Norwegian designer Lars Beller Fjetland was not entirely convinced when we approached him about contributing to this year’s love-themed Handmade exhibition. ‘You encounter so many love-related clichés while digesting your daily dose of media,’ he says. ‘It is a word many associate with ads for life insurance, fizzy drinks and even cat food, so you can easily argue that it has lost some of its potency and magic.’

Luckily, our floundering courtship righted itself as Fjetland decided to rise to the challenge and began ‘looking for something real and untainted’. While researching wedding rituals, he stumbled upon a pair of ducks, a romantic token given to couples during traditional wedding ceremonies in Korea. Mandarin ducks, Fjetland explains, are believed to mate for life, and to Koreans they represent peace, fidelity and offspring. ‘I felt these ducks evoked feelings of joy, passion and realness,’ he says. The natural world, fauna in particular, has been a recurring element in Fjetland’s work – such as the Turned collection he designed for Hem, a series of stylised bird figurines made with leftover wood. ‘I’ve always been fascinated by animals that live in monogamous lifelong partnership,’ he says. ‘It seems like a man-made construct, but there are several species that live this way.’

Lars Beller Fjetland and Amaranth bird
Left, designer Lars Beller Fjetland checks work in progress. Right, a Bottega Ghianda craftsman carves and polishes a duck’s pale maple wood details. Photography: Alessandro Sorci

True to Wallpaper’s role as a catalyst for design and craft unions, we enlisted legendary Italian workshop Bottega Ghianda to bring Fjetland’s idea to life. Founded in 1889 as a small parquet-flooring workshop, it developed into a producer of objects and furniture, working with designers such as Gio Ponti and Gae Aulenti. Entrepreneur Romeo Sozzi (of Italian furniture brand Promemoria) took over the company in 2015, intent on preserving that incredible legacy and making it a brand fit for the future.

Fjetland was impressed: ‘The capabilities and the accumulated knowledge shared between Bottega Ghianda and Promemoria is beyond anything I have witnessed; everything is done with incredible attention to detail.’ Visiting the wood workshop for the first time, he adds, ‘was one of these rare occasions when reality exceeds your expectations’.

Bottega Ghianda craftsman at work
Left, the craftsman refines the curves. Right, he smoothes the base. Photography: Alessandro Sorci

The admiration was mutual. ‘We liked each other at first sight, it was a happy encounter,’ says Sozzi. ‘Lars has an incredible creativity, and a lot of experience with wood, a material he loves as much as I do. At the same time, he is very professional and has a watchmaker’s kind of attention to detail.’ Sozzi immediately warmed to Fjetland’s idea for the ducks, which were developed by the workshop’s craftsmen using traditional techniques. The pair chose European maple and South American amaranth as the perfect materials for the project. The latter, a wood rarely employed by the furniture industry, was often used by Pierluigi Ghianda in the 1950s, and it instantly attracted Fjetland and Sozzi. ‘The wood’s reddish hue changes over time, becoming purple,’ explains Sozzi. ‘I liked the idea of this material representing how the love of a couple transforms with time.’ Fjetland notes how the Greek word ‘amarantos’ translates to ‘immortal and unfading’, a fitting message for a project celebrating everlasting love.

Each bird features a secret compartment (‘It was Romeo’s idea and I thought it was quite brilliant,’ says Fjetland) and contrasting wooden accents. The minimal forms were achieved through dedicated work from the artisans. ‘We had never worked on animal shapes,’ says Sozzi. ‘With this project, Lars brought Bottega Ghianda towards new, unexplored territories.’ For his part, Fjetland was surprised by the workshop’s ‘everything is possible’ attitude. ‘I’m so used to dealing with restrictions and limitations related to manufacturing time, budget and materials, and to be completely free was actually a little bit overwhelming to begin with,’ he says. ‘However, this was rather quickly replaced by an almost childlike desire to create, explore and play.’

Amaranth ducks construction in progress
Ducks in progress amid an array of tools at the Bottega Ghianda workshop. Photography: Alessandro Sorci

The collaboration was so successful that Sozzi and Fjetland decided to work together on other projects, the first of which was launched at the same time as the Handmade exhibition, during Milan Design Week this year. ‘It was a pleasant surprise,’ says Sozzi. ‘As the Italian artist Bruno Munari said: “Da cosa nasce cosa” – out of one thing comes another.’ §

As originally featured in the August 2019 issue of Wallpaper* (W*245)