Jul 31, 2023
At Home With Designer Francesco Meda
On one of the hottest days of the summer, award-winning designer Francesco Meda is hobbling around his modernist furnishings and vibrant decor on one good foot, preparing for a photo shoot. He
On one of the hottest days of the summer, award-winning designer Francesco Meda is hobbling around his modernist furnishings and vibrant decor on one good foot, preparing for a photo shoot. He sprained the other one on a ski trip in Alaska, and one can’t help but feel bad for him as he zigzags around the house placing sculptures and mementos neatly in place and urges his daughter to pick up after herself.
He stops for a minute, regains his balance on an iconic steel and fur Nanda Vigo Due Piu’ chair for Acerbis, and takes out his phone to share where and how he scooped up for a bargain the red Midway Garden Chair created by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1914 that was redesigned by Cassina in 1986.
If one is lucky enough to get invited to this color burst of a home, it’s a great place to soak in past, present and future icons of the contemporary design scene — from the Piero Fornasetti wall lamp to the black-and-white photo given to his wife, Alessandra Orsi, as a present from French American photographer Elliott Erwitt in 2012. There is also a bounty of works by artists he is eager to introduce — the painting by Flaminia Veronesi, whose “The Hermitcrab’s Wundershell” exhibit was recently hosted by Marni, and “Palms on Rolling Paper” by another friend in their milieu, Margherita Chiarva.
Meda also is quick to say that he doesn’t think a home should ever look like a showroom and that the house is very much a reflection of the family’s history, their creative roots, and his many travels with Orsi for special projects.
For instance, a three-year project led them to Guadalajara, Mexico, where he spent 10 days every six months designing a furniture brand. Taking the job wasn’t necessary for economic gain but afforded them the rare opportunity to immerse themselves in the local artisans in abundance such as metalsmiths and carpenters, ceramicists, glass-makers and weavers. It was there they discovered the brand Ceramica Sura, a tile factory, pottery studio and artistic hub that attracts tastemakers from all over the world.
Their house, which greets guests with a long hallway that connects to the kitchen and opens up into the living room, has been cut “like a labyrinth” out an old family palazzo where more than four generations of the Orsi family have lived and raised children and has been divided to accommodate the new generation and their growing families.
The Orsi family is best known for their reputation as high-end antique dealers. The couple’s own family unit spreads over two floors — one for the grown-ups on top and the bottom floor for his two daughters. Peeking down into the verdant courtyard garden below, it’s hard not to imagine how many special events have taken place over the past two centuries or if there are any ghosts wandering its halls.
“None that I know of,” Meda chuckles, though a few mysteries remain, like the lone Gothic window in the bathroom, at which he shrugs his shoulders. “I actually have no idea how that came to be.”
A trained industrial designer, his own creations come to life in the home. The subtle, ultra light Bridge lamp he designed for Foscarini; the Seconda chair by Mario Botta for Alias (which he and Spanish architect David Lopez Quincoces re-edited for Alias), and his Split Table in “cipollino marble” are a few models he designed under his own name in 2016. Sitting atop the dining table are the eclectic VarioPinto vases he envisaged with his father, renowned designer and academic Alberto, with whom he often works. Nearby, a metallic column lamp also by his father, called Tibibi, lights the dining room that draws guests toward a lithograph of Andy Warhol’s “Flowers” from 1964.
“Making design products all the time often leads to me bringing prototypes inside the house to see how it would work inside a real home environment,” he says, pointing to a bench, a coffee table and an abstract stool he made that never went into production.
Elsewhere, just the right amount of antiques — from the chinoiserie depiction painted circa 1880 from Orsi’s grandfather, a well-known Milanese antique dealer; the Piero Castellini Baldassera cabinet and the canopy bed swathed in transparent fabric, in the master bedroom, which is painted in okra yellow — serve as elements of a maharajah, “Passage to India” theme. The 1956 Ignazio Gardella Arenzano table lamp was once a fixture in Orsi’s grandparents’ house and the porcelain Ming vases from the 1600s bought on auction are among the pieces that imbue a sense of coziness into the curated rooms.
Downstairs, the Hub System shelf Meda and his father designed for Alias in 2022 is filled with books and lively drawings by Palma, his younger daughter, who just turned five (her name results from her mother’s obsession with palms). Testament to that, one of Alessandra’s most prized possessions is a life-size palm sculpture gifted to her by her father. A natural aesthete, she works as a fashion consultant, in addition to running Dalwin Design, for which she hand-paints motifs with watercolors applied on different surfaces like textiles and porcelain.
The girls’ rooms are awash in hand-painted stripes, the bedding in Pierre Frey animal print fabric. “The use of color is innate to both our cultures,” comments Meda, pointing to the walls painted an irreplaceable red, mixed with pigments the two found on one of their adventures that led them to a souk in Marrakech, Morocco.
A relatively young designer on the Italian circuit, with a breadth of projects spanning some of the nation’s biggest brands, his vision and appreciation for the past resulted in his being appointed creative director of the Acerbis brand in 2020, along with the Spanish designer Lopez Quincoces.
Born in 1984, Meda studied industrial design at the IED in Milan before working for Sebastian Bergne and Ross Lovegrove in London for two years and explored art/design with other companies and galleries, such as Nilufar and Rossana Orlandi, Mint and the Schoeni Art Gallery in Hong Kong. His collection, Orme Cinesi, was shown at Lane Crawford in Hong Kong, and later at the Schoeni Art Gallery in 2012-13 during the Hong Kong Art Fair.
He and his father designed the Flap acoustic panel for Caimi Brevetti, for which they won the 2015 German Design Award, the Design Europa Award and the 2016 Compasso d’Oro. Meda was also the recipient of the 2019 Wallpaper Design Award for his ash chair Woody for Molteni & C.
Among several debuts during Design Week in Milan in April, Meda conceived a capsule collection that resulted in a series of chairs, sideboards, tables, coffee tables and consoles by C Design, a start-up of furnishings and accessories made in a partnership with Florentine furnishings-maker Chelini and sold exclusively at Galleria Rossana Orlandi.
“It’s all about my ideal home. Materials are basic but not cheap in any way. We wanted to do something light that constructs a color world that makes you want to stay,” says Meda, who often works with a mix of materials like wood, metal and lava stones with luxe finishes. Lava from Mount Vesuvius near Naples is the basis of an upcoming project that will unfurl at Edit, a three-day contemporary design fair that will kick off in Naples on Oct. 6.
Looking toward the future, Francesco says he hopes he has time to focus on a more artisanal path rather than an industrial one. The industry is changing, and it isn’t uncommon for designers like him to transition to working as an art director, which would afford him the opportunity to work with photographers, consultants and the exchange is more 360 degrees.
He says this sort of transition happens more in the fashion world, where someone like Pharrell Williams can rise to the role of creative director of menswear at a major luxury house like Louis Vuitton. “I was born into this fluid world of design, but I think when two common worlds meet with the right pilot directing — that moment has the potential to endure as something historical.”
Sign up for WWD news straight to your inbox every day