My design London: Alberto Alessi
Alberto Alessi, the godfather of much contemporary design, opens up his London address book to share his favourite shops, designers and manufacturers throughout the capital
© Simone Casetta
Alberto Alessi is the godfather of much contemporary design. As president of kitchen accessories company Alessi, he gave the world iconic postmodern pieces by "star designers" such as Michael Graves, Philippe Starck, Richard Sapper, Ettore Sottsass, Alessandro Mendini and Achille Castiglioni.
Alessi was born into kitchenware and manufacturing. His paternal grandfather founded Alessi, while his maternal grandfather started Bialetti, makers of the classical hexagonal Italian percolator coffee machines — the ones with the little man on the side. Today, Alberto Alessi is something of a design guru. A museum trustee, he writes, lectures and curates shows about design, as well as running Alessi.
I love London garden squares and parks. I own a vineyard now in Orta, so I am even more involved in horticulture. We launch our wine in the spring of 2014, and I am preparing all the wine and the design of labels and packaging, and I am loving it.
It's near my factory, in an old house redesigned by Alessandro Mendini. It overlooks the island of St Giulio in Lake Orta, near Milan.
Where I stay in London
I stay in Dukes Hotel in St James's. It is tucked away and feels like home, and very private except for the bar, which is too trendy. But they make the best-ever martinis.
It is a collaboration between the designers and the manufacturers. That's why Italian family-run design companies have been so influential. I think design should be democratic. Designers and manufacturers should offer the best design quality to the widest audience. We are collaborating with Tesco to offer Ettore Sotsass's Nuovo Milano 1986 cutlery. For us it is the occasion to make a trial of how democratic Alessi design can be. In London we collaborate with Jasper Morrison and David Chipperfield. I only wish David had more time. I love his open approach.
What I collect here
London is the place where design was born, in the middle of the 19th century, and even today you can find good early examples. I collect early pieces of metal design. I am surprised that even today you can find objects by Christopher Dresser, one of my beloved designers.
I also love Charles Ashbee. I have a passion for antique silver. I always wander down Kensington Church Street. There are a number of good shops there, but now one of my favourite spots is Alfies Antique Market (13-25, Church Street London, NW8, 020 7723 6066).
My design inspiration
I love design thinkers like Deyan Sudjic and David Chipperfield. London is a key place for the training of young designers from around the world. I always look at their work. I go to exhibitions and to the schools. We are currently doing a project with the Industrial Design Department at Central St Martins. I look at the Royal College of Art — I recommend going to their shows. In Britain you train silversmiths differently and I appreciate your tradition.
A culture trip
London museums are completely unique, and they have so much going on. They make London so important. Nowhere else has such wonderful collections. The V&A, the British Museum, the Design Museum — they are the base of research for all serious designers. The V&A delivers the historic base of all design history. It keeps all the historic collections.
When we at Alessi were thinking about reproducing some of Dresser's designs, and I was doing the historic research for the project, I went round to see their Dresser pieces and drawings. Marvellous. If you don't know where you come from, you can't plan your future. I love to do new designs, but I can't imagine how you do that if you don't know the past.
The Design Museum is remarkable, a wonderful museum. I am excited about its new space in Kensington, which will give it more opportunity to show its important collections. Its director, Deyan Sudjic, is a very important, influential design thinker.
The best of London
I love Cheaney shoes, made in Northampton since 1886. They are intelligently designed and beautifully made. I find them exceptionally comfortable and long-lasting (4, Piccadilly Arcade, St James's, SW1; 020 7495 6413).
And of course, I love food. Design and food are closely related. We design products for eating food, and food is important to me. What I buy in London is cheese, especially smoked Stilton. It has a delicate, smoky flavour from being cold smoked over oak chippings in brick-built kilns. You can get it from The Old Smokehouse (01932 841171) or the Artisan Smoke House (artisansmokehouse.co.uk) in Suffolk.
Small objects are my favourite, not furniture. That is my specialisation. In my collection I love a very small flower vase designed by Josef Hoffmann and made by the Wiener Werkstätte 1906. It is a cylinder made of silvered metal of perforated squares with a long handle. I am also very proud of my two tall, thin-stemmed glasses by Kolo Moser. I use the glasses very rarely. One is red, the other bluey green. My wife broke one. I mended it — and I'm still married to her.