Porcelain Handles: 8 great designers for a legendary collection

Pamar Porcelain is the work of an extraordinary team of industrial design artists.

There are materials that are timeless, which cross the centuries and maintain their elegance and charm both in terms of aesthetics and function. This is the case of porcelain, an ancient material, harmless for the environment and of humble origin, but ennobled by the many applications for which it has been used and continues to be used today. Pamar’s encounter with porcelain is one of those milestones that makes its mark in the story of a company, as it led to the creation of a highly prestigious collection of handles and knobs.

It all started with a … coffee maker!

In 2008, the company’s artistic manager at Renate was Gordon Guillaumier, always on the lookout for new and interesting ideas. Among his connections, there was another great designer, George Sowden, who was travelling back and forth to China, not in search of cheap labour but, contrary to the manufacturing trend of that time, to work with an important product from the country. It involved the production of porcelain, in which China has a very ancient tradition. Sowden was working on creating a porcelain coffee pot and wanted the best production know-how, as in China’s, to support his design.

An entire collection of porcelain handles.

The idea to produce an entire collection of handles and knobs in porcelain came to Pamar precisely from the inspiration that Sowden brought through Gordon Guillaumier. The company’s choice was once again a courageous one: to use the most traditional method of porcelain production in a modernistic way. A challenge full of pitfalls due to the many, different processes that created multiple difficulties in mass production, from managing how to control deformation and the degree of material contraction, due to high firing temperatures, to resistance tests for each and every piece.

A veritable challenge from a production point of view, especially when combined with high aesthetic expectations. The goal was to defy the design difficulties and to continue to push the material as far as it would go, creating new forms, with a balance between function and aesthetics.

Who designed ‘PAMAR PORCELAIN’.

To meet this challenge, Pamar called together eight of the most important figures on the international design scene: Gordon Guillaumier, a Maltese, was joined by the Swede Bjorn Dahlstrom, French Natalie Du Pasquier and Pierre Charpin, British James Irvine and Jasper Morrison George J. Sowden and Italian Rodolfo Dordoni. This extraordinary team designed one hundred and forty pieces, in sixteen product families with forms that were resistant over time, but also more elaborate, decorated in an artistic way. They are objects that go beyond their functional use becoming distinctive symbols, almost poetic, on the surface to which they are applied.

The project was highly complex, and even the simplest of shapes proved to be most difficult to create. George Sowden’s role as troubleshooter was a crucial one, his ability to manage the many problems of production in China and to preserve the artisanal character of such particular workmanship, that industrial design put at their disposal.

The Memphis Group’s influence in product design.

Among the Designers who participated in the invention of PAMAR PORCELAIN there is also the influence of Memphis Design (1981-1987), a group of designers and architects established by Ettore Sottsass. This group was known for their daring projects, their powerful resource of bold colors, geometric shapes and their masterly revival of kitsch. The principal design goal of the Memphis Group was to retaliate against the highly minimalist design style of the seventies, considered to be characterless.

At Memphis there were, among others, architects and designers such as Alessandro Mendini, Andrea Branzi, Michael Graves, Hans Hollein, Arata Isozaki, Shiro Kuramata, Javier Mariscal and also Nathalie du Pasquier and George Sowden, two of the designers who contributed to PAMAR PORCELAIN.

As in the eighties the impediment of minimalism caused the Memphis Group followers to rebel against the so-called ‘good design’ of the time, in this way the situation of the European market aroused in Pamar the willpower, and the urge, to go against the tide. The company invested in an unusual, difficult material, namely porcelain, and a collection produced by China’s great masters.

A modern collection to this day. 

The collection took a year and a half of work and investment. It was presented during the Milan Design Week in 2010, in the exclusive location of Palazzo Crivelli, at a time when the public was accustomed to conventional forms. Over the years it has not been overworked by the market and remains current to this day.

The collection was featured in the ADI INDEX 2011, in the ‘Design for living’ section, the international reference publication for the furnishing sector. ADI INDEX writes: “The collection is the result of a happy institution: bringing back porcelain as a material for furniture handles, as was the tradition in the past, and combining it with modern forms of design. The products created are numerous and very different in nature: no longer, and not only, simple knobs, but forms full of architectonic appeal, others more similar to jewels, yet others covered with graphic and tactile effects waiting to be explored. “

Parma’s courage to innovate was also recognised as an important sign of quality, and led to their pre-selection for the XXIII edition of the ‘GOLDEN COMPASS’ competition, in 2014.

Marco Redaelli, the company’s president, added: ” PAMAR have made research and experimentation a distinctive feature of their history, putting great design dynamism at the heart of what they do.”