Girandolo, the natural highchair by Stefania Omodeo

Stefania, where did you get the idea of Girandolo?

I designer Girandolo for my daughter Sofia, for a specific need in my family. We lived in very small house and I had a traditional highchair. It was bulky, so I started thinking that it would have been interesting to use it in different moments of the day and for many functions. With small kids, you have always to give them something to play with and my daughter kept on taking her toys from her room to the kitchen. So I decided to build a “common” object all for herself, which could be used to eat at lunch but also to draw, sit and rock on.

Its shape is very original, how did you come to that?

I was inspired by a toy I saw at some friends’ place: a little bench which, turned upside down, became a rocking chair. I thought that turning it also in a highchair, it could satisfy many primary needs. My idea was to design an object with a specific function, but which could be also “other” from that when you need it to. A little electric Ducati toy can hardly become a ship, a theater, a counter…

How did you choose Girandolo’s materials?

I always thought Girandolo as made in wood. I think that giving our kids natural materials is a good thing. Wood, unlike plastic, is alive: it evolves over time, changes its color, has its own smell, keeps all the signs of what we used it for.

The very first Girandolo was made in solid poplar wood. When I decided to make it in series, I started looking for a way to cut costs still using solid wood and so I found a sawmill selling sheets of solid poplar wood assembled with formaldehyde-free glue. It’s not the white grainless poplar we’re getting used to see, but our grandfathers’ poplar: a bright wood with grain of a great beauty.

Why poplar?

I needed a light wood, for safety reasons. I wanted also to use local wood, to limit materials shipping and to get a short production chain, and I was looking for a low-cost material to make affordable prices, something that was very important to me. There was no better choice than a tree called Populus. And it’s the same wood chosen by Leonardo to paint the Gioconda!

Tell us some technical details about Girandolo…

Girandolo is CNC-cut directly in the sawmill and then hand-finished. I take personally care of the finishing, packaging and shipping process and, of course, of communication and promotion. In this way I can keep selling prices low, even if of course it’s not possibile to keep them at the same level of corporations like IKEA which, thanks to manufacturing delocalization, have labor costs that are… different. I use only Solas paints, made in Italy only with vegetal and mineral raw materials.

To make assembling and spare parts replacements easier, all internal components are two-by-two identical (two square shelves, two flat splints, two pegs) and fixing elements are positioned so that they are interchangeable. A flat packaging lets me cut occupied space by 80%, with big savings on packaging, shipping and storage costs.

After the first Girandolo, when did you start your production?

I made my daughter’s Girandolo in 2001. I decided to start a production only ten years later, after I made some improvements and many safety tests. The first official launch was organized in December 2011, at Waldorf School in MilanoA few months later we were at FUORISALONE and and FaLaCosaGiusta in Milano, then in many other events: PITTI Bimbo in FirenzeSANA in Bologna; OPERAE and PARATISSIMA in Torino. And then in the innovative design section of Kind + Jugend in Koln, Germany: the most important international fair for kids.

What’s your background?

I studied “wood art” at the Art Institute of Acqui Terme, where every week I worked ten hours in a woordworking laboratory whose teacher was an excellent woodworker who passed down to me his passion and expertise. Then I studied at Scuola Politecnica of Design in Milano, a big chance to meet great experts from whom I learned the importance of formal and meaning research and the value of simplicity.

I’m not interested in projects based on originality in itself. I start designing when I feel an urgency, when I feel that’s missing something collectivity might need. Not when a need is created by smart marketing activities!

How were Giretti born?

From the scraps of Girandolo. A single crooked cut, four holes, and a scrap becomes a Giretto Viaggiante (the name is inspired by Munari’s Sculture da viaggio) to be smoothed, assembled, nailed, transformed…

Giretti, shipped with their sanding kit, glue and wheels, were created to challenge grownups and kids to build things by themselves, having fun. To make materials their own again, to free that creativity we all have. Now I’m working on Giretti Aiutanti, but we’ll talk about it another time.

Tells us about the GIRandArt project…

I think that Girandolo is apt to be decorated. When I understood that I would have never had the time to do by myself, I offered it to friends who are painters, illustrators, graphic artists. Results were very interesting, so I decided to create little exhibits of “Girandoli by artists” and that’s the GIRandART project. For the future, I’d like to create a store completely dedicated to the works they made and to extend the project to other artists.

That’s not the only self-produced design project you promoted in the last months: tell us about the Temporary Shop you organized in Asti.

Last May, in Asti we created Officina Nomade, a project involving designers, artisans and artists, all self-producers. The owners of several shops which have been closed for a long time – a sad and more and more common sight, in Italy – offered us their spaces for one month and for free. We set up those spaces with our self-produced objects and combined the exhibit with a series of laboratories on manual activities for kids and grownups, coordinated by the Makers themselves. We worked with wool, cotton, wood, clay…

Was it a positive experience?

It was a vey stimulating experience we’d like to replicate also in other cities. I think that this kind of projects are necessary to widen the network of people involved in self-production and to stimulate new models of economic and social development. And then there’s the real chance to give new life to old city centers with cultural and creative projects. We can do that, but we must not break up and we have to keep on working together.

Anna D’Amico

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