Elli Design blurs the line between traditional craft and future-thinking sustainable furniture
Manufacturing its collection of contemporary furniture through a seamless collaboration between designers, artisans and robots, Elli Design is on a mission to link the past of Italian design to its sustainable, innovative future.
“Made in Italy shouldn’t be limited to the machines or tools being used,” says Elli Design founder Alessio Elli.
He started his namesake brand in 2014 on a mission to find the perfect balance between fine Italian craftsmanship and technological innovation.
“It embodies a number of concepts that are not limited to the machines or tools used like taste, vision, style, the ability to anticipate the times and dictate new trends and new territories to explore.”
Inspired by material research and a passion for experimentation, Elli uses the past as a motor power towards innovation, which he says imbues his collection with the essence of Made in Italy.
Each piece represents a journey through high-quality Italian manufacturing, which begins in the historic design district of northern Italy and moves towards Emilian pottery and Tuscan marbles to finally reach Sicily with its prized lava stone.
“Research on materials is fundamental for us, not only in terms of technical and aesthetic qualities, but also in terms of their environmental impact,” says Elli.
“Whenever we consider a material for our products, we ask ourselves where it comes from, if it has been recycled, if it can be repaired, how long it can last and if it is recoverable at the end of the product’s existence. In short, we always think from a circular economy perspective.”
Each Elli design is a depiction of this mission and representative of the brand’s research and experimentation, as can be seen in pieces like The Soho chair whose seat is made of polypropylene with recycled additive glass microfibers, a resistant and durable material but at the same time with a soft and velvety perception.
Meanwhile, other objects within the collection speak more to Elli’s ability to imagine instant-icons.
Take the Achille side table for example, which combines traditional and innovative materials with a design that pays tribute to the great Italian designer after which it is named.
The eye-catching base is made of canaletto walnut and has a sculptural silhouette with a single tapered leg inserted in a diagonally cut globe.
Meanwhile, the round top is of FENIX NTM®, a nanotech material with a matte black finish that combines an elegant aesthetic with technological performance.
“At Elli, we are reinventing the way of conceiving and producing a piece of furniture taking into account its entire life cycle—from the raw material to its recovery,” Elli explains of the sustainable manufacturing, which lies at the core of Elli’s DNA.
Their challenge is reshaping the current design procedure, combining Italian tradition and excellence with sustainable technology.
Integral to their success is a collaboration with Italian manufacturing company Caracol and its robotic large-scale additive manufacturing (AM) process, which informs the brand’s research & development phase and forms the foundations of its production capacity.
Otherwise known as 3D-printing, additive manufacturing describes the process of creating an object by building it one layer at a time.
It represents a more sustainable means of production, which eliminates the use of excess material whilst giving vent to the same attention to detail, refinement, offering new aesthetics, in terms of visuals and tactility.
It also creates potential when it comes to generative design in terms of part optimization compared to traditional manufacturing methods.
In addition, a 3D printer enables on-demand manufacturing, which saves time and eliminates the need for long transport routes and storage areas, consequently reducing CO2 footprints.
“Additive Manufacturing solves the problem of waste and scraps that are generated during production,” says Elli.
“It significantly reduces harmful emissions thanks to the containment of the intermediate processing phases (pre and post production) and it enhances waste as it becomes a new raw material through the upcycling process. In short, the advantages and positive externalities are many.”
With a completely digitalized and integrated workflow, Elli is able to speed up production times, eliminate the need for manual assembly by producing parts in one piece, cut material waste and offer customers the potential to return their products to be made into new ones.
Elli is currently working on its Made & Remade service, a circular initiative which will allow customers to return a product at the end of its life cycle.
Each piece will then be broken down and turned into flakes and fibres which can be made into recycled PET. The resulting materials will be used to produce new pieces, closing the loop and creating a new generation of furniture.
“The Made & Remade service is the answer to one of the biggest problems of our time: waste and its management,” says Elli.
“Today waste is also the largest resource of raw material we have available, subjecting it to a technical and valuable upcycling process to re-enter it in the production chain, track it and recover it again at the end of its life is the future and it’s at heart of Made & Remade.”
It’s all part of the brand’s commitment to a sustainable future informed by the objectives of the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals that range from economic, social and environmental.
“It should not be overlooked that sustainability encompasses much more than protecting the environment and the climate,” says Elli.
“It includes social factors, as well as good and transparent corporate governance. If companies in the furniture world aim to be concretely sustainable, they should change their approach to product and production.”
“Being sustainable also means getting back to the production and management of the business processes that revolve around it. Likewise, starting to communicate that the value of a product is no longer represented only by the quality of traditional materials, but also by the lower environmental impact generated.”
All the while, Elli strives to highlight it’s dedication to design as a time-honoured skill—robots might realise a product’s final form but the hand of the designer, or the artisan, stays firmly on the ideation process.
It’s a unique approach that has seen the brand become one of the first of its kind to be listed on luxury e-commerce site Artemest.
Traditionally reserved for those whose techniques date back centuries, the site has embraced Elli’s new concept of craftsmanship, which celebrates 4.0 technologies as a way of strengthening the spirit of the artisan.
“In Elli Design we use 3D modelling software, robots for additive manufacturing, but the birth of each of our products always starts from a sketch on paper,” explains Elli.
“From here, the process develops through the research, evaluation and selection of materials, the choice of the best technologies and production solutions in order to minimise our environmental impact.”
“Elli might adopt innovative production techniques but it fully embodies the Italian creative and qualitative heritage. The vision, creativity and ability to find new solutions is, in my opinion, the same as that of the craftsman as we know him. We speak the same language.”
For Elli Design, the key is interpreting technologies as avant-garde production processes.
The result is a sort of “digital workshop”, in which the artisanal expertise of Alessio and his design team is complemented by machinery that aims at the highest principles of sustainability.
“Made in Italy as we know it is the engine of our inspiration whilst our aim is to build a cultural movement and a company that involves the giants of this sector in a logic of shared continuity, research and experimentation.”