nothingness that preceded the creation.  "Ultimately," Kedem concludes, "you can describe my work with the simplicity that it strives to express: It's all about connection."