Tiles are generally the bottom feeders in the design world, standing on the very last rung in a long rank of product that deserves the attention of the world’s top architects and industrial designers. An exception to this rule is the Italian ceramic maker Mutina who in the span of just ten years has attracted a kilowatt-like clan of designers into its roster, including Patricia Urquiola, Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, and Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby.  

'We started with Patricia in 2008,' says Mutina CEO Massimo Orsini. 'It took forever to even get an appointment with her, but then she got it immediately. Now she and the other designers realise that we do things differently; we bring design to ceramics.'  

The latest to be lured into this promise is Konstantin Grcic. Though the German designer is famed for his chairs, lights and furnishings, he’d never designed ceramics before. 'It’s a completely new world,' he said by phone from Fiorano, where Mutina was celebrating their 10th anniversary with an exhibit in their Angelo Mangiarotti-designed industrial headquarters. 'I’m very much a product designers. I never work on architectural elements — the walls and floors are always a given. So there was something very elementary but also very radical about tiles.'

Grcic cut squared tiles of 30x30cm and 60x60cm that each feature a different, partially glazed geometric form on the surface that creates a half raw, half finely glossed effect. The tiles come in six different earthy tones.     

'80 per cent of production of ceramics today are made from fake wood, or fake stone and it’s extremely annoying,' adds Ronan Bouroullec, who together with his brother Erwan also presented a new collection for Mutina, their second for the company. 'But now Mutina has entered in this field with a new direction, great quality and they’re such a big success.' 

Entitled 'Rombini', the Bouroullec brother’s tiles required two years of research and are composed of three models: tiles, mosaics and relief elements that can all be used together to create unusual surfaces. 

'The [Bouroullec’s designs] are very particular, but they follow their wonderful poetry, while Grcic’s are very rigorous and geometric,' Orsini remarks of the new collections.  'All of our work involves techniques that are never used anymore. The degree of difficulty is very high,but that’s also what makes us unique.'