Inspiration

Fornace Brioni’s Grounded Exhibition Is a Tour of Terracotta

Equal parts surface decoration and protective skin, the art of tile-making dates back as far as civilization itself, distilled through nearly every culture since man’s early twilight with many nations lavished upon its development. Fornace Brioni adds to the annals of earthenware with Grounded, an exhibition showcasing their new wall and floor coverings, designed by Snøhetta and Cristina Celestino, in a terracotta tour arranged by Cristina Celestino Studio. The museum-like approach articulates a poignant material narrative through a series of vignettes grounded in the feeling of home by a juxtaposition of solid-void, absolute geometries, and surfaces awash in warmth.

Photo: Piercarlo Quecchia

Forged from Fornace Brioni’s subtle alchemy of water, earth, and fire – the cotto cladding comes from the finest clays slowly accumulated by sedimentation on the Po River’s floodplain. Though the three collections comprising five products debuted during Milan Design Week 2024, the contemporary artisan tiles feel more like decadent artifacts plucked from the ruins of Pompeii and restored to their former splendor. The striking balance between hand-craft, technical precision, and unmistakable Italian aesthetics imbues them with a sense of future nostalgia.

A minimalist room featuring a patterned floor, stacked brown blocks, a large textured wall panel, curtain backdrop, and scattered potted plants.

Photo: Piercarlo Quecchia

Guided by the tenets of Fornace Brioni, the esteemed global transdisciplinary practice Snøhetta redefines the brand’s boundaries for hand-pressed terracotta with a minimalist design that embraces material reduction, imperfection, and soft form. Rich texture tracks the passage of time in dialogue between light and shadow across each surface. The bilateral symmetry offers a myriad of geometric compositions at any designer’s discretion and is offered in an optional glazing for smooth finish when desired. The deep, sumptuous curves and carvings add additional dimension while maintaining the strength of a structural element.

Arranged in a corner, several clay-colored rectangular blocks form a wall on the right and a stepped structure in the center. The blocks are uniformly shaped and the floor is concrete.

Void by Snøhetta \ Photo: Mattia Balsamini

A minimalistic interior featuring a wooden chair, a textured clay tile wall, and two ceramic vases positioned on the floor.

Void by Snøhetta \ Photo: Mattia Balsamini

A dark gray stool stands against a backdrop of reddish-brown tiled walls in a room with warm lighting.

Void by Snøhetta \ Photo: Mattia Balsamini

An old wooden arched door set in a weathered wall with faded paint and patches. In front of the door is a row of large, rectangular, orange tiles.

Void by Snøhetta \ Photo: Mattia Balsamini

A wooden door with intricate carvings is framed by two large, block-patterned structures. The wall above the door displays partially visible Latin text.

Void by Snøhetta \ Photo: Mattia Balsamini

Derived from Euclidean geometry, artistic director and designer Cristina Celestino creates a study of points and lines adhering to the precision of congruence and symmetry for the Araldica collection. That rigidness is tempered by chromatic play in the tessellations that unfurl across each surface as satisfying joinery and material contrast create additional dimension. Available in Ducato and Corte, these simplified patterns and variegated terracotta tiles contemporize Cosmati work – a type of mosaic technique practiced by 12th and 13th century Roman architects – for harmonic synthesis and incredible illusion.

A minimalist room with a round table and a cylindrical stool on a patterned floor featuring large, curved shapes. The walls are smooth and light-colored, bathed in soft natural light.

Araldica Corte Tiles by Cristina Celestino \ Photo: Mattia Balsamini

A floor with a curved brown and black patterned design next to a textured brown wall with vertical grooves.

Araldica Corte Tiles by Cristina Celestino \ Photo: Mattia Balsamini

Geometric tile floor with interlocking circular and rectangular brown and white marble patterns.

Araldica Corte Tiles by Cristina Celestino \ Photo: Mattia Balsamini

A large, dark wooden door is centered under an arched entrance, flanked by columns. Decorative patterned elements frame the image. Earth-toned building exteriors and a cobblestone pathway are visible.

Araldica Corte Tiles by Cristina Celestino \ Photo: Mattia Balsamini

Brick wall with a geometric pattern doorway, alternating between red and white bricks. In the background, a patterned brick wall and a small stone marker on cobblestone ground are visible.

Araldica Ducato Tiles by Cristina Celestino \ Photo Mattia Balsamini

A long, vaulted corridor with brick arches and geometric patterns on the foreground columns. A hanging lamp is centered in the passageway.

Araldica Ducato Tiles by Cristina Celestino \ Photo Mattia Balsamini

Celestino takes a different approach for Fluviale, with its offerings Alveo, Plain, and Golena. Like serif typefaces capturing the physicality of carving glyphs into stone, so too does this collection echo human motion – here embodying brushstrokes. Striking a balance between similarity and subtle difference, each tile becomes a gesture for a greater body of movement. The variations take inspiration from the plant world beneath rippling waters, flora along riverbanks, and earth whipped into shape by the tides. Embrace entropy or intervene for compositions that range from organic to accurate.

A room with four geometric, tile-covered furniture pieces in green and beige hues, arranged on a smooth floor. Dried pampas grass in a vase is placed among them. Soft light illuminates the setting.

Fluviale Collection Golena, Plain, and Alveo by Cristina Celestino \ Photo: Mattia Balsamini

Rectangular tiles with a geometric pattern in beige and brown tones cover a wall. In the foreground, an arrangement of two orange flowers in a rectangular vase made of similar tile material.

Fluviale Alveo by Cristina Celestino \ Photo: Mattia Balsamini

A minimalist room with a wooden table and a plant in a cylindrical pot. The wall features textured tiles in shades of green and beige, creating a serene atmosphere.

Fluviale Plain by Cristina Celestino \ Photo: Mattia Balsamini

A ceramic vase with thistle flowers sits on a hollow block in front of a beige and tan tiled wall. A shallow circular dish is visible on the right.

Fluviale Golena Tiles by Cristina Celestino \ Mattia Balsamini

A wooden table holds a vase with two flowers in front of a green geometric tiled wall.

Fluviale Golena by Cristina Celestino \ Photo: Mattia Balsamini

A geometric cube-shaped table with a green, mosaic pattern sits on a floor. Nearby, there is a tall, cylindrical vase with dried pampas grass against a brown, textured fabric backdrop.

Fluviale Golena Tiles by Cristina Celestino \ Mattia Balsamini

A woman sits on a wooden bench against a tiled background, wearing a red long-sleeve top, light pants, and black shoes. Her right hand is raised to her mouth while her left arm rests on the bench.

Cristina Celestino \ Photo: Mattia Balsamini

To learn more about their heritage of tile, visit fornacebrioni.it.

Photography by Mattia Balsamini and Piercarlo Quecchia as noted.

With professional degrees in architecture and journalism, Joseph has a desire to make living beautifully accessible. His work seeks to enrich the lives of others with visual communication and storytelling through design. Previously a regular contributor to titles under the SANDOW Design Group, including Luxe and Metropolis, Joseph now serves the Design Milk team as their Managing Editor. When not practicing, he teaches visual communication, theory, and design. The New York-based writer has also contributed to exhibitions hosted by the AIA New York’s Center for Architecture and Architectural Digest, and recently published essays and collage illustrations with Proseterity, a literary publication.

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