Founded in 1932 by Luigi Fontana, owner of an important glass manufacturing company, and Gio Ponti, FontanaArte immediately set out upon a well-defined path of research: use new languages to express the potential of a material like glass, whose identity had been completely transformed thanks to the technical possibilities offered by modern industry.
Continually experimenting with new ways of defining contemporary decoration, Gio’ Ponti found in Pietro Chiesa the perfect travelling companion.
Together, the two rapidly turned FontanaArte into one of the most important players in the elaboration of early modernity for Italian home furnishing accessories.
This research was fuelled by collaborations with a large number of top level artists and found fertile ground in the interior design for large middle-class homes, real experimental laboratories where models for subsequent series production could be perfected.
Furniture, ornaments, artistic products, mirrors, lamps: FontanaArte produced items for the whole house. Ponti and Chiesa seemed particularly interested in the constant dialogue between shapes, techniques and traditional processes with innovation and the possibilities offered by large-scale industrial production. It was a constant, in-depth exchange of ideas that formed the roots and the very identity of the company.
Important traces of this period of extraordinary creativity still remain today in the FontanaArte catalogue, where articles designed by Ponti and Chiesa have by now been raised to the level of classics.
The end of World War Two coincided with a radical change in Italy’s social and cultural scenario. The new condition called for reorganization of production and redefinition of products.
The extraordinary articles designed for the scale of large middle-class homes had to be replaced by items more suited to the smaller volume of apartments. The traditional elite clientele was now joined by a new kind of customer.
Despite the difficult period, FontanaArte never gave in to the temptations of products for the masses: despite it having by now become part of a multinational that was very aware of market dynamics, the siren call for ‘big numbers’ was never to completely seduce FontanaArte. What changed was not so much the idea of quality as, and above all, the language, where a predominance of aesthetic experimentation started to see the birth of a different attention to practical needs of use.
Furthermore, thanks also to experiments carried out in previous years, Italy too was seeing the arrival of a new culture of modern design, which found its formal matrix precisely in the relationship between function, use and material.
While staying close to the company, Gio Ponti was no longer its Art Director. In 1954 this position was filled by Max Ingrand, under whose guidance FontanaArte moved slowly but surely towards modernization. The evolution of FontanaArte was led mainly by the lighting sector, where the relationship between technology and performance, between form and project, called for more incisive renewal.
Called back as artistic director in 1967, Gio Ponti managed to summarize the sense of the direction taken in several lamps: the Pirelli series, Bilia and the Cartocci are still today totally perfect models. In addition to projects by Ponti, mention must also be made of others designed by the FontanaArte technical office, including the Uovo lamp and furnishing accessories made with simple sheets of glass, tempered and colored, examples of a striking modernity.
After a brief hazy period FontanaArte was purchased in 1979 by a group of private entrepreneurs, who entrusted operational and administrative management of the company to Carlo Guglielmi. The decision was immediately made to shift production once again towards the quality of products and modern design culture. A young Gae Aulenti*, who had already collaborated with the company for a few years, was called on to take over artistic
Respecting the history and identity of FontanaArte, Gae Aulenti did not impose strict functional rationalism.
On the contrary, involving a large number of very different designers, very young or already famous, she insisted on research that explored the most expressive experiences in Italian design, welcoming both the first signs of postmodernism and also studies into pop and conceptual art, swinging between minimal ascetics and formal playful
The eighties were a crucial decade for FontanaArte. It was without doubt a period of unequalled creativity, which permanently positioned the company as one of the absolute protagonists of Italian and international design.
These were also however the years that marked a definite shift towards the lighting sector, with efforts made in parallel towards the technological implications of design. Symbolic in this sense was the encounter between FontanaArte and Piero Castiglioni*, one of the first to investigate the industrial potential of halogen sources.
By no means less important was the study of the Velo lamp by Franco Raggi*, a true example of experimental virtuosity in glass technology. This did not mean neglecting the furnishing accessory range: prompted by FontanaArte, Renzo Piano* designed a bookcase using glass as the structural, load-bearing element.
The new direction taken by FontanaArte also came together in a run of acquisitions that expanded and completed its skills and range of products and solutions. At the heart of FontanaArte strategies however, there was a renewed drive for collaboration with big Italian and foreign architects. Two very valuable objectives lay behind this choice:
to continue to fuel production with the great culture of design and at the same time, to take attention beyond the traditional world of home interiors.
In 1998, the Italian Association for Industrial Design awarded the Compasso d’Oro for career to FontanaArte, highlighting in its reasons how the company, by involving different designers had, over the past twenty years, managed to create a lively creative climate that upgraded one of the historic names in Italian design.
In 2010, FontanaArte was purchased by Nice spa, an international group in the sector of Home Automation with a wide range of integrated systems for the automation of gates, garages, parking systems, sun shades and wireless alarm systems. For FontanaArte, its new partner provides the opportunity to develop a solid industrial base for the future and provides the strategic research base needed to evolve a new international language. Light and
movement: once again, a further renewal through the challenge of forging a relationship with new technologies and performance - the ideal encounter between two companies that has always focused on design and innovation for the home.
In 2012 FontanaArte celebrated its eightieth anniversary and that year brought further important achievements for the floor lamp Yumi designed by the Japanese architect Shigeru Ban*: it was selected for the ADI Design Index and nominated Best of Year in the lighting category by the American magazine Interior Design.
In the same year, artistic direction was entrusted to Giorgio Biscaro, from Vercelli, class of 1978, who, returning to the origins of the lesson by Gio Ponti on the home that lives, and backed by the glorious history of FontanaArte, directed the the new collection of lamps presented at Euroluce 2013.
A collection that is the result of collaboration with a new generation of international designers and the use of nonconventional materials for FontanaArte, but above all which pays special attention to the interaction between the person and light.
Designers involved: Marco Acerbis, Gianni Arnaudo, Sergio Asti, Gae Aulenti, Piero Castiglioni, Shigeru Ban, Jorg Boner, Luisa Calvi, Mauro Merlini & Carlos Moya, Fernando & Humberto Campana, Livio Castiglioni, Roberto Menghi, Gianni Celada & Antonio Mella, Pierluigi Cerri, Pietro Chiesa Jr, David Chipperfield, CP&PR Associati, Jonathan Daifuku, Christian Deuber, Rodolfo Dordoni, Marco Ferreri, Norman Foster, Future Systems (Jan Kaplicky & Amanda Levete), Eugenio Gentili Tedeschi, Riccardo Giovanetti, GPA Monti, Vittorio Gregotti, Lodovico Meneghetti, Giotto Stoppino, Chris Hardy, Harry & Camilla, Steven Holl, Max Ingrand, Defne Koz, Antonio Lanzillo & Carlo Martinengo, Francesco Lucchese, Vico Magistretti, Marco Merendi, Metis Lighting (Marinella Patetta & Claudio Valénti), Matteo Nunziati, Luciano Pagani & Angelo Perversi, Juli Pastorino & Cecilia Suarez, Gabi Peretto, Bobo Piccoli, Gio Ponti, Tim Power, Daniela Puppa, Franco Raggi, Umberto Riva, Guido Rosati, Alberto Rosselli, Piero Russi, Densi Santachiara, Hector Serrano, Alvaro Siza Vieira, Studio Klass (Marco Maturo, Alessio Roscini), Studio Original Design, Carlo Tamborini, Matteo Thun, VW + BS (Voon Wong & Benson Saw), Paolo Zani, Marco Zanuso Jr, Alberto Zecchini.