The “hic et nunc” approach
“Our society has an often unconscious need to surround itself with beauty. We believe in a rediscovery of the applied arts, those age-old or ultra-modern forms of expression that coexist with design to generate harmony, wonder and well-being”.
Luca De Bona and Dario De Meo’s professional and personal paths crossed somewhere between Milan and the Veneto region. After founding the practice Debonademeo in Padua and Milan in 2013, they began working on interior design, art direction, concept design and product development projects in partnership with major brands in the fields of furnishing, lighting and decoration. While continuing to teach at schools and universities, their collaboration has led them to develop an innovative approach to projects that spans architecture, design and graphics.
For Debonademeo, being designers above all means conducting continuous research, identifying where the limits are and then attempting to go beyond them into uncharted territory. It means striving to innovate and experiment constantly with the aim of combining the benefits of mass production with the quality of artisanal processes.
Using this method, they have developed numerous wallpaper collections for Wall&decò based on graphic processing of photographic images. Their collaboration with Karman has resulted in the design of a series of lighting systems, including the pendant lamps Leda (in various shapes) and Gonzaga; the R.O.M.A. ceiling lamp and the Sibilla pendant lamp, the former made of plaster and the latter of metal; Notredame, a cultured marble wall lamp; and the Nando series of metal pendant and wall lamps. For Medulum they created Loggia, a line of fabric armchairs; Prospecto, a wooden sideboard and cupboard with hinged doors; and Palafitte, a line of walnut tables and open bookcases. For Cizeta they designed the Tenues seating collection consisting of an armchair and stool (in leather and fabric versions) and for Borzalino the Ayton sofa collection in the modular corner versions made of fabric with leather upholstery. In 2021, the Hammock armchair produced in collaboration with Adrenalina won the furniture category of the Archiproducts Design Awards. Again for Adrenalina, where they also work as art directors, in 2023 they created the Passepartout collection, a kaleidoscopic system of modular chairs and accessories that allow for unlimited combinations. And recently for Incalmi, Debonademeo presented the new Ossimori project: a family of modular furnishing accessories that combine traditional craftsmanship and innovation and stand out for their use of contrasting materials at a sensorial and perceptive level.
Architect Luca and designer Dario. Milan and Veneto. How did your collaboration begin? Is the idea of a journey part of your design vision?
Rather than friends who became co-workers, our collaboration started out the other way around. We met by chance through a mutual contact and began working together on a project as a matter of operational necessity. We thought our different skills would add value to our ideas, but we discovered we shared a spontaneous stream of thought and perfectly overlapping roles. If someone asks us which of the two is the creative and which the technician, we’re simply unable to answer.
We were both originally from the Veneto region, but met in Milan where we both studied and began working at professional studios. Over the years, we have travelled so much between Padua and Milan that it has almost become a single location connected by a train journey or car ride. These journeys across Italy and beyond have become the true creative phase for us, an opportunity to speak freely and make decisions inspired by the experience of travelling, by the shifting landscapes, by encounters.
You work in many different fields ranging from brand identity to art direction and product design. How do you approach these very different scales?
A few years ago a famous theorist and curator wrote that our design method was a representation of the “hic et nunc”, the here and now. Over time, we realised that this Latin phrase perfectly sums up our design approach, which involves visiting companies, listening to stakeholders, looking around, getting hands-on experience of the production chain, exploring history and analysing future projections and society’s needs, and then instilling our own design language that draws from various forms of art and travel to tell stories and stir emotions.
For us, designing means laying the foundations to construct tangible and universal meanings on different scales, whether this is an object or an art direction project.
You claim you want to “transcend the dualism of form and function by adding expressive value”. What do you mean by this exactly? How is it manifested in your work?
We believe that contemporary design no longer needs to market products that perform various functions in users’ daily lives. At the same time, we are wary of the kind of auteur design that is very much in vogue today and takes the form of self-referential expression aimed at creating artistic objects that are far removed from reality. We also steer clear of so-called design that exploits fashions and often results in unsustainable production processes.
Our aim is to create products that are functional while stirring emotions, whose aesthetic value lies in the harmony of form and material, in the balance between tradition and innovation, ecology and technology.
What role do you think decoration and ornamentation should play in interior design today?
Where there is beauty, there is good. Our society has an often unconscious need to surround itself with beauty. We believe in a rediscovery of the applied arts, those age-old or ultra-modern forms of expression that coexist with design to generate harmony, wonder and well-being.
Do you use ceramic materials in your projects? Have you ever designed decorations for ceramics?
Ceramic is a material we are very familiar with. The Nove ceramic cluster is located close to Padua and we often visit. We also worked as art directors of a sector company for a number of years, providing support through the generational changeover that also coincided with a stylistic transition.
Another fascinating experience was designing a tile collection with natural stone inlay.
What are your projects for the future?
We are already working on new proposals for 2024 in a variety of fields. One of these has involved designing a new kitchen concept for a historic company in the industry that wanted to innovate its methods and processes. Summer is a time for research, travel and thinking. Upcoming appointments include the Inout trade fair in Rimini where we have been commissioned to design the mock-up of a utopian hotel room, and Edit Napoli where we will present the latest results of a research project into materials, colours and perceptions called Ossimori which we are carrying out in collaboration with Incalmi.