Massimo OrsiniOn the tiles with Mutina’s CEO.

Massimo OrsiniOn the tiles with Mutina’s CEO.

“Tile production has always been treated in a very classical way. I wanted to do things differently.”

Born into a family of ceramists in the northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna, Massimo Orsini started handling clay as a child. In the early 2000s, he acquired Mutina—a once-traditional tile factory housed in a 1970s Angelo Mangiarotti–designed building on the outskirts of Modena. From making tiles consisting of thousands of hand-arranged mosaic pieces to designing 3-D terra-cotta bricks that double as room dividers, Mutina has quickly established a niche for itself at the intersection of contemporary art and interior design. It’s a passion that Orsini extends to his own life; he has a vast art collection, much of which he exhibits in a gallerylike setting at Mutina HQ. “When I look at art, I’m always looking for a specific aesthetic,” Orsini explains. “I apply the same thought process at work when designing tiles, to understand how we can tell a story.”

In 2005, you decided to purchase a struggling tile factory. How did you imagine its future?
Mutina was born from the need to change perspectives on the world of ceramics. In Italy, their production has always been treated in a very classical way; often tile makers are using ceramics merely to copy other materials, such as marble or wood. I wanted to do things differently.

One of the things you’re doing differently is bringing in designers from outside the world of ceramics to work on your collections. Why?
I’m from Sassuolo, a small town in Emilia-Romagna, but I’ve been lucky enough to be able to travel and meet people who inspired me to question the certainties of the small community I come from. It’s led me to develop a strong curiosity about all things contemporary, and a general attraction to the outlook of artists and designers. I wanted to have a dialogue with them, to learn more about their point of view, and eventually bring it all to the world of ceramics and tiles. The whole project started as a dialogue between artists about what contemporary design really means.

You’ve collaborated with everyone from Spanish architect Patricia Urquiola to the Japanese designer Tokujin Yoshioka. Do different collaborations unfold in equally different ways?
It’s important for us to work with a group of people who can bring different perspectives. We didn’t start Mutina just to sell tiles, but to create something interesting, beautiful and different. So far, we’ve collaborated with Japanese, German, French and Spanish designers. Working with such important designers is exciting because they’re curious. The work that comes out of collaborations like that will stand the test of time.

What’s the longest it’s taken to design a new tile?
Perhaps when we worked with Tokujin Yoshioka, who suggested the production of an extremely tiny mosaic. It required us to completely revolutionize our machinery.

As well as collaborating with artists in your day job at Mutina, you also collect art at home. Are you guided by the same interests in both spheres?
I’ve always been inspired by minimalism in the visual arts. I like artists like Donald Judd and photographers like Luigi Ghirri, who comes from the same area as I do. In terms of the designers we work with, I admire those who spend loads of their time researching, such as Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec. Our collaboration with them took quite some time, but the end product is timeless and beautifully designed.

What made you decide to exhibit your personal art collection at the office?
I like to keep my mind trained by researching artists from around the world, even if they’re not strictly connected to ceramics. Mutina for Art is a way of doing that. At the moment, we’ve got an exhibition called Surface Matters, and it showcases photographs from my own collection. We decided to do things a little differently—hanging the photos not on traditional white surfaces, but on walls clad with our very own collections of tiles. I’m very proud of it.

This feature was produced in partnership with Mutina.

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