With over 250 stores under his belt – including retail environments for Prada, Lexus and Vince Camuto – the Italian-born, Brooklyn-based designer and practice principle Sergio Mannino knows what makes for successful design. Having trained under Alessi designer Remo Buti and Memphis maven Ettore Sottsass, Mannino's aesthetic fuses an Italian sensibility with a contemporary flair. Wallpaper* spoke to Mannino – who recently designed a limited edition series of lamps influenced by artist John McCracken – about his childhood in Italy, his design philosophy and his approach to interiors.

Wallpaper*: You're Italian, so you were exposed to design at an early age. What were some of the first things you noticed about it?
Sergio Mannino: Design in Italy is something you grow up with because you're always surrounded by an amazing piece of [it]: Achille Castiglioni, all the designers from after the war – those pieces are in every house. You can watch shows on a Zanuso television as a kid, and my bed was designed by Marcel Breuer. We were surrounded by objects of amazing quality and beauty, but they were the norm.

What is your design philosophy?
I would say my design is always Mediterranean. It's playful, it's fun. It has to do with the way we live now. Whatever I design, I always think about the way people live and interact in today's world – I'm not interested in replicating the past. Every time we design we try as much as we can to do something that never has been done before. We try always to push an envelope.

What is your approach to interiors?
In the office, the main job is retail environments. That's very analytical in a way – we look at clients, we look at their brands, we're very focused on making sure the product works. Their interiors have to be extremely successful, so we have to make sure that we improve their brand. There are projects that I do, like the McCracken project, that I do almost exclusively for my own self, there is not directly a client. I do it because there are things I want to say. We always push this idea of function – especially in the USA, people are obsessed with function at all costs. Function is only one part. Beauty is another function as well; an object that is not beautiful, is not functional in my book.

What are your favorite places to source items?
[They're] mostly European. One of my favorites, Cappellini, has an amazing collection of pieces like [Shiro] Kuramata. An American company that we specify a lot is Blu Dot; it's inexpensive, but it has an amazing design quality to it. Moooi, Flos... the lamps are developed to absolute perfection. There's nothing wrong with any detail.